The Raving Theist

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2006 May

American Idiocracy

May 31, 2006 | 20 Comments

Following in the footsteps of Madeleine Albright, another religious moderate, American Theocracy author Kevin Phillips made a fool of himself on The Colbert Report a couple of weeks ago:

Colbert: If someone hears God talking to them, wouldn’t you be crazy not to listen, I mean if you really think it’s God talking?

Phillips: I suppose so, but the more I hear that God speaks to George W. Bush and Pat Robertson, the more I think it could be an atheist conspiracy, because if God’s speaking to those two guys, you have to wonder.

Phillips originally provoked Colbert’s (perfectly sensible) question by ridiculing the President’s claims to be taking orders from God. But his answer shows that it’s not the notion of God’s existence he finds ridiculous. Rather, he’s a believer who just thinks that God would say different things — and that those who disagree with his interpretation of divine will are evil atheists or their dupes.

Next, he champions a form of dishwater Christianity which, for some reason, he fancies to be more intellectual compelling than fundamentalism:

Colbert: Shouldn’t we be listening to our moral compass — which for many people is religion . . . in order to tell us what to do in our public lives?

Phillips: Well absolutely. But I think what we need to have is your typical sort of uh Saturday or Sunday go to services, go to church, and that’s solid. But when you have, uh, some of these preachers talking about every hurricane is an example of how God uh has lost has uh, lost interest in New Orleans, or you have some nutcase whose talking about the book of Revelations saying that nothing’s wrong with world war three because it’s just another little minor hiccup on the road to redemption, you know, if you believe the Book of Revelations. So if you get some of these oddball preachers . . .

Colbert [Facetiously]: Sir, are you telling me you don’t believe the book of Revelations?

Phillips: No, No, I don’t . . . [Sneering] I even have doubts about Noah’s Ark.

Phillip’s rejection of Revelations and the Ark were greeted by a round of “yeah-that-stuff’s-crazy” laughter. But if you’re going advocate church-going and God-worship, you’ve under an obligation to explain for ignoring the plain language of the scriptures most commonly employed in those pursuits. And if you’re complaining about Christianity, forget about the Ark. Have the guts to tackle the Resurrection, even if you don’t get the same cheap laughs you do from attacking all the other “obviously” ridiculous stories.

Because It’s My Blog

May 30, 2006 | Comments Off

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

Matthew 11:28

Teenage Fundamentalist Can’t Wait to See Atheist’s Face When

May 30, 2006 | 45 Comments

Atlanta, Georgia, May 30, 2006
Special to The Raving Atheist

Short-circuiting an online message board debate over the existence of God, a sixteen-year-old Christian fundamentalist informed his atheist adversary that he “couldn’t wait to see your face when” the atheist died and found out that God was real.

The atheist, Brian Hardin, had just pointed out that no evil could exist in a God-created universe when he was confronted by Wes Ritchie’s see your face comment, accompanied by a frowning emoticon.

Mr. Hardin said he was briefly flustered by the interjection. “I felt a moment of embarrassment when I pictured myself being confronted by God, which passed as soon as I saw that Wes was just assuming the existence of the very being whose burden it was his to prove.”

Hardin drafted part of a lengthy response exposing the logical flaw. He reconsidered, however, when he realized that introducing the phrase “begging the question” could only lead to further confusion.

Instead, Hardin opted for a psychological ploy — suggesting to Ritchie that it was unseemly and unChristian to express such a high degree of anticipatory glee in witnessing the surprise and terror of another. Hardin also wondered, facetiously, whether billions of Christians will be looking at billions of atheist faces all at the same time and for how long.

Although Ritchie’s reply to this failed to post due to a server error, when he discovers the problem next week Hardin will learn that Ritchie meant he would “just be very sad” and will be praying for him even though it is ultimately not for him to judge and will be entirely God’s decision.

God Squad Review CLXIX (Handling a Deadbeat Brother)

May 29, 2006 | 2 Comments

A 50-ish “master manipulator” has been ripping off his parents his whole life. He’s about to get out of jail, and wants to live with his 77 year old mother. Because she’s very religious, the guy’s brother has written to the Squad for advice. They respond with a raft of Old Testament scripture:

We don’t love the Bible because it’s old; we love it because it’s true. The first passages we urge your brother to read are from Leviticus, Chapter 19, where the first way we are commanded to “be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (19:2), is to show respect and reverence, honor and honesty toward our parents: “You shall each revere his mother and his father, and keep My sabbaths: I the Lord am your God” (19:3). This same chapter of moral education offers advice to your mother on how to treat her son: “You shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the Lord” (19:14). Placing a stumbling block in front of a blind person means offering a drink to someone who is an alcoholic, or, in your mother’s case, offering money to your lying, thieving, cheating brother! Giving him more money just encourages him to perform more mischief.

