The Raving Theist

Dedicated to Jesus Christ, Now and Forever

2004 July

Float Your Boat

July 30, 2004 | 19 Comments

Atheists still have to sit through prayers to God at the beginning of town council meetings, although they’ve recently been spared from Jesus talk. But how do Christians feel when an atheist gives the invocation? A member of Atheists of Florida opened proceedings at the Tampa City Council yesterday, in response to an invitation by a Jewish councilman a couple of weeks ago. At the time, one of the legislators was quizzical but open-minded:

Councilwoman Mary Alvarez said she looks forward to hearing an atheist’s version of an invocation.

“Who is he going to pray to?” asked Alvarez, a Christian. “It’s a free country . . . Whatever floats your boat.”

And how did the boat float yesterday? Kinda looks like it sank:

Half of the Tampa City Council walked out Thursday when an atheist spoke at a time usually reserved for prayer.

Other council members bowed their heads out of habit, anticipating an “Amen'” that wouldn’t come.

Letting atheist Michael Harvey lead the invocation Thursday almost brought the council meeting to a stop before it began.

As Harvey, a member of Atheists of Florida, prepared to speak, Councilman Kevin White called for a vote to find a different person to pray or to skip the invocation that traditionally begins council meetings.

White, who cast the only vote for his proposal, said he objected to a “hallowed moment” being turned over to someone to make a “political statement.”

What was Harvey’s “political statement”? He asked the board “to seek inspiration from history, science and logic.” Did Councilwoman Alvarez defend him? Not exactly. “I [don’t] have to sit here and listen to an atheist tell me what I should and shouldn’t believe,” she said. And according to this Associated Press account, she actually voted with Councilman White to throw the atheist out, calling White “very brave” for making the effort and adding “I just can’t sit here and listen to someone that does not believe in a supreme being.”

She’s not asking much, really — for Alvarez, apparently, any Supreme Being will do. Here she is cutting the ribbon at the opening ceremony for the new home of Tampa’s Church of Scientology — which teaches that we’re all stuffed with the souls of dead space aliens murdered and brought to Earth by the evil galactic ruler Xenu 75 million years ago. So what if Xenu packed the souls into boxes and took them to huge cinemas where they had to spend days watching special 3D movies which brainwashed them with false stories about God, the Devil and Christ — he’s still better, in Alvarez’ book, than history, science and logic.

[Link via Redfred]

Saint Brenda

July 30, 2004 | 4 Comments

“I don’t understand how you can say such ugly things about us without even knowing us,” Brenda McCormick complained in my comments section after I trashed her charity, Mothers Inc., as a religious scam. She was right, and ultimately I declared her a saint for her tireless work on behalf of the poor and the homeless in her community.

I’m glad I did, because last Saturday Brenda did what the religious invariably demand of their saints before the title is bestowed.

She died.

Brenda

July 29, 2004 | 40 Comments

Religion is man-made. Don’t confuse religion with God. It’s not the same thing.

Brenda McCormick

Mockery

July 29, 2004 | 15 Comments

“[M]ockery of religious faith is inexcusable,” whined Godidiot Nicholas D. Kristof last year in a New York Times Op-Ed urging that American evangelicals be given their props. In particular, he faulted the “liberal critiques” for going beyond criticism of evangelical social policies and having a “sneering tone about conservative Christianity itself.” Kristof concluded that we should “drop the contempt and display some of the inclusive wisdom of Einstein, who wrote in his memoir:

Christening

July 28, 2004 | 96 Comments

Should atheists accommodate their relatives by christening their children or participating in any other religious rituals?

Unceremoniously Yours

July 28, 2004 | 12 Comments

By Guest Blogger PurpleCar

Certain planned rituals, as grandiose as a college graduation to as simple as a soda-pop toast, mark specific points in our lives. These ceremonies help us to define ourselves, gather our thoughts and move on, bestowed with new skills and/or new outlooks on life. I love ceremony.

Growing up Roman Catholic may have influenced that love of ceremony, but I think I was more inculcated by the Italian-American side of my family. They love to mark occasions, news, changes of heart, bad blood, first blood, first erection, practically anything, with a robust “Salute” or “A LA FAMIGLIA” toast. Hey, it only takes five minutes and wine is cheap, the least you can do is acknowledge your loved one’s accomplishment, right? Right.

So, when I married into a famiglia that was even more Italian than my mixed up clan, ceremony became not just important, but essential. This is why my husband and I begrudgingly agreed to have a roman catholic mass and marriage rite. It was made clear to us by many (mostly on my husband’s side) that they would refuse to attend if our nuptials weren’t conducted by a catholic priest (never mind that “they” all skipped the mass and only showed up at the reception).

My spouse and I agreed that after the marriage, we were quitting it all, come hell or high water. There would be no way any child of ours would be put through
the same sort of hypocritical hell that we went through, especially for something in which we outright did not believe.

