The Raving Theist

Dedicated to Jesus Christ, Now and Forever

2006 March

Dial-A-Jew

March 30, 2006 | 14 Comments

At the suggestion of an ultra-Orthodox rabbi, an Israeli company is offering “kosher” cellphone service. Under the plan, calls to outside, secular networks cost more than “kosher-to-kosher” calls between subscribers. Although not technically kosher (you can’t eat them) them, the phones bear special symbols indicating that that they have been “Approved by the Rabbinical Committee for Communications.” The company is planning to expand service to wherever Jewish communities may be found, and the founder says it’s only a matter of time before Brooklyn will have kosher service.

Is this much different from your ordinary “friends and family” calling plan? I think so. Although those services charge different rate for calls in and outside the network, anybody can join their networks. But for the kosher plan to mean anything, the Rabbinical Committee would have to screen potential subscribers for the appropriate level of Judaism.

So I wonder if it would even be legal in America. A phone company couldn’t get away with marketing a “Whites Only” phone plan. And although obviously private religious (and even ethnic) organizations can lawfully restrict their membership, a for-profit company selling phone time isn’t a synagogue.

Presumably the company won’t engage in official, overt discrimination, but will simply market it through orthodox channels and assume that no one outside the community would be interesting in joining. However, that seems like a risky proposition as well. If even one non-Jew got hold of a kosher phone, the whole system would be contaminated. Plus, if the Rabbinical Committee is not screening members, its certification might well constitute consumer fraud. I suppose one defense could be that the plan is already transparently fraudulent for permitting calls to secular networks at all. It’s sort of like a kosher deli selling ham and pork, and defending the practice on the ground that it charges more for the God-forbidden meat.

[Link courtesy of Andrea of Read Between the Lines]

Childish Custody

March 29, 2006 | 27 Comments

A Mississippi father writes to Andrew Sullivan complaining that he was denigrated for being an atheist in a child custody dispute, and was permanently stripped of Sunday visitation so that his son “could get the religious instruction he needs.” Sullivan’s only commentary: a clueless “I wonder if more of this goes on than we are aware of.”

Why yes, it does. As Professor Volokh has noted, in 2001 the Mississippi’s highest court upheld an order granting a mother custody in part because she took the child to church more often than the father and so provided a better “future religious example.” The Professor finds this to be an “egregious” case of discrimination in favor of religion and against non-religion — but in typical agnostic fashion, offers no better resolution than Sullivan:

I realize that some people think it’s in a child’s best interests to be raised in a religion, perhaps because it will be more likely to make the child feel deeply about the need to follow some moral code. For all I know, this might be true. But other people equally think it’s in a child’s best interests to be raised skeptical of all religions, because it will be more likely to make the child into a rational thinker who doesn’t take factual assertions on faith, and refuses to believe such assertions (whether about the Virgin Birth or the parting of the Red Sea or the creation of the world by an omnipotent, omniscient, benevolent God) unless he’s given solid evidence that they’re true. Freedom of religion, and freedom of speech, means that the government shouldn’t make custody decisions based on such assumptions — and of course if it can make custody decisions based on anti-atheist assumptions, it can also make them (and has made them) based on antireligious assumptions.

Not sure what to make of the last sentence, but the reality is that come Sunday morning that child will be either praying on its knees or not. One parent wants him to do so, the other does not, and when the matter is brought to the court, the court must decide which it is regardless of who is granted custody. I have no difficulty requiring the judge to go with the “solid evidence” and bar either parent from polluting the child’s head with superstitious rubbish. The dichotomy Volokh draws between a moral upbringing and a rational one is a completely false one — it’s just another anti-atheist assumption that declares that people who don’t believe in fairytales are immoral logic-machines.

Forgiveness

March 28, 2006 | Comments Off

You know how Christians assure you that that they love you and they’ll pray for you — right after informing you that you’ll slow-roast in Hell while demon-dogs feast on your flesh?

Well, atheist film reviewer Maryann Johanson of Flick Filosopher has just given Christian libertarian Ben Domenech the “Hell” part of that equation for plagiarizing her work and publishing it in the National Review Online. But hasn’t the young man suffered enough? I think it would be nice if she tried the “love” part and forgave him for his transgression, sort of like how the Pope forgave the guy who shot him. And I don’t mean the patronizing kind of forgiveness, the kind that says “I’m morally superior to you” and rubs the offender’s nose in it. Rather, the kind that reassures him that no matter what he’s done, you understand that he’s only human, bear him no ill-will, and wish him well for the future.