The Squad also loves the Bible because you can disregard 99% of it’s crazy advice, and quote the passages you agree with while ignoring the ones that contradict them. So while they proclaim the truth of Leviticus 19, they avoid Leviticus 19:20, which lets you sleep with an engaged slave girl as long as you slaughter a ram. And Leviticus 19:19, which forbids you to wear clothing made of two materials woven together, and Leviticus 19:27, which prohibits the trimming of sideburns or beards. Most notably, they ignore Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son, which would require the mom to sign over the rest of her assets to the jailbird, or at least slaughter for him the fatted calf.

God Has New Plan for Convicted Enron Exec

May 26, 2006 | 46 Comments

Houston, Texas, May 25, 2006
Special to The Raving Atheist

Convicted of six counts of corporate fraud and conspiracy, former Enron chairman Kenneth Lay announced that “God’s got another plan right now.”

Lay did not immediately provide details of the plan. However, trustees of the bankrupt energy-trading giant later released a 35-page outline of God’s proposal to restore the company to profitability by transferring losses to off-the-books partnerships and reclassifying various categories of debt through obscure accounting principles.

“We believe that God is in fact in control and indeed he does work all things for good for those who love the Lord,” Lay said. The statement hinted at Lay’s appeal strategy, in which he is expected to abandon the tactic of blaming his subordinates for Enron’s demise and instead argue that God employed a scheme similar to the plan announced yesterday. God, in turn, has suggested that Jesus and Mary were responsible for the company’s original financial woes.

Lay faces up to 165 years in prison, depending on whether at sentencing he compares his persecution to that of Jesus or Quetzalcoatl.

Boycott the Anti-Boycott

May 25, 2006 | 31 Comments

Calling for an anti-boycott of the Da Vinci Code, Dave of NoGodBlog, the blog of American Atheists, urges us to flock to the theaters to show the Passion crowd “that seculars can make a hit too.”

What would “show” Christians something would be a high-quality film addressing important philosophical and theological issues. What Dave proposes however, would merely show believers that seculars are capable of jacking up the box office of a mediocre film in an attempt to show others that seculars can make a hit, too. Even if the believers don’t see through the ruse, I don’t see what the movie’s popularity would show them — were atheists supposed to be convinced of the truth of Christianity by the Passion’s gross receipts?

I suppose one benefit of a movie’s popularity is the public debate it sparks over its subject matter. Unfortunately, I don’t see a particularly fruitful debate coming out of The Code. Its focus is on a conspiracy to cover up Christ’s love life, rather on the one to promote His divinity. But His love life doesn’t matter unless you already accept the notion that He’s God. So The Code just promotes a different, more liberal form of theism. You may like the principles The Code espouses more than those of the people who find it blasphemous, but neither side is on higher intellectual or rational ground.

God Favors Fat Black People: Medical Study

May 23, 2006 | 11 Comments

Jackson, Mississippi, May 23, 2006
Special to The Raving Atheist

Doctors have discovered that overweight African-Americans who regularly participate in religious activities have lower blood pressure than their less-faithful counterparts.

The study, conducted between 2000 and 2004 with 5,300 African-Americans living near Jackson, Miss., was presented yesterday at the American Society for Hypertension’s annual meeting at the Hilton New York on Sixth Ave.

“God likes blacks best, especially the plump ones,” said Dr. Sharon Wyatt, who led the study. She noted that another recent study, conducted upon the predominately white population, concluded that God does not otherwise listen to prayers seeking help with heart problems.

The finding did not surprise spiritual leaders.

“I have always felt this,” said the 270 pound Rev. Al Sharpton. “It shows that people who are somewhat submissive to a higher calling or a faith can be less stressed and less worried.”

Sharpton said he has watched people go through traumas since he began preaching as a child, and has seen that faith reduces stress. “But I have noticed an unusual increase in stress among whites when I bring my ministry to their neighborhoods,” he said.

God confirmed that he had a soft spot for larger, darker humans. “When America needed people capable of toiling long hours in hot sun, I knew I couldn’t depend on thin whites to do it,” he said. “The hardy African folk I shipped over not only got the job done, but learned to sing praises to my Son while doing it. And He’s never forgotten how they abandoned their false idols for Him.”

The Rev. Shepherd Lee of the Baptist Temple Church in Harlem agreed.

“Say I have a $2,000 light bill due Friday, I don’t have to worry because I know Jesus Christ will help me find a way to pay it,” Lee said. “We know that Christ will come, we don’t have to stress about it.”

Jesus said he was a bit strapped for cash this month but said he would most certainly send Rev. Lee a link to the useful energy conservation tips on Con Edison’s website. He added that no matter what happens effective midnight on June 1st, “it is always better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” And even if the candles run out, Jesus said, fat jolly black people will always have his R-E-S-P-E-C-T and get sky in the pie when they die.