Three years after we were married, our daughter was born. Many toasts were proposed and had. It was a happy time. Then “they” started in: “So, when’s the christening?” “Well,” we answered politely, “we aren’t doing a christening. Perhaps we can just have a little ‘welcome to the world’ ceremony at the
house.” Glasses froze, forks dropped, silence ensued. My own mother said that she would refuse to come to any “ceremony” (she dripped disgust when she said the word) at our house. My husband got much misery from his side, too. Then, a few days later, my mother-in-law calls me (rare event), sweet as pie, and starts to tell me about the beautiful christening gowns she saw, and of course, don’t I want my daughter to have that as a keepsake? She goes on about how she wanted to buy it for her first grandchild. I told her politely that she should go ahead and buy it, but we still weren’t doing a christening. I was enraged afterwards, yelling at my husband that his mother thinks I can be tempted back to the catholic faith by, of all things, its fashions. I’m an East Coast “I dig those styles they wear” girl, but come on.

Well, we didn’t have the ceremony that I had wanted, but we did have a big “Welcome to the World” picnic at the house. Of course, people attended that. Looking back, I just should have gotten the attention of the partying crowd and conducted my little ceremony anyway. It’s not as if we are partaking in bacchanalia; it would have been a nice little event, five minutes, some poems, a flower or two, introducing her legal guardians (in the event of our deaths) to
the crowd, stuff like that. (I don’t see a problem with modeling my ceremonies after those of the major religions'; that’s what the major religions did to the pagan ceremonies. It’s easier and takes less creativity.)

As we get older, my husband and I are getting braver in expressing our own desires to not be left out of secular traditions that we love. If guests at our gatherings don’t like our innocuous feel-good sentimental rituals, then they can walk out, much like I refuse to say grace at meals. I never would ask them to not say grace. Why don’t they support me in the way I choose to express grace? I have as much of a right to my ceremonies as they do theirs, but unless the events contain “god” and the roman catholic church in some way, they consider the rituals vile and loathsome, and refuse to even stay respectfully silent like I do when they pray.

How very christian.

Source of Strength

July 27, 2004 | 6 Comments

The Constitution isn’t supposed to favor one religion over another, or, as far as atheism is concerned, favor religion over non-religion. But the latter caveat is generally given nothing but lip service, as demonstrated last week by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in Wynne v. Town of Great Falls, South Carolina. Although the court upheld a Wiccan’s objection to the invocation of Jesus Christ in a town council’s opening prayer, it held that “non-sectarian” prayer was fine:

Public officials’ brief invocations of the Almighty before engaging in public business have always . . . been part of our Nation’s history. The Town Council of Great Falls remains free to engage in such invocations prior to Council meetings. The opportunity to do so may provide a source of strength to believers, and a time of quiet reflection for all.

For all except the atheists, that is. And while the court cautioned that “[t]his opportunity does not, however, provide the Town Council . . . license to advance its own religious views in preference to all others,” it immediately made clear that it was talking only about “official preference one religion, and corresponding official discrimination against all others” rather than preference of religion generally over non-religion. I’m not sure the ruling even accomplishes that limited end, insofar as Wiccans worship The God and Goddess rather than “The Almighty.”

Predictably, local politicians actually view the ruling as discrimination against Christianity and have vowed to ignore it.

Link Courtesy of Ocmpoma

God Squad Review XCVII (Prayers for Others)

July 26, 2004 | 9 Comments

Can you protect loved ones through prayer? asks a mother who’s afraid her that her son is working so hard that that he’ll fall asleep at the wheel and have an automobile accident. After thinking about the matter a while, she’s concerned that God wants her son to be injured, and wonders whether her prayers are necessary to sway Him to change His mind. The Squad finds the question”interesting and important,” but not so much so that they give a straight answer. After noting that the mother’s “Gimme” prayers are acceptable because she’s “asking God to do something for someone else rather than [her]self,” the Squad opines:

The purpose of all “Gimme” prayers is not to get stuff from God but to ask God’s help in adjusting to our circumstances and to ask for courage and resolve to make those circumstances better, more loving and more helpful to others.

If your son stuffs his life with too many obligations, no matter his good intentions, he’s needlessly risking his life. Asking God to protect your son from needless risks is foolish, however. You should be talking with your son and begging him to take more time to accomplish his goals so he has a fair chance of reaching the finish line alive.

Your prayers are your way of coping with your fears, but a direct encounter with your son makes more sense than wondering what God is up to.

In other words, do it yourself. So what exactly do the prayers do? I’m praying for help in understanding this answer:

The belief that our will or our prayers can sway God and make something happen is not faith, but magic. We can’t wave a wand or a prayer book and alter God’s plan. We pray not to change the world, but to change us so that we might change the world.

So there’s an unalterable plan. Nothing we do will change it. But God will magically change us if we pray for it, having apparently overlooked that this will, indirectly, change his plans.

