The Raving Theist

Dedicated to Jesus Christ, Now and Forever

2006 February

Voices of Life: Maribel and Aja

February 28, 2006 | 70 Comments

Today’s Voices of Life — Maribel and her daughter Aja — can be heard (and seen) in this video clip shot earlier this month. Please view it before commenting.

Maribel was under pressure to abort by her family and boyfriend and visited four clinics before my friend Ashli got her phone number from a pro-life volunteer, and helped her make a different choice so she could start a new life. I have linked to their story before (Maribel is identified as “Gabbi” in the post), but it bears re-reading in view of my recent post regarding the nature of the “coercion” exerted upon pregnant women by pro-life volunteers. The next time someone complains about how sidewalk counselors and crisis pregnancy centers and other volunteers who accost and bully and frighten and infantilize women who just want to exercise their choice, please watch the video again and ask yourself if you are looking at and listening to a “victim.”

Last December I posted about a pro-abortion group which runs an “underground railroad” to New York to coordinate late second-term abortions and provide overnight housing for women who cannot find a clinic in their own states willing to perform the procedure. Had Maribel been delivered into their “non-judgmental” hands instead of Ashli’s, she would have been housed, and comforted and reinforced in her original decision to abort. Please watch the video again and consider whether that would have been a happier ending — or if what Ashli did was “wrong” in any sense of the word.

Martyrs Wanted

February 27, 2006 | 2 Comments

The New York Daily News today premiered Big Town, Big Heart: Celebrating New Yorkers Who Make a Difference, a feature that spotlights people of “every age and every background who go the extra mile to make a positive difference in others’ lives.” Today’s hero is Frank Jump, a gay elementary school teacher who was given five years to live when diagnosed as HIV-positive — in 1986. Dawn Eden runs the new section, fulfilling a childhood dream that replaced her crusade to end “moments of silence” in the public schools.

God won’t know who to reward unless He reads about them somewhere. And He doesn’t read the New York Times (not for that purpose), so please contact Dawn at the Daily News at the e-mail address provided at the end of the feature if you know someone who deserves recognition in this life or the next.

God Squad Review CLXI (Argument from Design)

February 26, 2006 | 14 Comments

A Squad reader wants to know if he can believe in evolution without incurring the wrath of God. After explaining how science and scripture are somehow compatible, the Squad demonstrates how it is philosophy that actually proves the existence of of the deity:

The third way we know the truth is through the use of unaided human reason, and this way urges us to consider the purposefulness of life, then to rationally (not religiously) conclude that such purpose implies a purposer, a designer, a telos. If we found a watch, we wouldn’t be merely entitled to infer that a watchmaker had created it; we would be rationally required to admit that such a purposeful object had to be made by a watchmaker.

Random chance simply is an illogical source for a watch, and by analogy, random chance is simply an irrational choice to explain the complexity and purposefulness of life. Rationally, we can know that God made the world, the same way we can know that a watchmaker made the watch. This does not mean that evolution plays no role in perfecting the world, it simply means that it is irrational to believe that we are here by chance.

As Einstein said: “God does not play dice with the universe.” For science to move from what to why is a violation of its natural limits, and for religion to intrude on the work of science is also a category mistake. Philosophical thinking offers a solution to the problem, that though neither scientific nor religious, is still profoundly true.

The Squad isn’t exactly breaking new ground here, so I’ll be lazy too. This and this should be good enough. If you’ve got better links on this issue (and there are bound to be a lot) add them to the comments.

Everything Labeled “Atheist News” on this Site is a Pack of Half-Truths and Crazy Lies

February 26, 2006 | 8 Comments

A blogger discovers the perils of using the The Raving Atheist as a primary news source.

Sky Gods

February 25, 2006 | 6 Comments

We are up in the sky. In your religion and all the religions, as far as I know (and I know everything), the sky is made the symbol of everything that is sacred and merciful. Well, now you are in the sky, you know better . . . You know that since our science has spoken, the bottom has fallen out of the Universe.

Professor Lucifer, speaking from a spaceship in The Ball and the Cross (G.K. Chesterton), 1909.

I don’t see any God up here.

Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, speaking from a spaceship, 1961.

I’m not sure which is funnier: that Chesterton felt compelled to anticipate it, or that Gargarin felt compelled to say it.

Omerta

February 24, 2006 | 8 Comments

“If I betray the oath of omerta, may my soul burn in Hell.” That’s what Michael “Mikey Scars” DiLeonardo reportedly swore at his induction ceremony as a made man in the Gambino crime family — but did he mean it? It’s hard to imagine that men who engage in murder, extortion, loansharking and prostitution believe in God and souls and Hell.

They just gotta be atheists.

No, I don’t mean quite that. I’m not saying that atheism causes immorality, or that it’s impossible to be good without a real belief in God. There are many atheists who do not run rackeetering enterprises. What I mean is that if they really believed in God, they wouldn’t commit such crimes.

But I don’t mean quite me that, either. I’m not saying that belief in God is enough to stop one from behaving badly. Religious people commit crimes too. But the scenarios in which bad behavior coincides with sincere belief are limited. First, there’s the situation where the misconduct is commanded by the religion, perhaps as part of a holy war or a holy crusade of terrorism. The “true” religion may not actually require that (yeah right), but there’s at least a subjective belief by the wrongdoer that God approves. Second, there’s the situation where the individual has merely succumbed to temptation. He fully believes in the relevant dogmas and principles, knows that his crimes violate them, but is temporarily overcome by greed or lust or rage. Or perhaps he deliberately suspends belief or tries not to think about it, with the idea in the back of his head that there will always be time to repent later.

People like Mikey Scars, however, don’t seem to fit into either of those categories. Catholicism (I’m just guessing that’s his religion) doesn’t officially approve of organized crime, and Mikey subjectively knows that much. And what he was doing was not a temporary lapse or a moment of weakness — it was his chosen career. The whole purpose of the omerta oath is to insure that mobsters don’t rat each out so that their crimes can go unpunished. It’s possible they intend to just repent on their deathbeds, but everyone knows you’re not allowed to plot it all out in advance like that. I suppose one could start out scheming to fake repentance and then actually feel it when the moment came, but my point is that the belief that that is going to happen isn’t really sincere at the time the crimes are planned.

The main problem, I guess, is that the oath itself presumes that God punishes tattling to protect killing. Apart from the fact that they know Catholicism says otherwise, it’s hard to believe that they or anyone would subscribe to a religion which had committing and protecting crime as its main object. There are religions that encourage the worst sort of evils and whose members doubtlessly agree not to turn each other in (fundamentalist Muslims), but as noted above they’re operating under a sincere religious belief. And their goal is generally to glorify God in some way, impose a different theology with a stricter moral code, or be rewarded in the afterlife. But the ordinary theft, dope-dealing, extortion, loansharking and other crimes mobsters commit are primarily motivated by greed and there’s no pretense to glorifying anything.