Unfortunately, judging by the tone of her e-mails to Ben and the National Review, Maryann hasn’t quite reached that place of healing. She’s understandably angry, a feeling no doubt compounded by the realization that the statute of limitations on copyright infringement has expired. Perhaps she could use your help in finding the words to forgive Ben. So go over to her comments section and show her how she can set an example for all atheists — I’l print the best letters here. But whatever you do, don’t go there just to read her e-mails to Ben and the National Review and gloat.

God Squad Review CXLV (Did Jesus have a Brother?)

March 27, 2006 | 8 Comments

Did Jesus have a brother named James? a Squad reader wants to know. Rather than squelch this irresponsible rumor, the Squad dishes out gossip so reckless it might as well have come from The Da Vinci Code:

James was one of the 12 Apostles and although all of the Apostles, except John, were martyred, James was the first to be killed for his faith by Herod Antipas in the year 44 (Acts: 12:2). His title was “brother of the Lord,” and this is a problem for Christian theologians who hold the view that Mary was always a virgin. They speculate that perhaps James was a cousin of Jesus, not a brother.

* * *

Others believe that James was the half-brother of Jesus as the son of Joseph from a previous marriage.

Okay, so some of the gossip comes from the Bible itself. But what’s interesting is how they deal with the non-Biblical evidence:

Recently, there was much speculation about James following the discovery of a stone burial box with the phrase “James the brother of Jesus” inscribed on it. Unfortunately, the box seems to have been an elaborate hoax.

“Unfortunately”? Why “unfortunately”? Was the Squad rooting for proof of Mary’s impurity or Joseph’s promiscuity?

That aside, I’m wondering what convinced the Squad that James-box was a hoax. Sure, the inscription appeared to have been recently carved into the 2,000 years of residue that would have grown over any inscription — but isn’t that just more evidence of a miracle? If they’re going to rely on ordinary scientific laws to discredit the box, they might as well take note of the fact that men don’t rise from the dead.

Praygiarism

March 26, 2006 | 11 Comments

Incontrovertible proof of serial plagiarism forced Ben Domenech to resign on Friday, only three days after starting work as the “Red America” blogger for the Washington Post.

Domenech, a co-founder of the popular RedState.com, is a “Christian libertarian” who takes the book of Genesis literally. Ironically, however, when the editors of National Review Online began reviewing his contributions for evidence of copying, the most egregious example they found was his lifting of passages of a movie review by an atheist, Flick Filosopher Maryann Johanson. I imagine the folks a NRO would have caught on much sooner had he attempted the same thing with her review of The Passion of the Christ.

Domenech’s fate is reminiscent of that of Claude Allen, the pious ex-White House aide recently charged with shoplifting. However, I don’t think a faith angle really works in either case. Neither Domenech nor Allen committed their transgressions in furtherance of their religious beliefs. At most there’s an issue of hypocrisy, but not even that quite flies here. Blogger Domenech couldn’t have possibly believed, in this age of Google, that his plagiarism would have gone unnoticed long by his countless enemies on the left. And the well-paid Allen was stealing items worth as little as $2.50. So what each man did seems so be more the product of some out of control, compulsive psychological disturbance as anything else, unaccompanied by any significant religious or moral deliberation or struggle. (Maybe this what Anne Coulter meant by implying that Allen was simply a victim of original sin).

What would have happened had a prominent atheist engaged in Domenech-style plagiarism? I think people would more readily attribute the offense to the godlessness, asserting that belief in a Divine Policeman is indispensable to good behavior. After all, a new survey found that atheists are America’s least trusted minority, ranking below Muslims and homosexuals — and that American have created “religious/nonreligious distinction” to “exclude” certain members from society. (I can believe that Americans “distrust” atheists. But exclude them? That’s highly debatable). However, it’s unlikely that an atheist would ever do the precise equivalent of what Domenech did, as when has a Christian ever written anything worth stealing?

UPDATE: A Christian blogger has recklessly accused me of plagiarizing her work in this very post — apparently referring to the third and fourth sentences of the final paragraph. I deny the charges, noting that (1) the passages are not substantially similar, (2) if they are, it was a coincidence, (3) if it wasn’t, someone else must have inserted them, (4) if not, her work was clearly credited by means of a link from the period at the end of the second to last sentence, and (5) it doesn’t matter anyway because there is no God.

Nation Unified by Senator Clinton’s Scripture-Talk

March 24, 2006 | 14 Comments

Washington, D.C., March 24, 2006
Special to The Raving Atheist

Senator Hillary Clinton yesterday united Americans of all political affiliations, religious beliefs and IQ levels by invoking the Bible in a speech criticizing an immigration bill, all but assuring her election to the presidency in 2008.

“It is hard to believe that a Republican leadership that is constantly talking about values and about faith would put forth such a mean-spirited piece of legislation,” she said of the measure. “It is certainly not in keeping with my understanding of the Scripture because this bill would literally criminalize the Good Samaritan and probably even Jesus himself.”