Answered Prayers

July 23, 2004 | 5 Comments

And I thought the legend of Oedipus was sick. A story on the back of the bulletin distributed during services at a large New York orthodox church last Sunday:

Like Mother, Like Son

It is the hope and prayer of every parent that their children will be receptive to the good qualities that they try to instill in them. The Holy Martyrs Cyricus and Julitta are a classic story of an answer to a parent’s prayer.

Julitta lived in the city of Iconium in the third century. She was of noble birth, but this could not spare her from the hardship of being a young widow with a new-born child. A devout Christian, Julitta raised her son Cyricus to love the Lord with all of his heart.

During the reign of the Emperor Diocletian, a bitter persecution of Christians began. Julitta and her three-year old son left Iconium and fled to Tarsus. When her identity was discovered, Julitta was arrested and brought before the governor for trial. She refused to deny her faith in Christ. She was subjected to severe torture, but repeatedly proclaimed, I am a Christian.”

Cyricus was forced to witness his mother’s brutal treatment. When the governor attempted to treat him with kindness, the boy cried out: “Let me go to my mother. I am a Christian, too!” The enraged governor threw Cyricus down a steep flight of steps, causing his death. Soon after, Julitta suffered martyrdom by beheading. In honor of these holy martyrs, a monastery was built and dedicated to them near Constantinople. The relics of Cyricus and Julitta have wonderworking power to this day.

In this version, Cyricus wasn’t such a good little Christian — after seeing his mommy stretched on the rack and beaten, he kicked the governor and scratched his face. Too bad he didn’t live to see his mother’s reaction to his own death — presumably it was the answer to every child’s prayer:

Cyricus’s mother did not weep — instead she thanked God and went cheerfully to torture and death. Her son had been granted the crown of martyrdom. This made the governor even angrier and he decreed that Julitta’s sides should be ripped apart with hooks and then be beheaded.

No Atheism for You

July 22, 2004 | 7 Comments

In honor of yesterday, my two year blogiversary, and this, my 700th post, I’m taking the day off. However, I decided that I’m no longer an engine of love, powered by truth. I’m actually powered by shameless flattery and you better pour it on right now or I’m taking tomorrow off, too.

In the meantime, you can read my non-godless posts on Lance Armstrong and Linda Ronstadt over at PurpleCar.

Moral Failure

July 21, 2004 | 10 Comments

Freedom from God does not mean freedom from consequences. An atheist’s choice of a moral system is important precisely because there is no eternal life, and there is only this one chance to get it right. Sadly, the responses by the atheists who took last week’s ethics quiz demonstrate that even without a God to condemn us, we can still doom ourselves.

The correct answers to the quiz are abecbbbadbcf (priority always “high”). As I indicated, those responses make you morally perfect like The Raving Atheist, insofar as you are 100% compatible with John Stuart Mill, followed by a blend of Epicurus (92%), Ayn Rand (91%), Jean-Paul Sartre (88%), and Jeremy Bentham (86%). For the purpose of what follows — my analysis and judgment the character of those who volunteered their results — I will consider only the top five ranking philosophers in each list (complete results available here).

Self-described “strong atheist” Mijae had the exact same philosophers as I in her top five. Regrettably, however, they were in a significantly different order (Sartre [100%], Rand [97%], Epicurus [86%], Mill [74%], and Bentham [70%]). While Sartre was indeed an atheist and correctly taught that humans are thus free to make of themselves what they wish, he failed to ever provide the reasons for his atheism, or specify the proper use of one’s freedom. And Rand, while correct about the value of reason, erroneously believed that it was the master of our desires rather than its slave. The relatively low rankings of Mill and Bentham evidence a disregard for the utilitarian goal of maximizing pleasure. Mijae with thus live an aimless and unhappy life, dying, like Rand, frustrated, angry and bitter.

Atheist WJT scored a 100% Nietzsche, leaving in the distance Hume (86%), Hobbes (80%), Epicurus (76%) and Sartre (75%). This duplicates the child-murdering, ubermensch philosophy of Leopold and Loeb. Unless he first succumbs to insanity, WTJ will die in prison.

Atheist Ocmpoma is pure Sartre (100%), with the rest bunched together well below the philosophical radar (Nietzsche [72%], the Stoics 72%, Hume [71%], Cynics [70%]). With nothing to define his essence except his existence, Ocmpoma will stumble numbly, and most likely homelessly, from one illusion to another.

Hobbes, who described man’s natural state as “nasty, brutish and short,” scored 100% with atheist commenter Leon. Backed up only by the overly-rationalistic Rand, who came in a distant second at 84%, his efforts to reason himself out of life’s predicaments will fail. His fate: nasty, brutish and short.

Finally, atheist-agnostic Michael is a 100% Kantian. But Kant’s categorical imperative, which commands us act only in such a manner that our conduct could be made into a universal rule, provides no guide as to what conduct can be universalized. Sartre, at 84%, might command us to act freely, but this is merely a recipe for anarchy. So Michael will end up trampled beneath the feet of a lawless mob.