God Squad CLXIX (The Pope in Hell)

May 21, 2006 | 9 Comments

Is Pope John Paul II in hell? The Southern Baptist husband of a Unitarian Squad reader thinks so. He accepts the word his of pastor, who preaches that JPII, like all dead Catholics, had not “jumped through the hoops.” Noting that have since Vatican II Catholics been more charitable about throwing non-Christians (or at least Jews) into the Lake of Fire than Protestants, the Squad offers its usual Equivocation Theology:

What you hear preached in your husband’s church may, indeed, be crude intolerance and naked bigotry; however, it may be a bold and controversial but authentic Christian critique of the “many ways up the mountain” school of theology that affirms many ways to salvation.

To say that Pope John Paul II is in hell is, however, theologically over the top. In our view, people who don’t believe Jesus is the Christ and accept Him as their personal savior may be doomed to hell — or they may not be. We’ll find out only when we die.

The Squad concludes that if the husband’s Pope-in-Hellism is affecting the couple’s friendships, “you may need to explain to him that private theological beliefs are fine, but discrimination against people who’ve tried to find God in ways different from his is not.”

What, the bold, controversial and authentic critique of many-way mountainism becomes “discrimination” as soon as you express it publicly to those who need to hear it most? If those “private theological beliefs” are the ones that God subscribes to, screaming to Him that it’s discrimination won’t stop the flesh from melting off your bones. Given the stakes, and the Squad’s own uncertainty on the matter, I’d say it would be reckless not to point the hoops out to everyone, and force them to do some jumping. In any event, it’s ridiculous to imply that the Squad’s brand of sloppy ecumenicalism is somehow less of a “private theological belief” than any other. What they’re really suggesting is that ecumenicalism is superior in some way to all those harsh, narrow crazy, cultish beliefs that every religion must maintain to have any identity at all.

And why is the idea that the Pope’s in hell the one “over the top” theological concept? If it’s not over the top to suggest that billions of Christ-deniers might go there (which they do in the very next sentence), it’s not over the top to suggest that Christians who worship Him in the wrong way get added to the heap.

Train Pain

May 21, 2006 | 29 Comments

The rumbling of the train, the screech of the brakes, the crackle of the loudspeaker — most of these obnoxious noises go unnoticed by the desensitized New Yawk subway riding public. But as reader Regina points out, some familiar sounds manage to make it through the din:

I was on the subway this morning and one of those bible quoting religious kooks started screaming about Jesus, the Book of Revelations and how god was coming. Of course they’re like Al Qaeda and hold everyone hostage in the train with their religious and homophobic rants (“god created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” to quote our original-thinking friend). These people show absolute disrespect for people’s beliefs and non-beliefs (such as ours). Can you imagine if we started spouting anti-god rhetoric on the train? We’d be killed or arrested. But because these nuts talk about god, it’s okay. As I got off the train, I yelled “shut up asshole,” which thankfully stopped him for 30 seconds before he continued. I’m sure he’s praying for me. Ugh. If there’s anyone’s prayers I DON’T want, it’s his.

What do you think of Regina’s approach? Would you have acted differently (if at all), and if so, what would you have done? Do you think people would react differently to atheist proselytizing?

Voodoo Anti-Atheism

May 19, 2006 | 8 Comments

Sam Harris practices an irrational form of “voodoo atheism,” says Jonah Goldberg in National Review Online. The basis for this assessment? The intro to an interview with Harris reveals that the End of Faith author engages in Zen meditation and values mystical experiences. “This alone is pretty much all I need to read to not care about what this guy has to say,” Goldberg concludes. Goldberg then condemns those who purport to use reason to dismiss traditional religions, while simultaneously claiming that “other, often more bizarre, supernatural theories are plainly true.” In particular, he notes that “[a] great many feminist theorists endorse a hodge-podge of faiths from Wicca to Gaia theory and that “[m]ake-believe Buddhists and Kabbalists snort and guffaw at traditional religion while at the same time they worship crystal rocks and blather on about how they were a scullery maid in the 14th century.” Driving home the point, Goldberg asks, “[o]n what grounds do they claim that, say, the story of Jesus’ Resurrection is an obviously absurd fairy tale, but the mystical healing power of crystals or the ‘obviousness’ of reincarnation are plain for all to see?” He ends by cautioning that “[i]f you’re going to be an atheist when it comes to traditional religion, fine . . . [b]ut don’tlet me catch you playing with voodoo on the side if you want to be taken seriously.”