Satanists, perhaps? I don’t think that’s it either. Ultimately I think they do believe, in removed sort of way, in the religion in which they were raised. They wouldn’t curse in a church or in front of a nun, or desecrate a religious statue, and would be upset to witness such conduct. The late John Gotti was purportedly perplexed by an acquaintances embrace of Judaism and Buddhism, which indicates that he had at least enough belief in his own religion to question the faith of others. Many criminals believe in prayer and oaths (and have adapted those practices for their initiation ceremonies) and bring some sort of faith to whatever traditional religious rites they attend.

Thus, while Mikey Scars openly cheated on his wife and fathered a son by a mistress, he felt obligated to attend the child’s christening. Similarly, The Godfather concludes with scenes of Michael Corleone at his son’s baptism, conducted while his associates are out whacking his rivals. Even if participation in these ceremonies is viewed as an accommodation to the mothers or their families and the mobsters view religion as something like to be delegated to women like shopping and housework, that doesn’t mean that the religion is meaningless to them. Like the housework and shopping, they sense its importance and expect to benefit from it; it’s just that they don’t consider it their department.

I Am A Feminist

February 22, 2006 | 29 Comments

My post on monogamy and chastity was accepted for inclusion in this week’s Carnival of the Feminists, currently running at Mind The Gap. MTG’s subtitle is “Feminism is a Movement to End Sexism, Sexist Exploitation, and Oppression,” so my credentials are now beyond dispute.

Due to an editing error, both of the block quotes in my post were attributed to The Feminist Mystique. However, only the first was from Friedan’s book. The second was taken from Deus Cartias Est (God is Love), the first encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI. So he’s in the club, too.

Par-Tea Time

February 22, 2006 | 11 Comments

The Supreme Court unanimously ruled yesterday that a religious sect which drinks a sacramental tea containing a hallucinogen may be entitled to an exemption from the Controlled Substance Act. Insofar as the lower court had found that the evidence submitted by both sides on the drug’s health risks and the potential for diversion to recreational users was virtually balanced, the Supreme Court held that the Government had failed to demonstrate a “compelling interest” to halt the practice under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

What this means is that only the religious have a Constitutional right to get high. The pleasure people get from taking drugs they think helps them see God has been declared more important than the pleasure derived by recreational users. It’s a clear case of favoring religion over non-religion. The sect can continue to use the drug so long as they show they’re using it safely. But no one else gets that chance to try it, no matter what precautions they promise to take.

Yeah, so what. But I do wonder if religious freedom includes the right to sample drugs as part of an effort to choose a religion to convert to. I’m not talking about a scam, but a sincere, hippie-like desire to find one’s inner self. There are a lot of dabblers out there, and they shouldn’t have to go to the trouble becoming official members of every sect whose truths they want to test.

Debatable

February 21, 2006 | 4 Comments

Throwing Down the Gauntlet:

The God Squad Challenged to Debate by the CFI Community of Long Island

Gerry Dantone, Austin Dacey, and the Center for Inquiry Long Island Community are formally issuing a challenge to the “God Squad” authors Rabbi Marc Gellman and Father Tom Hartman to debate the following: Is God necessary for morality? The challenge comes after numerous syndicated God Squad columns have been published nationwide that contend that without God there is no reason to be moral, or worse, that go beyond theological arguments to intentionally defame and denigrate non-believers. Rather than rioting over these insults, or demanding that their freedom of speech be curtailed, most humanists would prefer to rationally debate the merits of their accusations.

* * *

We encourage supporters of the Center for Inquiry to do the following:

1) Write to Newsday (letters@newsday.com) the Flagship newspaper that carries the God Squad’s bigoted column, and ask them to allow alternate points of view in their newspaper that would provide a reasoned response to the God Squad.

2) Write to the God Squad’s syndicator Tribune Media (MElson@tribune.com, or their website, (http://www.tmsfeatures.com/tmsfeatures/subcategory.jsp?catid=1709&custid=67) asking them to distribute rational advice on religion.

3) Write to the God Squad themselves (www.askthegodsquad.com; or email them to: godsquad@telecaretv.org) urging them to accept the debate challenge.

Full press release here.

I doubt the Squad will accept. They’ve got a nationally syndicated column and a TV show through which to spread their message unopposed, so there’s upside to opening themselves up to a debate. The risk of a disaster would be high in view of their inability to maintain consistency in the claims they make from week to week and even sentence to sentence. They would also be subject to a divide and conquer strategy, insofar as they belong to two different religions whose truth claims contradict each other.

But you can read a transcript of the famous radio debate between Bertrand Russell and Jesuit Priest Frederick C. Copleston here. Other great atheist/theist debates, together with reviews of the debates, can be found here and here.

Author Sentenced for Denying Extermination of Christ-Deniers

February 21, 2006 | 48 Comments

Vienna, Austria, February 21, 2006
Special to The Raving Atheist

British historian David Irving was sentenced yesterday by an Austrian court to three years imprisonment for denying the Holocaust, the Nazi extermination program which took the lives of six million individuals who denied the existence, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The tough sentence, which came after a one-day trial and was based on statements made in 1989, was welcomed by the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center. “While Irving’s rants would not have led to legal action in the United States, it is important that we recognize and respect Austria’s commitment to fighting Holocaust denial,” said the center’s associate dean, Rabbi Abraham Cooper. “We must never forget the evil of punishing people merely because of what they believe.”

Cooper’s sentiments were echoed by R. Albert Mohler of the Southern Baptist Convention, who cautioned against the dangers of denying historically established fact. “Since 33 A.D., over twelve billion people have been cast into the Lake of Fire after being misled by Christ-deniers of the Lord’s historical reality and divinity,” he said. “Their lies imperil the eternal lives of all humanity.”

Irving’s twin brother John also condemned his sibling, alleging that his brother had recanted his Holocaust denials just before sentencing to avoid punishment. John Irving compared his brother to Galileo, who was forced by the Inquisition to deny that the Earth moved around the sun — but under his breath allegedly whispered “but it does move” to indicate he had not changed his beliefs. “Failing to conform one’s subjective beliefs to the immutable laws of Catholic astronomy is as serious as rejecting the principle of salvation through Christ,” he said. He also cautioned against any efforts to make light of the Holocaust, according to a New York Post story entitled “Author’s Twin Brother Doubts Luft-Waffler.”