Clyde Werbell of Biloxi Mississippi lauded Mrs. Clinton for her attempt to bride the faith gap. “I appreciate her direct appeal to my church-going, snake-handling demographic,” he said. “Her allusion to the lamb whose blood was shed for our salvation has eliminated my suspicions that she belongs to a liberal secularist elite that is hostile to making speaking-in-tongues the official, national language.”

Nationally-syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin expressed skepticism at the former First Lady’s faith-based speech, but said she was powerless to criticize the Senator. “At most I could point out her hypocrisy in failing to quote Jesus on other social issues, but there is no getting around the fact that she did rely on Him this time,” she said. “And although Our Savior clearly supports tighter border controls and internment camps for immigrants from Samaria and other Arab-sounding countries, it would be unseemly to push that point too hard — I am checkmated.”

Rev. Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State similarly stated that he would not fault Senator Clinton for her comments. “Her transparent pandering in no way represents a lessened commitment to our shared atheistic mission to drive every last trace of religious superstition from the public square,” he said. “While she might have pointed out that Vishnu, Zeus and Allah also oppose the immigration bill, I understand that our otherwise pluralistically democratic society is still not quite ready for that level of cynical faith-mongering.”

Scientologitific Explanation

March 23, 2006 | 16 Comments

The level of religion-bashing on South Park over the years has been so extreme that I assume anyone associated with it was a hardcore atheist. So Isaac Hayes’ explanation that he was leaving his role as the cartoon’s “Chef” character because of its attack on Scientology seemed more than a little suspicious to me:

There is a place in this world for satire, but there is a time when satire ends and intolerance and bigotry towards religious beliefs of others begins.

Religious beliefs are sacred to people, and at all times should be respected and honored.

As a civil rights activist of the past 40 years, I cannot support a show that disrespects those beliefs and practices.

Yes, I understand that religious people can be hypocrites, and that many of them happily mock the beliefs of other religions while remaining blind to the absurdity of their own. But, no — it’s not really possible to participate so actively for so long in the kind of mockery perpetrated by South Park without abandoning one’s faith. And it’s certainly not possible to issue a statement like that with a straight face. So I find this item from today’s the New York Post’s Page Six to be a more plausible explanation for Hayes’ departure:

Isaac Hayes may not have quit “South Park” at all — or at least not willingly. Turns out Hayes has been away from Comedy Central’s hit show for the past three months because he had a stroke. According to foxnews.com, he’s at home recuperating and did not issue the press release which said he was quitting because the show made fun of his faith. That release was put out by fellow Scientologist Christina “Kumi” Kimball, a fashion executive for designer Craig Taylor. According to foxnews.com, “Hayes loves “South Park” and needs it for income. He has a new wife and a baby on the way.”

But even if the press release was Hayes’ own, he might still be an atheist. My impression of Scientology is that it doesn’t have a God, just a race of very powerful, but perfectly natural, space aliens.

Anti-Choice Search Engine Modified to Serve Real Women

March 21, 2006 | 30 Comments

New York, New York, March 21, 2006
Special to the Unaborted Atheist

An online bookseller’s anti-choice search engine algorithm has been modified to reflect the preferences of real women for abortion over adoption, according to the New York Times.

Until a few days ago, a search of Amazon’s catalog of books using the word “abortion” turned up pages with the question, “Did you mean adoption?” at the top, followed by a list of books related to abortion. A query with the corrected Amazon algorithm returns Mapquest and Yahoo maps charting the shortest route to a Planned Parenthood facility, together with listings for the books Having an Abortion . . . That’s Grrrrrrr-eat!! by Tony the Tiger and Abortion is a Blessing by Anne Nicol Gaylor.

Amazon removed the adoption question from the search results page after it received a complaint from a member of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, a national organization based in Washington.

“I thought it was offensive,” said the Rev. John Louis, a retired Episcopalian minister. “It represented an editorial position on their part.” The Rev. James Brandt, a minister with the Unitarian Universalist Church, and a member of the abortion rights coalition, said he was worried about an anti-abortion slant in the books Amazon recommended and in the “pro-life” and “adoption” related topic links.

“The search engine results I am presented with, their suggestions, seem to be pro-life in orientation,” Rev. Brandt said. He also said he objected to a Yellow Pages advertisement for an anti-abortion organization in his city that appeared next to the search results.

Patty Smith, an Amazon spokeswoman, said there was no intent by the company to offer biased search results. She said the question “Did you mean adoption?” was an automated response based on past customer behavior combined with the site’s spelling correction technology.

She said Amazon’s software suggested adoption-related sources because “abortion” and “adoption” have similar spellings, and because many past customers who have searched for “abortion” have also searched for “adoption.”