Sort of Amazing

July 20, 2004 | 3 Comments

“Mata Amritanandamayi,” reports the awestruck New York Daily News, “is no ordinary hugger.” The 50 year old Indian “spiritual guru,” who yesterday ended a three day visit to Manhattan, has spent 30 years traveling around the world giving millions of hugs. One follower, a flight attendant who has followed the “Hugging Saint” around for 14 years, says that her embrace make you “feel like you’ve been touched by God.” And then there’s this miracle:

Atman Johnson, 57, of Virginia has spent the past five years traveling to Amma’s U.S. appearances so that his 16-year-old son, Param, nwho suffers from cerebral palsy, can get hugs.

While he doesn’t believe Amma has helped to physically heal his son, Johnson is confident her presence has helped to put the teen at ease.

“His body’s at peace. There is a calmness from being in her presence,” Johnson said. “We’re just here to imbibe her energy and bring it back with us.”

That’s amazing, almost! Another devotee, a Catholic, says “she’s the feminine face of God” and represents “the true meaning of religion. Moreover, “his physical health and sleep have improved since he began following Amma.” Isn’t that mildly fascinating? The investigative News reporter confirmed Amma’s quasi-magical powers by getting a hug of her own:

It was a nice, warm hug — like one a grandmother would give. But for Amma’s followers, it meant so much more.

Nearly remarkable! But consider the miracle that started it all: “At age 8 or 9 nine, she began spontaneously hugging people as a way of showing compassion for them.” That’s sort of surprising!

Everyone’s a Winner

July 19, 2004 | 2 Comments

I’ve started guest blogging over at PurpleCar to release some of my non-atheistic energy. Today’s piece is about an organization which, like God, loves all people the same no matter what they do.

God Squad Review XCVI (Contraception)

July 19, 2004 | 5 Comments

A Catholic girl about to enter college will be taking classes that let out after dark, and is afraid of being sexually assaulted on her long walk across campus. She believes in abstinence, but since most assailants don’t use a condom she asks the Squad if it’s okay to use birth control to prevent a pregnancy which might result from rape.

Most of the Squad’s answer is spent avoiding the question, announcing that “[w]hat we really hear from you, however, is not a question about birth control, but rather one about fear.” So they suggest self-defense classes and tell her she could also “get a bike, or a horse, or a mean dog, or two mean dogs and one horse, or two horses and a dog.” However, the Squad does note that the Church opposes birth control for unmarried persons because it “encourages sexual promiscuity” and tells the girl that she “must now decide for yourself whether these reasons are compelling to you.” And they advise her to talk to her priest is she is still having “problems agreeing with the church.”

Why Father Tom, being a priest, doesn’t just outright answer the question I can’t say. It’s certainly not church policy to let individuals decide whether its teachings are “compelling” to them personally. But I don’t see how the reader would be in a disagreement with the church on the issue if she used birth control, since she never suggested she was going to use it to become sexual active.

Shock-ing

July 17, 2004 | Comments Off

The New York Post describes a gruesome discovery at the home of a Louisiana pervert:

A man with a hair fetish has been busted for creeping up on little girls visiting cemeteries with their families and cutting off their ponytails, cops say.

Even more bizarre, when police searched the home of Michael Sterkins, 51, of Gray, La., they found one of the ponytails placed neatly under a Bible at the side of his bed.

Bizarre, indeed, that someone with such extreme psychosexual problems would also be mixed up with Bibles.

Atheist Nation

July 16, 2004 | 3 Comments

Under No Circumstances comments on the Texas Republican party’s platform plank which declares that “the United States of America is a Christian nation.” She’s 99% on target, including her criticism of a Boston Globe op-ed which balanced its objections to the plank with a snipe at “secularist bigotry.” My only quibble is with her conclusion that “the Texan Republican Party has as much right to set down a definition of America as The Raving Atheist . . . does, and thus it all cancels out in the end.”

Not so fast. America is, in fact, driven by a legal presumption of atheism and therefore effectively an Atheist Nation. The notion that there’s some sort of agnostic or apatheistic or neutral middle ground is a fiction. The agnostics don’t get to “set down” their definition because they don’t have one. What gets “cancelled out” when me and the Texas Republican Party stop screaming at each other is God.

Ethically Challenged

July 15, 2004 | 12 Comments

The Ethical Philosophy Selector quiz measures correct moral thinking, generating a list of philosophers ranked and weighted according to their compatibility with your expressed opinions on ethics. Employing atheistic principles where applicable (e.g., avoiding answers with “God” in them) and the utilitarian pro-gay, anti-abortion, pro-capital punishment, pro-euthanasia precepts that so naturally flow from disbelief, I achieved the following perfect score:

1. John Stuart Mill (100%)
2. Epicureans (92%)
3. Ayn Rand (91%)
4. Jean-Paul Sartre (88%)
5. Jeremy Bentham (86%)
6. Kant (82%)
7. Aquinas (73%)
8. Aristotle (73%)
9. Prescriptivism (69%)
10. Nietzsche (67%)
11. Ockham (57%)
12. Cynics (52%)
13. David Hume (52%)
14. Thomas Hobbes (52%)
15. Spinoza (51%)
16. Stoics (47%)
17. St. Augustine (42%)
18. Nel Noddings (41%)
19. Plato (39%)