The Government of Austria, in turn, denied Irving’s trial and sentencing as a hoax.

Mixing It Up

February 20, 2006 | 21 Comments

Maybe Frank The Financially Savvy Atheist has the right idea. Although his blog is also a mixed-concept one, he’s chosen his subjects wisely. He doesn’t get routinely savaged, like me, by readers offended by an incompatible and combustible combination of topics.

Atheism and abortion are like oil and vinegar, except you can’t even put them on salad. The contentiousness of it all is beginning to wear me down. Perhaps I could end the acrimony by following Frank’s lead and dropping the polarizing subject. But what would I call the new blog? The Anti-Choice, Anti-Abortion Accountant? The Unaborted Stockbroker? The Raving Pro-Life Financier? Suggestions welcome!

God Squad Review CLX (Revelation)

February 20, 2006 | 7 Comments

Does God talk to anyone anymore? A Squad reader is suspicious of preachers who claim that they are “led by God.” The Squad cautions that most people who deliver divine messages are cranks — and if you’re going to rely on cranks, it’s much more scientifical to rely on unattributed triple hearsay from dead ones whose former existence can’t be even confirmed:

Our general view is that it’s OK when people talk to God, but a little spooky when God talks to people. Talking to God is called prayer. Hearing from God is called revelation. There are two kinds of revelation.

There is historical revelation that’s recorded in the sacred texts of the world’s great wisdom traditions. There’s also personal revelation, which is a direct, personal and private communication between God and a person. Historical revelation has the advantage of being old and tested and recognized as leading to the truth of things. Personal revelation is much more problematic. The Bible makes it clear most personal revelations occur in dreams and visions, and their content is not always clear. Personal revelations can’t be tested against truth. The person proclaiming a personal revelation could be a nut case, deluded, or covering his naked ambition with God’s authority. The Bible warns against false prophets precisely for this reason.

Certainly no nakedly ambitious deluded nut case would ever let his hysterical followers publish a book of his mad ravings and apocalyptic predictions. Crackpots hate attention. If they liked it, not only would there be millions of blogs, but there would be scores of competing, sacred texts proclaiming conflicting facts and prophecies — some possibly even containing internal inconsistencies. Instead, we have one peer-reviewed, double-blind study we call the Bible (or Q’uran or Book of Mormon). It’s fully testable against truth or, as Steven Colbert might say, against truthiness.

Can’t We All Get Along

February 19, 2006 | 157 Comments

Look what you’ve done:

For the last few weeks or so I have been talking/posting/arguing or whatever you want to call it over at a site called The Raving Atheist. I originally liked the site a lot (and I still really do) but I’ve been spending way too much time over there and haven’t been focusing on reading my books as much as I’ve wanted to lately.

* * *

My time over at the Raving Atheist has taught me a few things. One of those things is that there are many depressing people out in the world that would like nothing better than to make you just as depressed as they are. Misery truly does love company. Another thing is that there are many people that think they are highly intelligent and are really just full of bullsh*t. They get away with thinking of themselves as intellectuals because they surround themselves with other people who are just as limited in their thinking as they are and the people all support each other in their stupidity. We all see this on a smaller level everyday in the form of cliques and in high school where the jocks hung out with the jocks, everyone in the popular group dates someone else from the popular group, and the band kids hang out with other band members. Sometimes these groups are just people who are innocently affirming each other and other times its more vicious in the form of attacking everyone else that is not a member of their clique so that they can feel better about themselves. We see these people on the internet in the form of people who have nothing positive to say to or about anyone (the trolls) and the anonymous posters that occasionally show up at your site and post negativity for no other reason than the fact that they are negative people and want to share it with the world.

Tying all of this together I want to say that I have learned by being over at the Raving Atheist that negative people (even those online) will suck the life out of you and have you spinning your wheels dealing with their nonsense instead of moving forward full speed. These people are unhappy and they would like nothing better than to make you unhappy because other people’s unhappiness is the only thing that makes them happy. They are also usually attention whores and think that any attention is better than no attention and will take every opportunity to spout vile things to another person in an attempt to have people look at them and get a reaction.

People of this nature will drain the very life force out of you. They are so effective at doing this that you normally don’t even notice what they have done to you until you look around and realize that these people have infected you with their unhappiness and that you are not accomplishing things that you should be accomplishing.

I have allowed myself to become so absorbed by the sadness, stupidity, and unhappiness of others that I find that I am becoming like them, slowly but surely. Remember how your mom wouldn’t ever allow you to hang around a certain group of girls because of how they acted? Well, this is like that. The more you hang around people the more that you will find yourself becoming like the company you keep. Attitude is contagious.

From here on out I am only going to keep the company of positive individuals that affirm my choices, represent what I aspire to be, or are trying to become a better person like I am.

I am no longer going to allow myself to become infected by the unhappiness of others. The next time that you are feeling sad,lonely, depressed, or like things are not progressing in your life the way that they should take the time to look at the situation and ask yourself is it you or is it the company that you’ve been keeping.

Ouch. Does this ever happen at theistic sites, where the atheists are driven away by the nastiness of religious commenters? Just wondering.

Coercion

February 16, 2006 | 72 Comments

In response to one of my posts on crisis pregnancy clinics, Jill of Feministe left a comment here (#47) regarding what she views as unethical practices at the facilities. Last week I addressed her accusation of deceit by the CPCs. Today’s installment deals with her criticism of coercion:

If they want to have an abortion, and they’re walking into their doctor’s office, they don’t deserve to be accosted by anti-choicers. If they want to give birth, and they go to a CPC for help, that’s great. But you don’t see pro-choice activists standing outside CPCs yelling at the women going in that they’re ruining their lives — because the pro-choice movement believes that women are perfectly capable of making their own reproductive choices, without being lied to or infantilized.

I’ve worked with and known women who have made a variety of choices, including childbirth and abortion. I know women who, in the direst of straits, chose to give birth. It’s probably not the same choice that I would make in their situation, but I would never tell them that they’re doing the wrong thing — because they aren’t. I’ve also met women who have had abortions or who are planning to, and, even if they’re in situations where I think I would have chosen differently, I’m not them. Until I’ve walked the proverbial mile in their shoes, I can’t say anything.

I must repeat the only true difference between us on the abortion issue is that I believe the practice to be an unjustified killing from conception through birth, whereas you draw the line at six months. At that point, you believe elective abortion should be prohibited and that childbirth should be legal compelled. So the issue isn’t coercion at all. You accept the value of coercion, even by the state, to prevent moral evils. That is, in fact, the entire purpose of the criminal law.