Ms. Smith said that was because many customers who searched for abortion also searched for adoption, but customers who searched for “adoption” did not typically search for topics related to abortion.

Rev. Louis dismissed Amazon’s defense as disingenuous. “A real woman who orders abortion books online intends to use them for pro-choice advocacy when they arrive seven to ten days after her abortion,” he said. Louis accused the bookseller of infantilizing women and interfering with their personal autonomy, noting that by time a woman is first seeking information on abortion she has already fully educated herself on the topic and has made up her mind to terminate the pregnancy, if she is pregnant. Louis ridiculed the idea that pro-life customers might use the term “abortion” when looking for books, suggesting that more customary queries are “I hate women” or “blow up the clinic.”

Rev. Brandt similarly ridiculed Amazon’s claim that the “adoption” search result could have been based upon actual customer preferences. “Every woman knows that adoption is not a true alternative to abortion, because adoption does not kill the fetus,” he said. “It’s like saying that an appendectomy would be an acceptable substitute.” Brandt added that the adoption pool is already polluted with inferior minority or disabled children who should never have been born, and that any childless couple submitting a search for “adoption” is most likely looking for the opportunity to volunteer to escort women to their appointments for late second term abortions.

God Squad Review CLXIV (Need for a Messiah)

March 20, 2006 | 8 Comments

“What would be the need for a messiah if we evolved from lower life forms, even if God did start the process . . . why would we need redemption?” a Squad reader asks. Implicit in the question is the premise that evolved creatures are less in need of redemption than spontaneously created ones, a premise I don’t understand. Compounding my confusion is the notion of redemption itself, which rests on the idea that bad people are made good by the will of some supernatural being — usually after they have flattered it by saying they believe in its existence. However, it doesn’t matter whether the reader is making sense, because the Squad rarely addresses the issue raised and whatever answer they give generally makes less sense than the question. So I’ll just comment on various parts of the Squad’s reply:

The way we became human beings is the just and rightful province of science. Why we became human beings is the just and rightful province of religion. The debate over evolution and intelligent design may be motivated by religious commitments, but that debate remains a scientific one. It’s the same debate that always occurs in evaluating a scientific theory, and the resolution of that debate hinges on which theory best explains the facts of human life on Earth.

The problem with this analysis is that the “way” and the “why” questions aren’t are separate ones. If the “way” did not involve an outside consciousness directing the process (whether it was evolution or some form of spontaneous creation), then there was no “why”. It makes no sense to say that the “why” is something to be answered only by religion. Furthermore, the very premise of the question “why” is that there was a pre-existing being with reasons for creating us — so there’s nothing left for religion to answer as the question begs itself.

The purpose of human life is another matter altogether, and it is in those speculations that the belief in a messiah arises. The theological problems that belief in a messiah are meant to solve are first, the individual problem of atonement for our sins, and second, the collective problem of the presence of evil in a world created by an all-powerful, benevolent God.

The Squad doesn’t explain how the “purpose of human life” is in any way different (much less altogether different) from the question of “why we became human beings.” Presumably if we knew why humans were created we would know their purpose. Also unexplained is how atonement is a problem that arises out of the notion of purpose. That might be the case if our purpose was to sin (in order to give the messiah a role in the later atonement and/or punishment scheme), but religions usually don’t argue that God specifically intended us to do evil. And finally, the Squad fails to explain why the separate personage of the messiah is needed when there’s already a God to sort things out in the end.

Colbert

March 18, 2006 | 28 Comments

Atheism: the religion devoted to the worship of one’s own smug sense of superiority.

Stephen Colbert, The Daily Show

Obituary Cartoon Round-Up

March 17, 2006 | 6 Comments

Don Knotts and Dana Reeve died this month, and, more importantly, were featured in obituary cartoons (see links).

Knotts, best known for his television role as TV deputy sheriff Barney Fife, is portrayed as that character in every tribute. One cartoonist suggests that President Bush was just about to appoint him head of port security, but the main dispute between the artists seems to be over whether St. Peter is taking away his bullets (he was a careless markman) or giving him more (everyone in heaven is dead anyway).

Reeve, best known as the wife of a man best known for his movie role as Superman, is portrayed flying away with that character in the two cartoons devoted to her. She gets a Supergirl cape in one and street clothes in the other (what they would have done had Margot Kidder and Helen Slater died the same week, I don’t know). Oddly, neither Chris’ paralysis nor Dana’s disease are alluded to in the tributes. I’m guessing the reason is that while it’s easy to show some rising out of a wheelchair (a theme common in his 2004 obituary cartoons), it’s trickier to depict the expulsion of lung cancer cells. Which is strange, because in real life God performs so many more remission miracles than spine-healings.