This is the profile of a compassionate Renaissance man who pursues the higher and lower pleasures through a policy of enlightened self-interest. Plato, the philosophical father of Christianity, rightfully earns his place at the very bottom of my list. I admit I was initially disappointed with Hume’s showing, until I realized that I am skeptical only where the subject matter warrants it. I was also surprised that Sartre didn’t rank higher; he should be at the top of everyone’s list so long as the questions aren’t answered in bad faith. Maybe it’s just that I’m not an incomprehensible, pompous pipe-smoking ass. Don’t ask me who Nel Noddings is.

If you put yourself in a theological mindset, it’s not hard to predict which answers will send St. Augustine to the top of the list. Just ignore happiness and human needs, and pretend there’s some invisible being who wants you to sacrifice everything to satisfy its whim. I managed it on my first try (try it for yourself before looking at answers below). Notably, the Cynics finished third after Aquinas, followed by Kant, Plato, Spinoza and Ockham.

So that you will be better able to conduct your affairs, I will publish the correct answers in a few days. In the meantime, if you e-mail me your own “answers” by midnight Monday I will publish them on Wednesday so that you may compare yourself to other readers. Please do not submit your answers through the comment section.

[Link courtesy of Emily of After Abortion]

Answers for 100% St. Augustine score (in REVERSE order): cacbaaafeaaa

Veggie Burgers

July 14, 2004 | 6 Comments

A religion without god is like a hamburger without meat; hence, the Buddhist predilection for veggie burgers.

The Raving Atheist, Why Buddhists Are Big Fat Stupid Agnostic Doody-Heads (2005)

Regurgitation

July 14, 2004 | 6 Comments

Atheist blogger Under No Circumstances has confronted such arguments as the Argument From Rapist With Nuclear Strap-On (scroll to June 7), but I found particularly entertaining her discussion (scroll to June 17) about arguments themselves. Although she’s relating her experience in posting on a current social issue on a political forum, the quagmire she describes is especially common in religious debates:

When I take a stance on an issue and present that stance for discussion my first course of action is to present my reasons and logic, immediately followed by credible sources for any facts or data that I mention. This is ingrained habit for me, stemming from years of work in the sciences, and I would feel my arguments were naked and weak without such supports. In the case of yesterday’s debate, I posted over a dozen sources at the end of my somewhat lengthy personal statement, sources available on the ‘net for all to see and read for themselves. I thought this was good form and that people would be more likely to understand or even accept my views if I gave solid proof that my stance was valid.

Oh, if only.

Instead, the opposition replied that I was simply “regurgitating,” and that, in fact, they were in the right because they came up with their own thoughts rather than simply posting what somebody else said. Keep in mind that I had posted several paragraphs in my own words explaining what my personal feelings on the subject were, and that the citations merely supported the facts I had presented. The opposition accused me of trying to make everybody think like me, trying to force my views on others, and being arrogant.

Now, I’m a pretty reasonable person, so I didn’t understand this response one bit. I tried again, pointing out that I had only been trying to show that there was more to my opinions than hot air and that I had intended merely to give people a solid reason to care about my stance. This was answered by the accusation that I was calling opposing stances stupid, that I was (again) trying to brainwash people, and that I shouldn’t try to make other people look silly by posting so many sources when they merely posted their personal feelings.

“Stop reading from a book” or “put down the encyclopedia” are demands I’ve often encountered when trying to outline, in an organized fashion, one of the standard atheistic arguments or defenses. (Never mind that that concept that Books can be inerrant plays a prominent role in their own arguments). It’s a twist on the old “get a life” dig. However, instead of the suggestion being that I should stop talking because I’ve overanalyzed matters, the notion is I haven’t been contemplative enough. By familiarizing myself with the scholarship on the subject, I’ve somehow surrendered my independent judgment. I’m no longer operating with a tabula rasa, that pure, knowledge-unencumbered state of mind from which all originality, creativity and ultimately truth flow. If they’re not my “own thoughts,” they can’t be true thoughts. They don’t have the authenticity that apparently only ten seconds of reflexive contemplation on an unfamiliar subject can bring.

The “own thoughts” of the critics fall into familiar categories. They are regurgitation in the fullest sense; the vomiting up of little scraps of “wisdom” picked up along the way but never digested, as unoriginal as they are incomplete: a dash of Pascal’s Wager here (“God’s the safest bet”) and a sprinkle of the cosmological argument there (“the universe requires a creator”). The obvious refutations to these gambits (in addition to being dismissed as someone else’s ideas) are frequently countered, inconsistently, with the anti-thought defense mechanisms perfected by the clergy over the centuries, e.g., “but you’re forgetting about faith,” “you can’t label God” or “God is beyond human logic.”