Words from such a seemingly hardcore, uncompromising atheist haven’t graced NRO since Ben Domenech plagiarized the work of the godless Maryann Johanson its webpages. It’s encouraging to see someone at the publication founded by devout Catholic William F. Buckley, Jr. finally concede that Jesus and witches and Gaia and crystals belong on the exact same intellectual shelf. Someone who understands why the joke about rejecting Santa on the Easter Bunny’s advice is funny. But Goldberg’s actual intention, it appears, is to defend traditional, conservative faiths from “left-wing anti-religious bias” by demonstrating hypocrisy. He hammers home his points well — so well, though, that he smashes the thumbs of everyone he’s defending and, I suspect, himself.

Let’s consider the implications of what he’s saying. First and foremost, he’s proclaiming that atheism alone is true and rational. It’s completely incompatible with the slightest departure from reason — to the extent that he won’t even read anything written by an atheist whose beliefs are tainted by the slightest form of supernaturalism.

Second, he’s declaring that no religion has the right to criticize any other religion on the ground of rationality. After all, every religion is founded on a mountain of idiocy, not just grain of spirituality. So any religion (right-wing or left-wing) which makes a claim of exclusivity engages in “anti-religious bias” — it’s asserting that the tenets of the rest are false.

Third, he’s suggesting that no one should read anything written by a religious person. If a little bit of spirituality bars Harris from further consideration, we should likewise ignore attempts by people of greater faith to construct arguments based on reason. They can’t possibly demand that we adhere to rules of rational discourse when so much of their worldview is infected by the most outlandish of fairytales.

Ultimately, this all leads to the question of whether we should listen to Mr. Goldberg. He’s either as complete an atheist as I am, or he subscribes to some form of supernaturalism, Harris-like or worse. If it’s the latter, he’s in no position to criticize Harris for his deviation from the truth. If Goldberg believes in Christ or Allah or Vishnu or the Goddess, he’s “playing with voodoo on the side” and isn’t entitled to be taken seriously.

Finally, Goldberg would do well recognize that Harris’ response to criticism of his “rational mysticism” has been to address it head on. Among other things, he volunteered himself for a grilling at this blog on his alleged heresy by two lawyers, a biomedical grad student and a Brian Flemming. But I’ve yet to see demands for debate about the Resurrection at NRO, or about the existence Gaia by left-wing religionists at whatever sites they inhabit.

Unbright

May 18, 2006 | 34 Comments

Separation of church and state cannot be rationally defended except on one ground: that religious beliefs are fundamentally false and worthless drivel, no more useful than astrology or alchemy. The notion that religion is the ultimate and most beneficial truth, but for some reason must be nonetheless be walled off from politics, defies common sense. Nobody advocates separation of science and state, math and state, physics and state — or even separation of the state from softer sciences such as economics and sociology.

So it’s hilarious to watch purported believers, usually religious liberals or moderates, trying to justify separation on other grounds. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, promoting her book The Mighty and the Almighty, took a crack at it the other night on The Colbert Report. Here she addresses the problem of religious elected officials keeping their faith out of public policy:

Albright: I think that we have to keep the separation of church and state, but we cannot separate people from their faith.

Colbert: Right, how do you separate people from their job . . . if the faith is in them, and they’re in their job, the transitive property of religion says their faith has got to be in their job also, right?

Her statement was complete double-talk, and Colbert nails her hard. Unfortunately, the audience reaction suggested to me that they were as clueless as Albright. They laughed at his question as if it were nonsensical (perhaps in part because of his usual mock-serious delivery), but what’s nonsensical is claiming you simultaneously “bring your faith to your job” without letting it influence you in the least.

Albright follows up with the favorite cliche of politicians who want to invoke God while seeming oh-so-humble:

Albright: Well, it just depends on how they interpret it and if they think, actually, that God is telling them what to do, then I think you got a problem. I think we have to be on God’s side, rather then, you know, God is on our side.

Colbert: But isn’t that just the definition of “is”? I mean, if we’re on God’s side, then God is on our side, right?

Albright: Well, no, ’cause then, if we only think that God is on our side . . .

Colbert: Right, which He is . . .

Albright: Well, I mean, you know . . .

Colbert: God’s not on our side?

Albright: God is defin . . .

Colbert: Say it right now! Say “God’s not on our side.” I’d love to hear it.

Albright: No no no . . . we are on God’s side. I like Abraham Lincoln who said that, you know. He’s an originalist.

Once again, the audience laughed off Colbert’s analysis — but no, Madam Secretary, you can’t claim that you just want go over to God’s side and serve Him in the way he tells you, and then criticize people who say they’re serving God in the way He tells them. Yes, I know there’s a problem with people who only “think” God his on their side — but it’s not one any different than the problem with people who “think” they’re on God’s side. Albright reveals the source of her muddleheadedness:

Colbert: Now, do you have personal religiosity that you brought to your work?

Albright: I have a rather confused background, um, I was raised a Catholic, married an Episcopalian, and found out I was Jewish.