Stain Update

March 16, 2006 | 7 Comments

From time to time I follow up on what’s happening in the life of the apparition of the Holy Virgin Mary that appeared in a Massachusetts hospital window in 2003. Apparently last fall she gave over $14,000 to the hurricane relief efforts. I’m having trouble summoning up a sense of outrage about this right now, but I will note that Underpass Mary has yet to step up to the plate.

Save the World

March 15, 2006 | 3 Comments

Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.

Talmud

Certifiable

March 15, 2006 | 8 Comments

Orthodox Jewish law was enforced in New York by state-retained Rabbis for a century before its Kosher statutes were struck down as unconstitutional in 2002. The state nevertheless continues to finance the Divison of Kosher Law Enforcement, which maintains an equally unlawful registration scheme. I once toyed with the idea of registering a Kosher ham just to mock the system — but as it turns out, the Orthodox Union has beat me to the punch. According to the Division’s website, the organization certifies the following Leviticus-forbidden, cloven-hooved, cud-chewing, bottom-dwelling reprobate abominations:

Pork and beans;

Bacon bits;

Shrimp;

Rabbit.

The pork, bacon and shrimp apparently employ artificial flavoring, but still. And the rabbit? It’s chocolate — presumably for that most special of Jewish holidays.

Gufi

March 13, 2006 | 7 Comments

The state can’t delegate veto power over a bar to a church, said the Supreme Court in 1982. However, a zoning law may permissibly impose a blanket ban on liquor outlets within a reasonable prescribed distance from a church, school or hospital, or permit for hearings at which such institutions may voice objections to bar on the grounds of noise and other nuisance. New York, for its part, has elected to bar bars within 200 feet “of a school, church, synagogue or other place of worship. . . .” Professor Friedman notes that the law is now facing a strange kind of test:

The Tribeca Trib this week reported that the New York State Liquor Authority has denied a license to one bar, and is threatening to close three others, because they are within 200 feet of Masjid al-Farah, a Sufi mosque. The problem, however, is that none of the bar owners knew that the mosque was there. Indeed some of the bars had been operating over 10 years without realizing the problem. The mosque’s nondescript building has no signage on it indicating that it is a mosque. Moreover, mosque officials have no objection to the bars. The Liquor Authority asserted the violations of law after other neighbors objected to the noise and over-concentration of bars in the neighborhood. One bar owner has suggested a legal loophole — he argues that Sufism is “more a philosophy” than a religion.

There do seem to be quite a few Sufi sites out there which insist that Sufism is not a religion (see here, here, and here, for example) . My guess is that it’s less religious than a Kosher deli but more religious than a yoga center. The mosque in question, however, has vowed to remain neutral in the dispute, so the parties may have to figure it out for themselves.

Which would be ridiculous. Ordinarily the inquiry into whether something is a religious revolves around what its members actually believe and whether they are sincere about it. But now the state is going to get to define a religion in a vacuum, at the behest of third parties who don’t give a shit about the religion but just want to take advantage of rights that the religion itself refuses to assert.

God Squad Review CLXIII

March 12, 2006 | 15 Comments

Are Catholics Christians? A Catholic public school teacher overheard some of her students say that they’re not, and writes to the Squad asking how she can correct this alleged misconception without starting an argument. They opine:

Here it is in its most elemental language: All Catholics are Christians, but not all Christians are Catholic. Of the roughly 2 billion Christians in the world, roughly half of them are Catholics, and the rest are Orthodox Christians or Protestants. Unfortunately, in common usage today, many Protestants, particularly evangelicals, refer to themselves as Christians to distinguish themselves from Catholics.

The truth is that every person who believes Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God sent to Earth to die for our sins and then to be raised from the dead on the third day is a Christian; everybody else . . . isn’t.

Conveniently, the Squad overlooks the countless Roman Catholic doctrines and practices which are contradicted by the Bible. As religious expert Tony Capoccia notes, they’re equivalent to atheists:

Catholics, by definition are not Christians, for they (the Roman Catholic Church) has a false gospel, which says a person is saved by “doing certain works” (going to Mass, confessions, praying rosaries, Novenas, giving to the poor, helping others, etc.) by which they claim to receive the grace of salvation. But the Bible says one is not saved by “works” but by “faith”.

Mr. John T. (“Jack”) Chick, in Are Roman Catholics Christians?, neatly disposes of the question by citing the ultimate authority:

Jesus hates this false religious system. It has blasphemed His Holy Name, His Holy Word, and has deceived billions of people.

He calls her The Mother of Abominations (Revelations 17:5) and has promised to utterly destroy her, and all those with her.