Coercion isn’t a by itself a value; it’s just a method of achieving a particular end. Whether the coercion is good or bad depends entirely upon the end to which it’s employed. You wouldn’t argue that it’s bad to coerce a woman out of drowning her toddler, on the premise that coercion alone is a bad thing. You wouldn’t argue that even if you had walked literally around the Earth in the woman’s shoes.

Furthermore, what CPCs engage in isn’t even coercion. It’s moral persuasion, moral argument. They show women ultrasounds and videos and share their experiences and try to convince them that there are better alternatives to abortion. To say that women “don’t deserve” to be subjected to persuasion or arguments because they’ve formed a particular desire at a particular time is the emptiest of rhetoric. People are bombarded with such arguments from every direction and every medium regarding every decision they make, large and small. They form their opinions and change their opinions because of those arguments. Women who would never consider an abortion because they believe it to be immoral form that opinion after being influenced by family, friends, television, the internet and other sources. There is no principled distinction to be made between the decision of a woman not to abort made after watching TV or reading a blog, and the same decision made after talking to a CPC volunteer.

The real reason you object to CPCs spreading the exact same message available everywhere else has nothing to do with an objection to persuasion or coercion. You simply object to the message that abortion is wrong, because you don’t think it ever is wrong. You “would never tell them that they’re doing the wrong thing — because they aren’t.” And so you believe that any woman who objects to abortion on moral grounds is wrong and has been tricked and infantilized into reaching that conclusion. That being the case, there is no reason to single out CPC volunteers for their efforts. You should be equally offended by every effort, in every medium, to discourage women from having abortions.

You claim that pro-choicers don’t protest outside of CPCs because they believe that women “are perfectly capable of making their own reproductive choices, without being lied to or infantilized.” This assertion makes little sense, because your whole premise is that women who enter CPCs are lied to and infantilized. Your entire comment is a protest against women going into CPCs. Why you make a distinction between making the argument in a comment and “accosting” a women outside a CPC I don’t know. If your true objection is to coercion and misinformation, you should fight it at every opportunity wherever it may be found. Run up to the women at the clinic doors and tell them not be “fooled” into thinking that what they see on the ultrasound is anything more than a clump of cells. Or tell them it is like looking at a cloud, and they may see in it anything they want.

I squarely reject that view, of course, and that again is the real difference between us. Because I believe abortion is wrong, I see nothing wrong with protesting at an abortion clinic, and everything wrong with protesting at a CPC. I know that abortion ruins lives, the life taken and the life left behind. If you believe that CPCs ruin lives, get out your placards, gather your victims, and rally at their doorsteps. But if you truly “can’t saying anything” and wouldn’t dream of “coercing” a decision one way other the other, my advice to you is simple: shut up and stand aside. Because quite frankly, lady, you’re just in the way.

Evangelical Agnosticism

February 15, 2006 | 57 Comments

Agnosticism, I have argued, is philosophically inferior to either atheism or theism. Its flaws are magnified when it takes the form of evangelical agnosticism, a somewhat schizophrenic religion popular across the blogosphere. Evangelical agnosticism is frequently characterized by (1) a tendency to attack the “arrogance” of evangelical atheists, (2) a near-complete, but unexpressed, acceptance of atheism, (3) the elevation of “arrogance” to the worst of all possible moral failings, (4) expressions of respect and sympathy for religious people, (5) a barely-veiled contempt for the intelligence of religious people, (6) a refusal to engage in actual philosophical debate over theology, (7) the adoption of weak theological arguments that no religion actually employs, and (8) a rejection of agnostic principles as applied to any subject matter other than theology. I recently stumbled across this post (from last March) which illustrates of some of these tenets:

Religious faith is stupid. That’s why I’m so certain there’s no God.

Anyone who’s lived in a Blue State has probably encountered the problem of the Evangelical Atheist . . . the person who has discovered the Void and considers it their bounden duty to share their newfound joy with everyone around them, through force if necessary. Having lived in the born again Christian wing of my freshman dorm, I find that EA’s, not fundamentalists, seem to be the undisputed champions of arrogant, intolerant, pig-headed religious boorishness. The fundamentalists who so earnestly tried to bring me into the fold were, after all, just trying to save me from an awful eternity in hell. The EA’s are trying to save people from wasting two hours on Sunday morning. And no fundamentalist I’ve ever met has ever been so thoroughly oblivious to the possibility that they might be wrong.

Other than the suggestion that it’s somehow impossible to be certain about anything, the author doesn’t explain why she believes either side is in error, or to what degree. But it’s clear that her intellectual sympathy is with the atheist view: the notion of an eternity in hell is a joke to her. She takes it no more seriously than she would the theory of a crackpot who told her that upon rounding the corner the Earth would part and she’d be sucked into the Land of Oz. And yet she condemns the atheist is arrogant, intolerant and pig-headed for expressing the same degree of certainty as she. It seems to me that the theist view in this case — the promotion of an afterlife scenario unsupported by a shred of evidence and contradicted by every thing we’ve observed about death — is far more arrogant. Just as person promoting sugar water as a treatment for diabetes would be the more arrogant participant in a debate over the merits of insulin, notwithstanding the certainty or obnoxiousness of the doctor presenting the opposing view.

Note also the tacit assumption that the fundamentalists should be shielded from challenge or mockery because of their earnestness and sincerity. The notion here is that atheists shouldn’t bully theists because believers are stupid baby sheeple incapable a comprehending the simplest logical argument. Yet in a later post she endorses the idea that the citizenry should submit alternative “creation stories” (think: Flying Spaghetti Monster) to combat the intrusion of creationism into the public school curriculum. That project is no less offensive to the religious than calling them stupid to their faces.

Later in the original post she gives an “amen” to a passage from another blog’s post criticizing atheistic arrogance. It illustrates the last two listed evangelical agnostic principles:

I wonder if this has anything to do with the fact that socialism and atheism seem to go hand in hand? There must be a certain humility in believing there is a higher power than you, at least when you believe you do not know for sure what that higher power’s purpose is for you, or even if it has one. Certainly some people believe that God talks to them and only to them. However, it takes a special kind of arrogance to believe that you (or any human for that matter) can direct an economy. This is the same kind of arrogance that allows one to say with certainty “there is no God” and that others should join the “reality-based community.”

There is no religion I have heard of that is based upon a deity that doesn’t have (or won’t reveal) its purposes or desires — much less a religion which holds that humility flows from ignorance of God’s will. The standard model is of a God that has revealed very clearly what it wants, and humbles us by threatening to wield His power to punish us for disobedience. The certainty and arrogance in such cases is just as strong as that of the most evangelical atheist. But the issue isn’t humility or arrogance, but who is correct. And the agnostic who asserts theism and atheism are equally plausible is both arrogant and wrong.