The final ingredient in this stew of Absolute Original Truths is a large dollop of relativism (a relativism that stops just short of including your view or acknowledging that your “brainwashing” as merely persuasion). The legal notion of a “right” to believe in anything is conflated into the fallacy that anything believed must be “right.” Something is true if it’s “true to you,” mere feelings are the measure of all reality, and any thought must be respected unless it’s actually thought out.

Burning Question

July 13, 2004 | 36 Comments

It’s a close call as to which is the scariest part of this article, the actual story or the breezy, religion-coddling tone:

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) — A church’s plan for an old-fashioned book-burning has been thwarted by city and county fire codes.

Preachers and congregations throughout American history have built bonfires and tossed in books and other materials they believed offended God.

The Rev. Scott Breedlove, pastor of The Jesus Church, wanted to rekindle that tradition in a July 28 ceremony where books, CDs, videos and clothing would have been thrown into the flames.

Not so fast, city officials said.

“We don’t want a situation where people are burning rubbish as a recreational fire,” said Brad Brenneman, the fire department’s district chief.

Linn County won’t go for a fire outside city limits, either.

Officials said the county’s air quality division prohibits the transporting of materials from the city to the county for burning.

Breedlove said a city fire inspector suggested shredding the offending material, but Breedlove said that wouldn’t seem biblical.

“I joked with the guy that St. Paul never had to worry about fire codes,” Breedlove said.

The new plan calls for members of the church to throw materials into garbage cans and then light candles to symbolically “burn” the material.

An “old-fashioned book-burning?” What do they do, cook apple pie over it? I’m glad the this reporter was wasn’t covering the old-fashioned, country-style James Byrd and Matthew Shepard lynchings. I don’t dispute that book-burning has been a part of “American history,” but the first Google search result for the phrase reveals that more recently it’s been more of a German tradition.

And had the reporter bothered to check out the Jesus Church’s website, he might have added that Pastor Breedlove also believes that “[t]here is no sickness or disease too hard for God” — and that at his “Spirit-Filled” services, “the miraculous touch of God to heal bodies and change lives is a regular occurrence.” But that might actually have involved a little bit of reading, and as we know, Reading Isn’t Fundamentalist.

[Link courtesy of Debbie Burdoc]

God Squad Review XCV (Power of Prayer/Lying)

July 12, 2004 | 3 Comments

Does prayer heal the sick? In the first letter to the Squad, a 74-year old struggling to work with a neurologically impaired leg notes that although he prays for himself, he only asks God “to help me keep up the pace and to stay beside me in case I fall.” He doesn’t ask for more, apparently, because noticed that God ignores the prayers even of those much more worthy than him:

Pope John Paul II has Parkinson’s disease and you, Msgr. Hartman, have the same disease. In my opinion, both of you are more in God’s favor than I could ever be and yet you have this terrible disease. The world prays for the pope’s well-being, and all the members of the Rockville Centre Diocese (and Rabbi Gellman) pray for you, Father Hartman, so who am I to ask God to look on me with favor when two holy men struggle with their illness and God does not heal them?

Helpful as always, the Squad notes that “[s]uch questions are not problems to be solved, but mysteries to be lived through.” After telling the old to count his blessings, they demonstrate that they are as capable of ignoring his words as God is of ignoring prayers:

The rest of your body still works well enough for you to make a living, but more important, your compassion, kindness and humility are as whole as it is possible for them to be. You prayed for us and did not even ask us to pray for you. You hoped that your question would help others and not you. And most of all, you put yourself behind Tommy and the Pope in the line of those deserving God’s grace.

If the Squad had read the letter carefully, they would have realized that the old man never actually said he was praying for them. He said only that he was praying for himself — and limiting those prayers because he noticed that even with the whole world praying for them, God wasn’t doing anything.

It seems to me that there’s nothing particularly unselfish about praying for others without asking them to pray for you, if, like the old man, your entire premise is that prayer is completely useless. Nevertheless, I also question the Squad’s conclusion that the writer wasn’t asking for their prayers. Plainly, he was fishing for something with the old “I am unworthy” routine. Doesn’t look like he got it, though

Vigoda

July 9, 2004 | 3 Comments

How will obituary cartoonists depict Abe Vigoda’s afterlife?

Moo

July 9, 2004 | Comments Off

You wanna be worshipped? Go to India and moo.

Herb Stempel, Quiz Show, (1994)

Cartoonists Adopt New Afterlife Depiction Standards

July 9, 2004 | 5 Comments

New York, New York, July 9, 2004
Special to The Raving Atheist

Responding to criticism that its members routinely employed clich

The Godfather (Part 2)

July 8, 2004 | 7 Comments

Amusingly, Skallas of Everything Isn’t under Control elicited an e-mail response from John Fewings, the artist who drew the Brando obit cartoon in the post below. Quite graciously, he promised to be more sensitive to our delicate atheist sensibilities.