Does that sound like an endorsement? Certainly, belief in Christ and His resurrection forms some part of Christian belief, but it’s not always enough. Someone who believed that Christ was just one among many deities wouldn’t necessarily qualify — he might be Santerian. Indeed, the Squad itself has argued that belief in just one too many gods can turn one religion into another: Jews who believe in Christ are Christians, not Jews. By the same token, a “Christian” who additionally worships Mary and other idols is Catholic, not Christian.

Still Crazy After All These Years

March 12, 2006 | 10 Comments

G.K. Chesterton, The Ball and the Cross, 1909:

As I was observing . . . this man also took the view that the symbol of Christianity was a symbol of savagery and all unreason. His history is rather amusing. It is also a perfect allegory of what happens to rationalists like yourself. He began, of course, by refusing to allow a crucifix in his house, or round his wife’s neck, or even in a picture. He said, as you say, that it was an arbitrary and fantastic shape, that it was a monstrosity, loved because it was paradoxical. Then he began to grow fiercer and more eccentric; he would batter the crosses by the roadside; for he lived in a Roman Catholic country.

* * *

When he returned to his house he was a literal madman. He sat upon a chair and then started up from it for the cross-bars of the carpentry repeated the intolerable image. He flung himself upon a bed only to remember that this, too, like all workmanlike things, was constructed on the accursed plan. He broke his furniture because it was made of crosses. He burnt his house because it was made of crosses. He was found in the river.

Gary Bauer, in The Catholic Exchange, 2003:

Now that the Ten Commandments monument has been removed from the Alabama Supreme Court, rabid secularists have set their sights on another target: the steel-beam cross found in the rubble of Ground Zero.

The cross immediately became a symbol of hope to thousands of families of September 11th victims, but it enrages the radicals. “This is a Christian religious advertisement, and allowing it to stay there is an insult to everyone who doesn’t believe in that particular religion.” So says Ellen Johnson, president of American Atheists, who is waging her own “jihad” to have the steel cross banned from any World Trade Center memorial.

Crimes of Passion

March 10, 2006 | 20 Comments

Before the suspects in the recent Alabama church fires were caught, the Anti-Defamation League suggested that whoever was ultimately apprehended be prosecuted under the Church Arson Prevention Act. That statute was enacted in the mid-1990s in response to racially-motivated crimes — but because the targets were churches, the focus of the statute is upon the protection of religious worship. Specifically, the law’s special penalties apply to whoever “intentionally defaces, damages, or destroys any religious real property, because of the religious character of that property.”

There will doubtlessly be some debate over whether the Alabama suspects torched the buildings “because” of their religious character. At first glance, it seems difficult to argue otherwise — the nine structures were all churches, and that obviously was no coincidence. But on the other hand, nobody seems convinced that the arsons were “hate crimes” or that any particular religious animus was involved. The kids just decided to burn down the same kind of building each time, and the first couple of them happened to be churches; their crime was one of consistency, not hate. As to what the people who used the buildings thought or said and sang about, they couldn’t care less.

Which to my mind, is even more of a crime. Indifference is something that burns more than any fire — far worse than damning with faith praise, it’s damning by not caring enough to pay attention. A man who burns down a building because he despises the ideas preached within shows a form of respect for those ideas. They matter enough to him to merit a response, albeit violent.

In short, it is a crime of passion. Such offenses are ordinarily punished with less severity than others. A man who kills a woman out of love receives a lesser sentence than the conscienceless stranger who shoots her in the course of a convenience store robbery. The stranger is cold and inhuman, a kind of misanthrope.

How could those kids not care about the idiocy brewing within the church walls? A virgin birth, a risen martyr — what??!?! I suppose it was all just “kewl” to those agnostic bastards, a “different strokes for different folks” kind of thing. It’s that kind attitude that merits life without parole.

It brings a tear to my eye to watch you all, atheist and theist alike, go at each other my comments. If you ever met, I know you’d burn each others’ houses down — and I wouldn’t blame you at all. Because I know it would be for the best of reasons — because you cared.

Senselessness of Church Arson Rampage Delights Alabama Governor

March 9, 2006 | 96 Comments

Birmingham, Alabama, March 9, 2006
Special to The Raving Atheist

Dismissing the torching of nine churches as a “joke,” Alabama Governor Bob Riley expressed relief that the fiery spree was untainted by theological differences or any other identifiable human motive.

“We don’t think that there is any type of conspiracy against organized religion or against the Baptists or against religious beliefs in particular,” Riley said. “I think that, today, Alabama and all of the faith-based community in this state can rest a little easier.”

The Governor stated that religious people are much safer when cataclysmic violence against their houses of worship strikes arbitrarily out of nowhere. “Nothing is more unbearable than the knowledge that someone disagrees with your dogma,” Riley added. “Christians should take great comfort in the fact that college-educated young men are now setting their churches ablaze by the score in a random, unreasoning fashion.”