I won’t address the bizarre equation of atheism and socialism (see here for that), but will note that no economist — even one who is evangelically agnostic with respect to religion — would tolerate agnosticism with respect to his own area of expertise. I might believe that the economy could be fixed, and poverty eliminated, by printing up a billion dollars for each and every person, but if I attempted to argue the point at any length I’d rightfully be called stupid. No one would accuse the economist of arrogant, intolerant pig-headedness for judging me as such, or of expressing certainty regarding the superiority of his view over mine.

Craven Images

February 14, 2006 | 12 Comments

Update: Theocratic, anti-sex trolls have invaded the comments section and actually defended the construction of wall-shaped burkas around “helpless” women in public bathrooms to protect them from the “impure” thoughts, eyes and cameras of defecation fetishists. What’s next –a law requiring pantyhose aficionados to wear blindfolds and refrain from publicly masturbating at the sight of a shapely, nylon-clad leg?


Does God hate pictures? Maybe — but the law isn’t particularly interested in silly superstitions. A couple of stories from today’s New York Post drive home the point. The first shows that even if you think your body is your temple, temples aren’t entitled to special treatment:

A Manhattan judge has dismissed an Orthodox Jewish man’s lawsuit, finding that a photo taken of him on a street and sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars is art — not commerce.

Emo Nussenzweig filed the suit on the grounds that his religion forbids photographs because they’re graven images, according to his lawyer, Jay Goldberg.

“It puts him in a disgraceful light within his community,” Goldberg said.

“It violates the tenets of the particular religious sect to which he belongs. He shouldn’t be put in a position where people might think he sold out for a few bucks.”

But Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Judith Gische ruled that the head shot showing Nussenzweig, with a white beard, a black hat and a black coat, is art — even though the photographer took it surreptitiously near Times Square in 2001 and then sold 10 prints of it at $20,000 to $30,000 each.

Although the court recognized that the plaintiff found “the use of the photograph bearing his likeness deeply and spiritually offensive,” it held that his religious beliefs didn’t trump the photographer’s First Amendment right to artistic expression. That’s the way it should be. If you think a picture — or cartoon — offends your God, complain all you want. But don’t think you get an exemption for your peculiar sensitivities. If you don’t want you picture on a driver’s license, don’t drive. If you don’t like your picture snapped, stay inside.

Too bad this lesson was lost on the authorities in the second Post story. Not only does their God hate pictures, but sex as well. But they’ve set themselves up for an expensive false arrest lawsuit by trying to impose their theology on this photographer:

A baggage handler at Kennedy airport has admitted trying to snap a cellphone picture of a woman who was using a ladies room at the airport, cops said yesterday.

Alleged photog James Smith, 42, of Astoria, Queens, was released on his own recognizance from Queens Criminal Court yesterday, after signing an order of protection barring him from any further contact with the woman, whose name is being withheld by The Post.

He spent Sunday night in custody for the alleged stunt.

Cops say Smith entered the bathroom at around noon Sunday and stuck his cellphone under the door to a stall being used by the woman.

He tried but failed to take a picture, detectives said in a criminal complaint.

He was seen running out by another woman who was inside the ladies room, and was caught on security cameras entering and leaving the facility.

I’d say the alleged “wacko” has a much stronger case than the photographer from the first story. Although in both cases the pictures were taken surreptitiously and without consent, the cellphone photog was taking pictures for private use rather than public display — and wasn’t trying to make a profit off them. He just wanted to masturbate. Sexual meaning is subjective, driven by biology, and theocrats should learn not to imperialize their judgments upon others. If you have a hang-up about being photographed with your pants down or while defecating, don’t use a public bathroom. And before you impose your special religious sensitivities on others, keep in mind that God sees all anyway.

The police conduct was especially hypocritical given that the man was himself caught by hidden cameras that were secretly taping everybody. While those particular cameras weren’t planted in the bathroom, there’s no reason that the photographer should be held to the prudish standards of the surveillance company. And indeed, for all we know, its executives might have a fetish for clothed people, or even Jews in Orthodox garb. But to exalt their preferences over anyone else’s is like arguing over the superiority of chocolate ice cream vs. strawberry. Different people will have different preferences, and there are plenty of other flavors to choose from.

God Squad Review CLIX (Dying)

February 13, 2006 | 44 Comments

When is it best to hold ‘em or to fold ‘em? A Squad reader whose 26 year old cousin’s wife is dying wants to know when a person should fight to live, or just give up. The Squad says it’s easy:

The simple answer is that as long as there is hope for a cure, we must fight to live. When there’s no hope for a cure, remission or an extended period of time to live with a chronic and fatal disease, then we can properly give our souls over to the God, who gives life and who takes life away.

* * *

There is a grace to living, but there is also a grace to dying. The tipping point is for each of us to determine. Religion does not save people from death. Religion saves people from despair.

If God “takes life away,” He’s the reason for there being no hope for a cure. And even when there is hope for a cure, those who nonetheless die are doing so because God is taking their lives away. Certainly there’s no reason to fight if He’s made up His mind about that. And the tipping point is His to determine — even if we can make it sway little bit nearer to the life side, His can smack it back with His little pinkie. (Hope this saves you from despair).

* * *

I won’t dissect the second letter, in which the Squad distinguishes between the “truth of things” (science) and the “truth of good and evil” (religion). I’ll simply note that the reader begins his question by confessing that he can’t “mentally comprehend a light year” — and the Squad never corrects his apparent misconception that a light year is a measure of time, rather than distance.

Alternatives

February 12, 2006 | 13 Comments

In a letter to the editor, Anne Klaeysen of the Ethical Humanist Society of Long Island responds to last week’s God Squad column on whether morality is a good thing without God:

Once again, in the Feb. 4 column, the God Squad has taken a narrow view toward ethics, not only by insisting that the source of ethics is a supernatural deity and implying that only those who hold a theistic faith can live a moral life, but by presuming that “moral atheists” have an “inner idea of absolute truth” that is equivalent to God [“If there is no God, are morals and ethics still a good thing?”, Faith, Feb. 4].

As leader of the Ethical Humanist Society of Long Island who holds a doctorate of ministry degree from Hebrew Union College, I must take exception. Not all religions are based on revelation from a supernatural deity; nor does belief in God necessarily lead to moral behavior. Indeed, far more evil has been done — and continues to be done –in the name of God than not.