Albright actually touts this history as a qualification to write the book, implying that her multi-faith exposure has given her some greater insight into religion. But she never explains what she believes now or how she reconciled the contradictions within and between those denominations. And it’s clear that all she’s really talking about family affiliations rather than belief — she’s “Jewish” because she discovered she had some Jewish relatives when she was an adult.

Eventually, Colbert gets to the root of the faith that cannot be taken out of her:

Colbert: Did you bring your own religiosity to your work when you were Secretary of State?

Albright: I bring my . . .

Colbert: Did you ever hear voices?

Albright: No, I did not hear voices. I believe in God, but I also think we have to make our own way and so while I definitely believe, I don’t expect that God is worrying that much about what I did every day.

Oh, I see. But what could it possibly mean, then, to “be on the side” of a God who doesn’t care in the least about anything you might do? I would think that the mere effort to cuddle up to His side would violate His will — He wants you to do whatever you feel like, without worrying about His feelings. As it turns out, though, the only thing God hates is confidence:

Albright:The problem is, however, is that he [President Bush] is so certain that everything he believes is right, and the problem with that when it’s translated into policy means, that if Plan A fails, you don’t have Plan B.

The solution? Multiple plans made in complete ignorance:

Albright: Well, we also know that when on this earth, we don’t know everything. Uh, there are some people who may think so, but as the apostle Paul say, “I see through a glass darkly,” which means you don’t see it all . . .

Extremism

May 17, 2006 | 21 Comments

“Extremism in pursuit of liberty is no vice,” said Barry Goldwater in pursuit of an electoral drubbing. Although fundamentally sound, his pronouncement was received with horrified ridicule. His critics subscribed to the line of thought that condemns extremism as a vice in and of itself, along with certainty, objectivity, arrogance and other concepts reflecting some form of “absolutism.”

When critiquing religion, people of that mindset often identify “extremism” as the problem rather than supernatural beliefs. And so Mr. Swill opines , “[t]he issue in to what a person believes, but how that person believes. The difficulty, he says, is not that the concepts are religious, but that they are “fervently believed.” He extends this rule to any ideology which treats its premises as “absolutes,” including atheism, and is particularly critical of the application of absolutism to morality: “whether one believes that they [moral values] were handed down by an infallible God or arrived at through infallible logic, to treat a subjective value as objective is silly at best, dangerous at worst.”

At the risk of sounding extreme, the only important issue is what is believed rather than how it is believed. With respect to religious beliefs, the problem is simply that what they say is false. They do not track reality or conform to logic, so that acting upon them frequently poses the same perils as a psychotic acting upon his hallucinations. But how they are held is not the key. That one holds false beliefs with certainty may indeed magnify their danger, because one is more likely to act upon them, but the danger from acting upon them arises from the falsity rather than the fervor. A belief that aspirin relieves a headache is harmless, however fervently held. But the same belief with respect to cyanide is dangerous even in moderation, as is a preference for prayer over medicine.

Confronted by a fundamentalist terrorist threatening to blow up the world at the push of a button, Mr. Swill would express his atheism towards that deity with the same “extremism” as I would. He would not proclaim the virtue of uncertainty, any more than he would if he saw a child about to press the same detonator under the misconception that the button would summon an elevator. Moderation under such circumstances would not be an option. If religious moderates pose a lesser threat than so-called extremists, it is only because their moderation represents a partial rejection of literalism and is thus a form of disbelief. But moderation is not completely harmless, because it encourages irrationality to the extent it embraces it, and disqualifies its adherents from criticizing the more consistent (and scripturally faithful) irrationality of the fundamentalists.

In the moral realm, it is also the “what” that matters far more than the “how.” Those whose values include cannibalism, murder, rape, racism aren’t moral merely because they humbly acknowledge that their morality isn’t for everybody or pursue their desires in moderation. Absolutists for charity and peace hold a higher ground. And Swill’s premise that an objective theory of morality is “silly” or “dangerous” collapses of its own weight: he cannot prove it unless he assigns fixed meanings to both “silly” and “dangerous.” For the criticism to have meaning, he must specifically identify the evil that results from holding such views. But once he has, he will have created an absolutist moral system.

God Squad Review CLXVIII (Sharing Religious Customs)

May 15, 2006 | 9 Comments

“Is it wrong to share in some beliefs of other religions?” asks a Catholic Squad reader who has recently adopted the Jewish custom of placing rocks atop a relative’s tombstone. The man also wants to know whether the custom has a “special meaning.” The Squad explains the practice (it’s a sign that the living remember the dead) but completely ignores the faith-sharing question.

It was bad question to begin with, for at least three reasons. First, the reader confuses participating in a rock-piling ritual with holding a “belief.” Second, the reader thinks he can hold a belief without first knowing what it means. Third, the reader suggests that the rightness of holding a belief shouldn’t depend upon its truth — but rather on whether it’s already part of the collection of ideas comprising one’s own religion, as opposed to something which must be borrowed from the collection of another set of dogmas.