God Squad Review CLXII (Problem of Evil)

March 6, 2006 | 125 Comments

Why do some people get punished for murder while others go free? A reader who feels “I should not question why such things happen” nevertheless asks the Squad for an answer to the problem of evil. As it turns out, asking the question (at least to them) was probably a bad idea:

There are several traditional answers from the world’s religions regarding questions on the presence of evil. Here are some for your spiritual perusal:

There is no evil and everything you experience is not really real. It just seems real because you’re too attached to the sensory world and have not yet achieved enlightenment and freedom from suffering. This is the Buddhist answer.

The scales of justice, which can be out of whack in this world, will be made even in the world to come after our bodies die and our souls go to either heaven or hell. There, the wicked will be punished to the full extent of their evil and the good people rewarded to the full extent of their goodness. This is the Jewish and Christian answer.

Our souls are reborn into new bodies over and over again until we finally achieve release from the cycle of reincarnation. Those who live evil lives are reborn on lower and lower levels of existence . . . This is the Hindu answer.

The good thing about these answers is that God doesn’t care which one you choose, just as long as you stay in touch.

Which God, exactly, do they mean by “God” in that last sentence? Clearly, they can’t possibly be talking about the Judeo-Christian or Hindi gods, because those deities clearly do know and care about which afterlife justice system is in effect, and wish humans to know what it is so that they can adjust their behavior accordingly. In effect, the Squad is proposing the existence of a new, reefer-smoking God who likes to watch shit happen and get postcards a couple of times a year.

Bad Taste

March 5, 2006 | 34 Comments

In G.K. Chesterton’s The Ball and the Cross, a devout Catholic, Evan MacIan, is brought before a magistrate after smashing the window of an atheist newspaper. This dialogue ensues after MacIan is asked to explain his conduct:

“He is my enemy,” said Evan, simply; “he is the enemy of God.”

Mr. Vane [the magistrate] shifted sharply in his seat, dropping the eye-glass out of his eye in a momentary and not unmanly embarrassment.

“You mustn’t talk like that here,” he said, roughly, and in a kind of hurry, “that has nothing to do with us.”

Evan opened his great, blue eyes; “God,” he began.

“Be quiet,” said the magistrate, angrily, “it is most undesirable that things of that sort should be spoken about–a–in public, and in an ordinary Court of Justice. Religion is–a–too personal a matter to be mentioned in such a place.”

“Is it?” answered [Evan], “then what did those policemen swear by just now?”

“That is no parallel,” answered Vane, rather irritably; “of course there is a form of oath–to be taken reverently– reverently, and there’s an end of it. But to talk in a public place about one’s most sacred and private sentiments–well, I call it bad taste. (Slight applause.) I call it irreverent. I call it irreverent, and I’m not specially orthodox either.”

A hundred years have little changed the state’s treatment of faith: constant demands for public acknowledgment and respect for religion coupled with an aversion to anything approaching real discussion or understanding.

Love

March 4, 2006 | 36 Comments

We cannot live without love. If we do not encounter love, if we do not experience it and make it our own, and if we do not participate intimately in it, our life is meaningless. Without love we remain incomprehensible to ourselves.

Pope John Paul II

No Escape

March 3, 2006 | 22 Comments

Escapee from the Meme Machine broke up with a boyfriend, “Mike,” who pretended to be an atheist while secretly going to church several times a week and serving as a Eucharist minister. Although she hasn’t engaged in any dishonesty, she suddenly finds herself in a similar situation with her new guy, “Jim”:

I dumped Mike for lying to me about being a theist. But I have yet to tell Jim that I am an atheist. Why? Because right after I met him, his grandmother — who raised him and to whom he was very very close — had a stroke and died suddenly. Just before Thanksgiving and her 80th birthday. Obviously he was crushed. Even now, he is still greiving. When he talks about her, my heart breaks for him.

He’s not overtly religious — but rather a twice a year xian (easter and xmas), though no church. But, he has mentioned his grandmother being in a “better place” and how there must be a life after this one. He loved her very much and still misses her.

I don’t think my atheism would be a deal-breaker for Jim. Under normal circumstances, I doubt he’d care at all. But, how in the world am I supposed to tell him about the atheist aspect of myself without it looking like I’m just pissing on his grief? How can I tell him I don’t believe in an afterlife when someone he loved very dearly has just died?

But, on the other hand, I feel like a fraud not telling him. I haven’t claimed to be a theist (unlike mike) — I’ve simply said that I don’t celebrate xmas and that I don’t believe in hell. Come to think of it, he may have already guessed.

If anyone is out there — what would you do?

I wonder what the God Squad would say about this, if they gave advice to atheists. What do you think she should do?