An early Ethical Humanist leader, John Lovejoy Elliott, who founded the Hudson Guild Settlement House, among many other social action projects, once said, “I have known good people who believed in God. I have known good people who didn’t believe in God. But I have never known good people who didn’t believe in people.”

It is time for the God Squad to believe in people and for Newsday to offer its readers an alternative to such a limited view of humanity.

My one problem with all this is that Klaeysen herself has an inner idea of absolute truth that tells her that she’s right and the Squad’s wrong. If she’s rejecting the notion of absolute truth, she’s in no position to criticize the Squad. If she believes in absolute truth, but simply doesn’t think it’s equivalent to or requires a God, she should lay out her position so we can see why the Squad is wrong.

The Feminine Critique

February 10, 2006 | 81 Comments

A common atheistic criticism of religion is that it has made sex a dirty, shameful thing. God, goes the complaint, is a prude who scowls if carnal pleasure is pursued for its own sake, or outside of a loving marriage between two people. The greatest scorn is reserved for the concepts of chastity and abstinence. The notion that one should “save” oneself for someone special, for one’s ultimate life partner, is considered downright unhealthy, if not perverted. There’s no necessary connection between sex and love — except in the deluded mind of an imaginary, puritanical deity.

I fear this another unfortunate case of a good idea — in fact the very best — being rejected merely because it is embraced by people of faith. The late Betty Friedan, a likely atheist who won Humanist of the Year award in 1975, understood this well. In the Feminine Mystique, she decried the emptiness of loveless lust:

Instead of fulfilling the promise of infinite orgastic bliss, sex in the America of the feminine mystique is becoming a strangely joyless national compulsion, if not a contemptuous mockery. The sex-glutted novels become increasingly explicit and increasingly dull; the sex kick of the women’s magazines has a sickly sadness; the endless flow of manual describing new sex techniques hint at an endless lack of excitement. This sexual boredom is betrayed by the ever-growing size of the Hollywood starlet’s breasts, by the sudden emergence of the male phallus as an advertising “gimmick.” Sex has become depersonalized, seen in terms of these exaggerated symbols.

Most notably, while herself believing that God is dead, Ms. Friedan explicitly rejected Nietzsche’s charge that “Christianity had poisoned eros”:

Yet, the contemporary way of exalting the body is deceptive. Eros, reduced to pure “sex”, has become a commodity, a mere “thing” to be bought and sold, or rather, a woman herself becomes a commodity. This is hardly a woman’s great “yes” to the body. On the contrary, she now considers her body and her sexuality as the purely material part of herself, to be used and exploited at will. Nor does she see it as an arena for the exercise of her freedom, but as a mere object that she attempts, as she pleases, to make both enjoyable and harmless. Here we are actually dealing with a debasement of the human body: no longer is it integrated into our overall existential freedom; no longer is it a vital expression of our whole being, but it is more or less relegated to the purely biological sphere. The apparent exaltation of the body can quickly turn into a hatred of bodiliness.

Ms. Friedan thus recognized that a disdain for an otherwise oppressive, paternalistic theism should not be used as an excuse to embrace a materialistic, libertine hedonism. I concur that the ideal place for sex is within a permanent, monogamous relationship. Neither men nor women are liberated by the liberation of hearts from loins. To seek a sexual partner for mere gratification or release is to reduce a human being to an object, a sex toy, a porn magazine, a prostitute.

However quaint and antiquated this may all sound, its essence is recognized by most people in their daily lives. Women view men who need sex dolls, pornography and prostitutes as pathetic, rather than idolizing them for their ability to divorce their feelings from reality. A wife whose husband excuses an tryst with “she meant nothing to me” rightfully wonders whether she means anything to him. A co-worker’s offer of a quickie behind the copy machine is not equated with an offer to pick up coffee. If God is dead because he is meaningless, then so is meaningless sex.

Honesty

February 9, 2006 | 68 Comments

In response to one of my posts on crisis pregnancy clinics, Jill of Feministe left a comment here (#47) regarding what she views as unethical practices at the facilities. I’ll be responding to her criticism in a series of posts over the next several weeks. Today’s installment addresses her accusation of lying:

How about helping the women who seek it instead of coercing and lying to them? When women call up CPCs and ask if they can schedule an appointment for an abortion, and the CPC receptionist says, “I’m not sure of the schedule right now, why don’t you come in and talk to us?” and proceeds to tell her a slew of BS about how abortion is universally damaging, physically dangerous, etc etc, no one is being helped. Women deserve honest information.

I consider abortion to be, in the vast majority of cases, the unjustified taking of a valuable human life. So I would never consider “helping” a woman by facilitating an elective abortion, any more than I would assist her in killing a baby, a toddler, or a husband. I simply don’t think it “helps” in any sense of the word. If what you mean is that she is “helped” by the relief she might experience upon aborting, I believe that the evil of killing far outweighs the benefit of relief. And as far as “no one being helped,” certainly the child who lives when an abortion is prevented is helped.

You yourself believe that abortion should ordinarily be illegal after viability. So I assume you believe it is also immoral after that point. If someone asked you “how helping the women who seek third trimester abortions,” or “how about helping those who seek to kill their toddlers,” your answer would be the same as mine. The difference between our positions is that I regard the unborn child as deserving of protection from conception, whereas you regard first and second trimester abortions as akin to wart removal or some other operation. Ultimately, that is all that our dispute boils down to. It’s not about tactics, or giving a woman what she “wants” or “deserves,” issues you would not raise once your viability threshold were crossed.

As I indicated in the CPC post, I do not condone lying to a women about her actual medical condition. I cannot speak to what practices other CPCs engage in, and once again urge you to volunteer to correct such wrongdoing. But as to other forms of lying, regarding the potential psychological effects of abortion, I am not particularly concerned insofar as I dislike killing more than deceit. There is no moral obligation to answer a killer truthfully when he asks where his intended victims are hiding. I also do not perceive a duty to provide full information about all options merely because they are legal. If you happen upon a baby face down in a puddle, the law does not require you to so much as flip it over on its back — but this is not something we are obligated to teach our children.

I imagine your position is similar in most respects. For example, from a previous post of your I understand that you are relying upon a NARAL Pro-Choice report for your claim that CPC volunteers lie. But that alleged information was itself obtained by misrepresentation: NARAL volunteers called up CPCs and lied that they were pregnant and lied that they needed abortions. If you can condone lying merely to determine whether others might lie, you should understand why one would condone it to prevent killing. What I can’t understand is why you would feel that lying is acceptable to stop lying, but not to stop killing. Particularly where the lying you are trying to stop is the lying that stops killing.