Had the Squad decided to address the main question, its answer would have only added to the confusion. On the one hand, the Squad believes that all religions are just different paths up the same mountain, and that the “Abrahamaic faiths” share the same core principles. On the other hand, they’re dead set against raising children in an interfaith manner, because for some reason kids need to have a single spiritual “address.” Moreover, notwithstanding the serious internal contradictions that plague every religion, the Squad sees some special problem with Jews sharing a belief in Jesus — “[i]t’s like trying to be a duck and an onion at the same time.” Presumably a Catholic putting pebbles on a grave would face the same problem.

In any event, I have my own advice for those who are curious about the “deeper significance” of outwardly peculiar practices such as piling things on top of other things. If the people engaged in the activity seem to be much smarter than you and are using complicated machines in what looks to be a laboratory, the meaning will likely escape you. However, if the people are at about your intelligence level and it’s easy for you to imitate their behavior, there’s probably no meaning to it at all.

Planned Falsehood?

May 12, 2006 | 7 Comments

[NOTE The following is a revised and updated version of a post I recently published on another blog].

In an effort to generate money and public support for a bill targeting allegedly deceptive advertising by crisis pregnancy clinics, Planned Parenthood is now circulating the following unsourced anecdote by means of a “ActionAlert” mass e-mail generator:

An Indiana mother recently accompanied her daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend to one of Indiana’s Planned Parenthood clinics, but they unwittingly walked into a “crisis pregnancy center” run by an anti-abortion group — one that shared a parking lot with the real Planned Parenthood clinic, and was designed expressly to lure Planned Parenthood patients and deceive them.

The group took down the girl’s confidential personal information and told her to come back for her appointment, which they said would be in their “other office” (the real Planned Parenthood office nearby). When she arrived for her appointment, not only did the Planned Parenthood staff have no record of her, but the police were there — the “crisis pregnancy center” had called them, claiming that a minor was being forced to have an abortion against her will.

The “crisis pregnancy center” staff then proceeded to wage a campaign of intimidation and harassment over the following days, showing up at the girl’s home and calling her father’s workplace. Our clinic director reports that she was “scared to death to leave her house.” They even went to her school and urged classmates to pressure her not to have an abortion.

Over the past three weeks the story has popped up on approximately 300 pro-choice blogs and personal journal pages, leaving many a MySpace emoticon “pissed off” or “cranky.” Most recipients simply republished the e-mail verbatim, appending a concluding “sick,” “fucked up,” “despicable,” “disgusting” or “OMG can u believe it.” But at least one choice-friendly blogger who couldn’t quite believe it wondered: was Planned Parenthood resorting to lies and propaganda? Even Twisty of I Blame Patriarchy was skeptical of certain aspects of the tale, not ruling out, of course, that such outrages are regularly committed by CPCs somewhere, or everywhere. Notably, the anti-CPC bill’s sponsor didn’t refer to the incident (or any incident) at her press conference announcing the legislation — something you’d expect her to do if nation’s largest abortion advocate considered the conduct typical of that which the bill was meant to eradicate. And there’s no mention of the controversy on the website for Planned Parenthood of Indiana. Although Amanda of Pandagon (writing in AlterNet) did a little digging, she was ultimately content to accept the say-so of an Indiana PP official: “[w]hile she was unable to provide details out of respect for the patient’s privacy, she confirmed that everything in the initial action alert email was true.”

For those of us on the pro-life side of things, the notion that a CPC would schedule an abortion at a PP center seems more than a little bizarre. Even crazier is the idea that a CPC would effectively sic the police on itself by then calling in a false report of a coerced abortion — knowing full well that its “victims” would simply deny the coercion and then identify the facility across the parking lot as the one that set up the phony appointment. And then set up a real appointment.

Despite its alleged concern for “privacy,” PP provided enough detail in its missive to make tracking down the likely CPC/PP candidates easy. Of the thirty-plus PP centers in Indiana, only three actually provide abortions, and only one, in Indianapolis, shares a parking lot with a CPC. Jivin J located pictures of the CPC, on the inside and out, and it’s highly questionable whether anyone could have reasonably mistaken it for an abortion clinic. John of Generations for Life spoke to the CPC’s director about the story, who said “it’s not worth ink it’s printed on.” John also contacted the Indianapolis Police Department and the Marion County Clerk’s office, and discovered no record of criminal or civil proceedings involving the CPC.

Christina of Real Choice is urging all concerned cyberspace residents to contact the urban legend investigators at Snopes.com to encourage a full inquiry. Orthodoxy has acted on her suggestion, and raised his concerns at Feministe as well. Perhaps they’ll be convinced to join in this quest for truth. After all, as Christina says, “[i]f the story is true, PP supporters will be vindicated, and prolifers will crack down on the CPC in question . . . [i]f it’s false, maybe prochoicers ought to crack down on PP for lying.” Either way, it’s a win-win situation.