Skallas, for his part, offered this commentary on the cartoon:

The Brando cartoon is in. Just offensive. This is the equivalent of drawing a famous Jewish person with Jesus in heaven. I don’t know why atheism isn’t respected as a valid philosophical/religious/rational stance, but it’s highly unfair and I’m sick of the double-standard.

My objection, however, isn’t to the double-standard. Portraying a Jew in Jewish Heaven is just as silly as portraying a Jew with Jesus. The notion that people get the afterlife they want simply because they believe in it, and that there are separate, alternative realities in which Christians meet Jesus, Jews meet G_d, Buddhists go to Nirvana and Hindus get reincarnated, is insane. It actually makes more sense to portray everyone as meeting the same fate after death, regardless of what their particular religion is. If, in fact, Jesus rules the universe and greets people in Heaven then everybody — Jews, Hindus, Muslims and atheists — end up meeting him if admitted there.

But that view, even if consistent, is also insane. My objection to both views is simply that they aren’t true. Whether Brando was a Christian, Jew or atheist, he should have been depicted as a bloated corpse rotting six feet underground.

And yes, I know it’s just a freakin’ cartoon.

Branded

July 7, 2004 | 14 Comments

A few amusing thoughts from Skallas of Everything Isn’t Under Control, regarding my last post on the Cartoon Afterlife:

[I]magine if a kid with down’s syndrome died (Like TV’s Corky). How appropriate would it be to draw him in the fictional afterlife as a normal adult, with some kind of intellectual job like a professor? I’m sure many would see this as wrong because it simply isn’t portraying the person as we knew him. The same goes for giving Ray [Charles] his sight back in these little feel-good comics. Ray’s blindness was a fact of life and surely influenced his musical expression. Some people just don’t get it.

Also, what’s with the Reagan cartoon? Political cartoonists should be aware of the fact that Reagan’s “Cadillac welfare queen in Chicago” speech hurt race relations quite a bit and are arguably the words of bigot.

Are the Marlon Brando cartoons in yet? He was an atheist. It would be interesting to see how the ‘toonists deal with that little fact when drawing their hackneyed afterlife cartoons.

Come to think of it, I’m surprised that no cartoonist thought to relieve Ray of his most serious social disability and make him a normal, decent white person. In that connection, it’ll be interesting to see how the God of the Comics resurrects Michael Jackson. If He can collect all the parts.

Brando, as Skallas says, was indeed an atheist. So much so, as Kimmy’s Atheist Site points out, that he refused to take an oath before testifying at his son Christian’s murder trial (please don’t ask me why he named him “Christian”). However, I was highly insulted by Jean-Paul Fastidious’ prediction last week that the cartoonists would be so stupid as to portray him in Heaven over some lame “offer he can’t refuse” caption. Although they made that mistake last year with the godless Katharine Hepburn, I’m sure they’ve learned their lesson. Just because people are religious, it doesn’t mean they’re stupid:

BrandoHalo.jpg

Or maybe it does. And more to come, no doubt. But what, exactly, was God’s “offer” here? Isn’t the point that you end up in heaven if only you do refuse the offer? I think this would have made more sense if they had just left him fat and used the “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” line.

God Squad Review XCIV (Church/State Separation)

July 6, 2004 | 8 Comments

Should church and state be separate, and why? In its Independence Day sermon, the Squad seems a bit confused about the issue.

At the outset, the Squad heartily endorses Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation of a “national day of fasting and prayer.” From their description of it, the Tall One wasn’t just acknowledging America’s historical debt to religion. He was spouting theology and calling for submission. He complained that “we have forgotten God,” and that “[i]ntoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.” Lincoln’s solution? “[T]o humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.”

At the time Lincoln spoke, the states were free to establish their own religions and impose them upon the citizenry. The Constitution, as interpreted then, prohibited only the federal government from playing the God-game. So Lincoln’s declaration of a national policy on groveling and bowing and scraping and fasting was clearly an attempt to impose yet another layer of religion upon The People.

The Squad, too, envisions a national theocracy of sorts. Which God they’re talking about, however, is unclear. It might be The Ceremonial Deity or some polytheistic blend of Jesus and Allah, although traditional polytheism does not seem to be favored insofar as they speak of God in the singular:

And a part of that idea of freedom as we live it and celebrate it in this great country is that individual dignity and freedom are not gifts of the state but gifts from God. It is not the Jewish God or the Christian God or the Muslim God. It is God, the creator of all, who endowed us with these inalienable rights, and that belief constitutes the genius of our country in its most profound and simple essence.

Without embracing any one particular religion, our country has taken the most fundamental and powerful belief of all religions — that people were created to live free — and made that idea the cornerstone of our national character.

In reality, the most powerful belief of any religion is that the individual must sacrifice his freedom and independence of mind, through early-childhood indoctrination, to believe in a very narrowly-defined god whose commands must be obeyed no matter how crazy and contrary to experience they appear. No religion accepts the Squad’s brand of syncretism, or the moral and intellectual relativism it entails. No religion believes that it’s a great thing that others are doomed to hell because they were “free” to choose the wrong god. As a political matter, of course, they all embrace the concept that religion should be free from state interference, because it gives them special rights and exemptions that a civilized, sensible society would not otherwise tolerate.