I would also caution that your anti-lying campaign might be more problematic that you assume. Like me, you do not believe that there is a God who punishes abortion with torture. That being the case, you should favor a law requiring abortion clinics and CPCs to inform women that Hell is not a side effect of the procedure, just as you believe that she should be truthfully advised regarding the reality of all purported risks. The fact that she was misinformed regarding Hell earlier in life, well before she reached the clinic, should be irrelevant. You would not argue that counselors should remain silent with a woman who harbors false beliefs regarding the likelihood of breast cancer, merely because she acquired them prior to the clinic visit.

Respect

February 8, 2006 | 32 Comments

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God Squad Review CVLIII

February 6, 2006 | 19 Comments

“If there is no God, are morals and ethics still a good thing?” asks a Squad reader. The response is the usual jumble of non-sequiturs and contradictions:

The brief answer is no. To quote Dostoevsky in “The Brothers Karamazov”: “If there is no God, all things are permitted.” Now it is true that there are many moral atheists and many corrupt theists. However, it’s our view that moral atheists have some inner idea of absolute truth, which is the functional equivalent of a belief in God’s moral law. Otherwise, depending only on one’s personal point of view, Hitler and Mother Teresa could be considered morally equivalent. The point of ethics is that something must be universal to be true.

“Thou shalt not murder” must be morally correct for all, not just for anyone who decides it is true because of some personal intuition. Why murdering innocent people is morally wrong, if it is not wrong because God says it is wrong, depends solely on the ability of unaided human reason to set and defend the absolute truth of moral claims.

I’ve discussed the difficulties of God command theology here and elsewhere, in particular how the Euthyphro dilemma renders God irrelevant to any ethical system. The Squad’s answer doesn’t begin to resolve the difficulties.

The presumed significance of the Dostoevsky quote (which the Squad doesn’t bother to explain or apply to its subsequent analysis) is that people could get away with anything because there’s no divine enforcer to dole out punishments and rewards at the end of time. However, that would not make morality and ethics a bad thing; it would make them all the more necessary to avoid injustice in this life. Furthermore, a general belief in the existence of a justice-dispensing God doesn’t tell us what is right or wrong or what puts us in heaven or hell. Even when the rules are spelled out in some holy book, the interpretations vary, and in any event we reject as insane and immoral many of the very clear dictates set forth in the Bible, the Qu’ran and other scriptures. The directives within and between those books often conflict, with thousands of God willing thousands of different thing, so a claim of absolute moral truth is obviously quite independent of a claim for God.

As the Squad well knows, and has acknowledged time and again, the absolute truths of Judaism and Christianity sharply conflict over the morality of rejecting Jesus as the savior. If “something must be universal to be true,” as they assert, theological claims like the divinity of Christ are plainly false because they are hardly universal. Moreover, there is no general religious consensus on any debated moral issue. And even simple principles, such as “it’s immoral to pillage and murder because you are angry about a cartoon,” are disputed by serious religious scholars. If they Squad believes that there is One True God whose dictates supply the absolute moral truths, they should identify Him and His beliefs instead of embracing their usual “many paths up the mountain” approach.

The Squad’s identification of the concept absolute truth as a “functional equivalent” of God-belief defeats their argument. If it’s functional, it works. If it’s equivalent, it works just as well. But nothing about it necessarily implies the existence of a conscious, all-powerful and all-knowing being supervising or punishing our behavior. There are functional equivalents for that role, too — human laws, human punishments and societal stigmas.

I concur that the murder of innocent people is a bad thing, universally bad under any moral system. But it is condoned in countless instances in the Bible and celebrated at Passover, which commemorates the slaughter of first-born Egyptian babies. So I reject it as wrong not “because God says it is wrong” — if the God of the Bible is the True One — but because all of human experience counts against baby-killing regardless of what Anybody says.

Finally, the Squad’s contempt for “unaided human reason” undercuts every single argument they make. If unaided human reason is incapable of correctly judging the morality of conduct, it is equally incapable of determining whether there is a God dictating such judgments. If it cannot alone conceive of a perfect moral system, it cannot alone conceive of the perfect being that devised the system. To argue that God aids us in understanding both morality and Him is not an adequate answer; apart from being question-begging, it fails to address why with God’s perfect aid we all don’t all share the same perfect concept Him and morality.

Muslims Riot Over Cartoon Depicting Prophet Muhammed as Violent and Irrational

February 5, 2006 | 76 Comments

Everywhere in the Muslim World, February 5, 2006
Special to The Raving Atheist

A newpaper cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a madman with a bomb in his turban has provoked understanable outrage from Muslim communities in several countries — sparking riots including the torching this morning of the Danish and Norwegian embassies.

In the Gaza Strip, a cleric told midday worshippers, “We will not accept less than severing the heads of those responsible.” Sheik Abu Sharif of Lebanon likewise proposed that “The solution is the slaughter of those who harmed Islam and the prophet.”

A top Vatican official agreed that the cartoons could not be tolerated in a civilized world. “One can understand satire about a priest but not about God.” Achille Cardinal Silvestrini said. “As far as Islam is concerned, one might be able to understand satire about customs and behavior but not about the Koran, Allah, or the prophet.”

One cleric, however, suggested that the grave danger posed by the pen and ink drawing simply be ignored. “We don’t want the expression of our condemnation (of the cartoons) to be used by some to portray a distorted image of Islam,” said Mohammad Rashid Qabani.

Beam Me Up, Coretta Scotty

February 3, 2006 | 14 Comments

Sadly, modern technology makes it possible to gauge the value of a life by searching for obituary cartoons on the internet. Not so much by what’s depicted in the cartoons (inevitably St. Peter or Jesus smiling approvingly at the departed through the Pearly Gates), but by the number of artists who decide to commemorate a particular person. Civil Rights leader Rosa Parks made the pen-and-ink Major Leagues with over a dozen drawings. But her contemporary Coretta Scott King earned only two. And both of those tributes remind me of a funeral service at which the minister forgets the deceased’s name. Apart from being plagued with a confusing theology, the cartoons give the reader no understanding of who Mrs. King was or what she did:

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Where exactly are the Rev. and the Mrs. , on the moon? At first I thought the cartoonist was merely taking poetic license with the depiction of heaven. But next one continues the peculiar space travel theme:

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The clear implication here is the heaven is located on one of the satellites of Saturn. Was Mrs. King a big booster of NASA? There must be some story behind all this.

Men

February 2, 2006 | 41 Comments

“Men aren’t entitled to an opinion on abortion,” is a common pro-choice argument. There are a few exceptions, the primary one being for men who are pro-choice. Like Ted Kennedy begging his lover to have an abortion. Or like pro-choice male members of the Supreme Court (leaving the issue to democracy might not work at times when polls show that the majority of women are pro-life).