My mind is not completely made up on the matter, although I’m obviously leaning toward the CPC’s side of things. What troubles me most is why PP would float such an obviously questionable story in support of legislation which even the ACLU has concluded “has no chance of passage,” even if it’s technically constitutional. I presume the organization will shortly respond to John’s challenge to corroborate their assertions. At a minimum, they’ll balance their accusations with some of the information provided by the pro-life blogs that have looked into the matter — and encourage the blogs that circulated their story to do the same. Unless they’re a bunch of dishonest, deceptive, self-destructive liars.

She Ayn’t What You Think She Is

May 10, 2006 | 51 Comments

Ayn Rand is thought of as an atheist philosopher, but was she? In response to an Objectivist who was “apoplectic” that Austin Cline hadn’t included the writer on his list of American philosophers, Cline disputes her credentials as a deep thinker:

There’s good reason why I don’t list Ayn Rand as an American philosopher: I don’t consider her a philosopher. Neither do other philosophers — you won’t find her works taught in most (any?) philosophy departments. You also won’t find her discussed in any standard works on the history of philosophy — either in general or specifically American philosophy.

At least, I haven’t seen her mentioned in any of the works I’ve read and used. She doesn’t appear to be in Grayling’s two volume introduction to philosophy, the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, or Kuklick’s history of American philosophy — just to name a couple of sources at hand. I suppose there must be some philosophy reference works out there which at least mention Rand and Objectivism, but it doesn’t appear to be common — and for good reason, I think.

Cline nevertheless notes that he finds it “appropriate” to maintain several pages of Rand/Objectivism related links and information because “Objectivism is an atheistic ideology and this is a site that deals with atheism.”

But should Rand be considered more of an atheist than she was a philosopher? She certainly identified herself as an atheist, but I’d say she wrote far more that would qualify as “philosophical” than “atheistic.” In fact, I’m not aware that she wrote so much as a single essay setting forth her reasons for disbelief in God; she was no Anthony Flew or George Smith or Michael Martin or Robert Ingersoll. As I understand it, she felt theological questions were unworthy of much analysis, to be brushed aside in favor of more important topics. And lack of god-belief wasn’t a prominent theme in either of her major works, The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged. So featuring her in any significant way on an atheism site is questionable. Novelists Robert Ludlum and Mary Clark Higgins may well be Christians (I don’t know), but nobody would include them on a Christian apologetics website by reason of their bare religious affiliations.

Similarly, it’s misleading to characterize Objectivism as “atheistic.” It’s the equivalent of speaking of “atheistic communism,” where atheism is not meaningfully the centerpiece of what is ultimately a socio-economic theory. Rand’s protege and populizer, Nathaniel Branden, was once asked whether he thought there was something about Rand’s philosophy that “doesn’t track with a belief in God.” He indicated that the relationship between Objectivism and atheism was somewhat incidental:


I would put it differently. I would say that as an advocate of reason and as an opponent of any form of revelation or faith or supernaturalism she would regard the belief in God as something that could only be an act of faith and therefore groundless philosophically. And therefore it isn’t that we were “anti-god” but there would be no grounds within our view of reality to put up the idea of a supernatural being. I was personally an atheist long before I ever read Ayn Rand. I was an atheist when I was 12 years old for reasons unrelated to anything that she wrote. And most of the people in our circle actually were before — as far as I could say they — read Ayn Rand although I’m not certain that that’s true in every case. The interesting thing is, you know, if you are keenly interested then this is kind of a hot issue for objectivism but you must understand that for us it was not a hot issue. Meaning we were not polemicists we were not militants on the subject. We were simply non-believers.

Perhaps, then, atheism is a common by-product (or premise) of Objectivism, insofar as Objectivism promotes reason. But most philosophies or ideologies purport to advocate reason — few openly declare that they are employing illogic — so it’s unclear how Objectivism stakes a special claim as an incubator of godlessness (it may even be consistent in some ways with God-belief; see my series on that issue here, here, here and here). Historically, yes, there has been an identifiable association between Objectivism and atheism, but whether Objectivism is an “atheistic ideology” is a separate question.

Just Asking

May 9, 2006 | 27 Comments

Christianity is a “slave” morality, said Nietzsche. Echoing this theme, Brian Flemming suggests (in a comment to my religion/rape post) that some Christians may be masochists who chose their faith to suit their psychosexual needs, rather than true believers who have made an intellectual choice. And atheists frequently deride the herd aspect of religion, dismissing believers as pathetic sheeple who deserve what they get. It’s the corollary of the theory that religion is about power: those who accept it desire powerlessness.