In any event, despite their belief in the wonders of religion, the Squad eventually announces that separation of church and state is a good thing:

We are battling those who want their countries, and indeed the whole world, to be ruled by their religion, but that belief cannot prevail and cannot endure. The irony is that by separating religion and the state, religion and the state can both thrive. Religion can serve as the author of our deepest and most universal beliefs about human dignity while also preserving a distance from the state so it can call the state to account for its failings.

All religions demand that their individual adherents be “ruled” by their God; it seems to me that the most efficient way to accomplish this would be to harness the power of the state to that end. And if, indeed, every religion promotes “our deepest and most universal beliefs about human dignity,” it shouldn’t really matter which one controls the government. Presumably the reason the state has “failings” at all is that it is not run by religious people. It makes no sense to “preserve a distance” from the state in order to correct it — there would be no need to waste the time in traversing that distance at all if the mistakes could be prevented in the first place by permitting religious rule.

Nevertheless, the Squad thinks these examples support the case for church/state separation:

When the abolitionists castigated America for the sin of slavery and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. castigated America for the sin of racial discrimination, they were doing so in the highest traditions of the Hebrew prophets. They called the state to account for violating the laws of God.

And by refusing to endorse any one religion as the state religion, the state prevents religious discrimination and also frees religion to speak its moral conscience and thus preserve the moral core of our nation when it goes astray.

Both the Old and New Testaments advocate slavery, so it’s at least arguable that abolitionists and King were the ones violating God’s law. That’s certainly what the deep South clergy argued, unless the Squad is suggesting that the plantations were run, and the Jim Crow laws were enforced, by atheists. What the Hebrew prophets thought of black people I can’t say, but I know the Mormon prophets considered them as little more than monkeys up until 1978. A good argument can be made for separating pro-slavery advocates and state, but that has nothing to do with whether religious people are in or out of power.

Furthermore, since religion is presumably all about freedom, I don’t understand why the Squad thinks that a sectarian government would promote religious discrimination. And why wouldn’t a religion in power be able to “speak its moral conscience”? If the “moral core” of the nation is to be preserved, it seems to me that it would be best to have religion at the core of government to prevent it from going astray in the first place.

Monk Honored for Contributions to Diplomacy, Science and Business

July 2, 2004 | 4 Comments

Puglia, Italy, July 2, 2004
Special to The Raving Atheist

Padre Pio — the multifaceted Capuchin monk who just last month interceded in the release of three Italians held captive in Iraq — was honored yesterday through the dedication of a huge basilica in Puglia, Italy. In attendance at the ceremony was one of the former hostages.

The new church of San Giovanni Rotondo can hold a congregation of 7,000, with space for more than 30,000 outside. During the consecration of the building, Pio’s countless humanitarian, scientific and business endeavors were recalled. In addition to his recent diplomatic success in Iraq, he was lauded for saving the life of a grieving Detroit teacher’s aide. Pio, who died in 1968, appeared in the toilet bowl of at the home of the 28-year widow old last August and persuaded her to put down a kitchen knife she was about to plunge into her heart.

Pio was also praised his design and supervision of the Cassini space probe. The probe yesterday returned unique close-up images show an unexplained clumping of material within the rings, which could help scientists understand how planets form. On the business front, speakers recalled the success of Pio’s online discount printer supply venture, where an Epson Stylus 800 Ink Jet cartridge can be had for as little as $5.95.

Martians

July 1, 2004 | Comments Off

The Martians realized that they asked the question ‘Why live at all?’ at the height of some period of war and despair, when there was no answer. But once the civilization calmed, quieted, and wars ceased, the question became senseless in a new way. Life was now good and needed no arguments.

Ray Bradbury, “And the Moon Still Be as Bright,” The Martian Chronicles (1950)

Subtlety

July 1, 2004 | 4 Comments

When you’re running post-war Iraq, threats of force aren’t always enough. Sometimes one must engage the minds of the militant insurgents by employing the nuanced intellectual approach that only religion can offer. According to Newsday, this language from Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s inaugural speech constitutes a “more subtle, theological challenge”:

They are grandsons of the heretics of Islam. They have been rejected by history . . . [t]hese trangressors, some of them have already been sent to hell, and the others are waiting for their turn.

Not to mention that their mother sucks donkey pricks, and everyone has fucked their sister except Abdul the grocer.

Re-Heated

July 1, 2004 | 2 Comments

Looks like I served leftovers yesterday, as Andy of World Wide Rant gave a more throrough grilling to Grill a Christian back in April. Somehow I thought I was safe in fisking a defunct, three-post blog, but apparently no scrap of poorly-written Christian apologetics ever escapes the scavenging atheist eyes of the internet.

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