Smokin’ It

March 2, 2006 | 9 Comments

The Supreme Court recently found that drinking a hallucinogenic tea is a protected religious practice under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. How about growing hemp? A California federal court confronted that question just a few days after the SCOTUS ruling:

Throughout the complaint, plaintiff’s briefing, and his argument at hearing, plaintiff’s description of his growing hemp/cannabis indicates that it is a way of life for him rather than a religion. Although plaintiff does link “tending his garden” with feeling close to God, he does not specifically link or require growing hemp to commune with God:

Tending our family garden as a boy just reinforced what I was being taught in Catholic School about God, Nature, and our dependency on such. But, for me, tending the garden became much more, it somehow brought me closer to God. It was as if to tend our garden was my most direct connection with God, outside of my own heart. It gave me a feeling of communing with God in a way that simply was not there in my church. Even tending Mass as an Alter Boy did not satisfy my need to link with God, but my garden did.

Plaintiff admits that his efforts to introduce hemp and its byproducts were for reasons other than worship of his religion:

In the mid 1990’s I was directly involved in helping to organize efforts to introduce and implement and [sic] economic development plan, based on producing hemp, to the Oglala Lakota Sioux tribe at Pine Ridge in South Dakota…. If it had succeeded it would have gone far to bring food, jobs, housing and self-sustainability to a place that was then and is still one of the most impoverished areas within U.S. continental borders.

Plaintiff also refers to his efforts to aid American farmers who were in desperate need of economic aid by teaching them to grow hemp, and concedes it was an “economic effort.” Plaintiff additionally invokes hemp in the name of better clothing and household use, better quality of life, and pursuit of survival for man in general and him and his family in particular.

In his opposition, plaintiff reaffirms that his use of the cannabis/hemp plant represents a way of life rather than a religion. He states that no other plant can meet all the basic necessities of life, that it is central to our survival, and that it is necessary in order for him to live in the most healthy and harmonious possible way.

All of these statements and affirmations indicate that plaintiff’s beliefs are secular, economic, social, and philosophical, but that they are not religious. As the court in Meyers found, an individual’s belief in a “Church of Marijuana” does not make it a religion. Plaintiff has not shown that his beliefs are religious in nature.

What drugs was the judge on? The man wants to get closer to God by using hemp to help people and live harmoniously. If that’s not religion, I don’t know what is. The court tried to distinguish the SCOTUS ruling by stating that in that case “there was no doubt that the sect at issue was a religion, and that preclusion of use of the tea would substantially burden the religion,” but it seems to me that the hemp guy was sincere enough and that his whole life would be burdened if they shut down his garden. I didn’t think this country’s jurisprudence on religion could get any goofier than it already was, but it looks like the RFRA will be providing entertainment for years to come. Why we even have legislation that puts religious nonsense ahead of economic, social and philosophical concerns is, of course, another question.

HT: The Religion Clause — and this site, by Professor Howard M. Friedman, is a great place to go if you’re looking to read about the latest upsetting religious outrage.

My Secret, Revealed

March 2, 2006 | 6 Comments

I have been told lotsa of my church frend to come hear and leasrn of the abortion clerver argument mr A is saying. They agree that in him heart he probably do know loveo Jesus and is cvlvere man to use phony atheist site to edukate atheoist in ways of murders to baby that is wrong because they no listen when they here this from Christian because they is all to prejoodiced against Church. It be best trick ever by Mr A.

Lucy Muff

Avowed

March 2, 2006 | 29 Comments

A reader of William Safire’s “On Language” column once wondered why every atheist quoted in a news story was identified as an “avowed atheist.” It does seem to me that “atheist” alone would be enough. Reporters don’t generally refer to Christians as “avowed Christians” or to Democrats as “avowed Democrats.” Adding “avowed” implies there’s something hysterical or maybe even unreasonable about the view, or at least that the atheist is making too big a deal about his or her belief. It’s a pejorative, akin to calling someone a village atheist. But generally all the atheist has done is to have revealed the belief to the reporter because it was relevant to the subject matter of the story in question.

The counterpart to “avowed” when labeling religious folk is “devout.” But the connotation isn’t negative — the word usually signifies a form of respect. A “devout Christian” is someone who has attained a deeper, more profound spiritual insight into faith. As opposed to the rest of us, who just casually believe that God martyred and resurrected his only begotten son to cleanse mankind of its sins.

This idea is reinforced by the use of the word “lapsed,” as in “lapsed Catholic.” A lapsed Catholic is someone who no longer takes Catholicism seriously enough. To “lapse” is to fail. You don’t hear about many “lapsed atheists” — usually they’ve just “seen the light” or had a similar positive experience. Atheism is more usually something one “recovers” from, like a drug addition. You might lapse into it, but not out of it.

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