Or like this guy. Not only does he think he’s entitled to his opinion, but he thinks women aren’t — at least those who believe in talking other women out of abortions rather than in to them. Even seeing such talk on the internet offends him. So he writes to Ashli of The S.I.C.L.E. Cell:

I am sorry but you and your fellow bloggers listed in your blog space are self righteous right wing religious fanatics. You interfere with the difficult decisions people are forced to make under duress and inject YOUR BELIEFS in their process of decision making. Are you GOD? Are you doing GOD’S WORK? I don’t think so. It just makes me sick to see your self righteous proclamations of doing what you do because you “care” about the people involved. What you care about are your own personal “religious beliefs” and your belief that you are right and in a sense . . . GOD. Enjoy being GOD . . . and as you confuse and complicate the decisions of all the scared pregnant young women that come to your blog site for help, remember that your sense of self importance comes at a price that you will never have to pay but they will.

He also suggests that instead of talking women out of abortion, she “do the girl a favor, ask to talk to her parents or doctor or school counselor . . . tell her to get input from those around her that really care and love her.” In other words, have her make the rounds until she finds someone who shares his opinion that abortion is always the best answer, perhaps the friendly neighborhood Planned Parenthood counselor if it turns out her family doesn’t love her as much as he thought.

People who know Ashli would recognize that sending her this kind of e-mail was an error of judgment, on the order of sticking your finger into a light socket. Although quite guilty of God-belief, she does actually do things which give the illusion of caring. And she’s the wrong audience for this sort of missive for other reasons:

You’re talking to someone whose life was literally saved by the illegality of abortion in ’71 (much to your chagrin, I suppose). I would have been ripped to shreds by your brand of “compassion” if it had been legal; how can you argue with me that my death was someone else’s right and would have been better? (how offensive is that?) I endured years of poverty and sexual abuse as a child, but I’m so glad to be alive today! Suffering is not a crime to hold against a child . . . that s/he should get the death sentence for his/her own “good” and the “good” of his/her duped parents is an amazing injustice. Finally, consider my own second trimester child and what I saw on the white-tiled floor. Oh, dear sir, there is nothing upon nothing you can ever say to me that will have me unknowing what I can never unknow. No amount of your chocolate dipping will ever conceal the bitter fruit underneath.

But the guy never quite seems to catch on. When his demand that she “ADOPT ALL THE FETUSES YOU SAVE!” is rebuffed (I’ll do that when you agree to adopt all the children you help save through welfare/healthcare, etc. programs . . . or could it be that there is some type of flaw in your argument that I must adopt everyone I help?”) he turns to flattery (“in Nazi Germany people like you would have supported Hitler . . . what he did he did in secret”). That also failing, he challenges her to resort to the most unfair, Gestapo-like strategy of all:

Go ahead, tear this paragraph up line by line . . . I’ve seen that tactic used before and it only serves to make you look right and me wrong. If that is what is important for you go for it!

Which she does. Read the whole thing.

Soul for Sale

February 1, 2006 | 40 Comments

A 22-year-old atheist from Chicago is offering the religious a chance to convert him — on eBay. While he doesn’t take his non-belief lightly (he’s active in a couple of national secular organizations), he “would immediately change those views if presented with evidence to the contrary.” His proposal:

Everytime I come home, I pass this old Irish church. I promise to go into that church every day — for a certain number of days — for at least an hour each visit. For every $10 you bid, I will go to the Church for 1 day. For $50, you would have me going to mass every day for a week.

My promise: I will go willingly and with an open mind. I will not say/do anything inappropriate. I will respectfully participate in service, speak to priests, volunteer with the church if possible, do my best to learn about the religious beliefs of the church-goers, and make conversation with anyone who is willing to talk. (Though I do reserve the rights to ask the person questions about the faith).

Substitutions allowed: Instead of the Irish church, he’ll attend a Protestant church, or a mosque, synagogue or any other house of worship the bidder believes might challenge his non-faith. He’ll document his attendance with a journal or pictures, and chronicle the experience in the agnostic/atheist newsletter he edits.

What are some objections to this offer? As preliminary matter, I don’t see the financial aspect of the transaction as a major difficulty. It’s not a wager like the one made by James Randi, which gives the skeptic a financial incentive to resist belief (or deny it) to win the bet. Rather, in this case, the atheist is paid in advance and will gain nothing more by attendance.

The offer is not completely unprecedented: at least one church has offered to pay members to attend, and many offer non-financial incentives unrelated to theology to fill the pews. And a staple of Christian theology is the doctrine that one should sacrifice all of one’s worldly possessions to help another enter the Kingdom of God. While is it certainly possible to object that the money would be wasted in this particular case, and dismiss the auction as a money-making scam by a hardened atheist, that seems unlikely. The amounts involved are trivial given the effort required to set up the auction, attend the church and document compliance.

More troublesome is an objection frequently raised (among many others) to Pascal’s Wager. PW proposes that it is safer to “bet on God” by believing in Him because everything is gained if you are right, and nothing is lost if you are wrong. But the notion that one can simply flip a switch and “make” oneself believe for a reward is unsettling. A belief is something one embraces on the ground of its truth, not gain. And, of course, if one did not believe in God, the reward would be no incentive because it too would be rejected as illusory. Interestingly, Pascal’s answer to this is consistent in a significant respect with our eBay atheist’s project:

Endeavor, then, to convince yourself, not by increase of proofs of God, but by the abatement of your passions. You would like to attain faith and do not know the way; you would like to cure yourself of unbelief and ask the remedy for it. Learn of those who have been bound like you, and who now stake all their possessions. These are people who know the way which you would follow, and who are cured of an ill of which you would be cured. Follow the way by which they began; by acting as if they believed, taking the holy water, having masses said, etc. Even this will naturally make you believe, and deaden your acuteness.

The auction proposal differs somewhat from Pascal’s in that the atheist will not merely be acquiescing in worship and rituals, but will continue to seek actual reasons to convert through a process of questioning. But his offer does not exclude the possibility that he will thereby be convinced of the “proof” of at least one of their arguments: namely, that faith is a “gift” that can hit anyone and relieve them of the need to seek additional, more traditional proofs. While this may seem implausible to most atheists, who would reject it along with the possibility that “faith” could somehow persuade them that 1 plus 1 equals 5, believers who came to God by faith would know differently and accept the offer as a sucker’s bet. And by bidding they would have nothing to lose, certainly nothing that was, under their own premises, of any value.

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