Less commonly does one see this theory raised in the context of sexual abuse. Blaming the victim is disfavored, and would obviously be irrational in the case of a random attack by a stranger. But many abusive relationships continue despite the opportunity for escape. Whatever compulsion may induce the abused to remain, rarely is it said that he or she “wants” it or is “just asking for it” — at least not in the sense that the religious are so often declared to be getting their just desserts.

God Squad Review CLXVIII (Organ Donation)

May 8, 2006 | 7 Comments

Can you get into Heaven if you’re only “part” Jewish? a reader asks the Squad. Actually, what the questioner wants to know is whether Jews who have lost or donated organs can get by the Pearly Gates in their incomplete state. The Squad responds that “[I]n conformity to the teachings of all the Abrahamic faiths, in case of death, any organs that can be donated to save a life ought to be donated.”

The answer is itself incomplete, and a little misleading. First, it doesn’t address that part of the question which asks whether people whose body parts have simply been lost — without transplantation into somebody else — get into Heaven. Since we know that God hates amputees, I’d think those who lose pieces of themselves gratuitously are going to Hell. This would include most Jews (think: circumcision) and a quite a few others (think: appendectomy, haircut).

Second, the notion that admitting partial people to Heaven conforms with Abrahamaic law is questionable. The Squad previously answered the same question when posed by a Catholic who wanted to know whether organ donation compromises Jesus’ ability to effect bodily resurrections. Far from defending this “ancient wisdom,” the Squad opined that “[w]ith the advent of new anti-rejection drugs, the life-saving aspects of organ donation simply override the old theological concerns” and added that the same result now obtains under Jewish law.

Nevertheless, the Squad concludes that religious law trumps at least some scientific practices. For example, they assert that “donating a cadaver for medical research is against Jewish law because it prevents burial of the dead.” But once again, they invent a loophole to avoid the consequences of this obsolete dogma: “A researcher may perform a mikvah (good deed) by consuming the corpse upon the completion of his study, thereby effecting the equivalent of a series of permitted, and spiritually sound, organ donations.”

After the Rapture

May 7, 2006 | 84 Comments

A new errand service has been set up to handle all the unfinished business left on Earth by Christians who have been whisked away for The Rapture. It’s being run by Shirley Setterbo of AtheistExposed2, who suggests that all the abandoned churches could be converted to animal shelters. Wasted, in other words, on herds of unthinking, braying automatons.

A couple of years back I posted on whether atheists who perpetrate religious scams should be held to a different standard than believers who do. My point was that no atheist could seriously purport to believe in any faith-based representations employed to solicit cash, whereas a tougher question arise regarding Pat Robertson’s sincerity in claiming that Jesus listens more carefully to prayers accompanied by $500 contribution to the 700 Club. Shirley’s errand service doesn’t raise any problems, however, because she’s not charging cash up front and has promised to deliver if the Rapture does in fact occur.. Plus, if she does have to perform, she won’t be an atheist when she’s running the errands. Just a terrified, hellbound Christian.

Mind Rape and Body Rape

May 5, 2006 | 61 Comments

Religion and rape, it’s frequently said, are all about power and control.

I’ve never understood why people accept those arguments or bother to raise them.

First, power and control aren’t inherently bad or dishonorable things. Everybody wants to be empowered, everybody wants to be in control. They’re actually good motives. We elect people to exercise power and control, and call them leaders.

Second, power and control aren’t the motives behind faith or rape. People worship because they believe in God — it’s a question of stupidity, not power. There may certainly be people who don’t believe and merely use religion as a means of controlling the masses, but they’re not religious. So you can’t say that their religion arises out of a subconscious urge to control, because they don’t have any religion. And for the religious people who are being controlled, the religion is about belief — they wouldn’t let themselves be controlled if they didn’t believe. But the belief doesn’t arise out of a desire to be used.

Rape is about sex. An erect penis is indispensable to the act. Saying it’s about power and control gives it more far more dignity than it deserves, and I don’t understand why people think that attributing those higher motives to the rapist demeans him. He’s an out of control pervert seeking some quick, selfish, animal gratification. The last thing on his mind after raping is running the woman’s life. He doesn’t care what she does with herself, and if he attempts any further intrusion into it her life the purpose is just to ensure than she doesn’t facilitate his apprehension. And the notion that woman is thereafter “controlled” by the resulting anger is just wordplay. She’s certainly injured by it, but she’s not controlled in the sense that she thereafter acts out of a compulsion to conform her behavior in a way that would meet with the rapist’s approval.

The power and control thesis isn’t raised as frequently with respect to other beliefs or crime. People may cling to stupid philosophical or scientific ideas, but the embrace of empiricism or astrology generally isn’t attributed to those motives. And no one claims that the guy who holds up a convenience store is on a power-trip. In the way that the rapist is after sex, he’s after money — the motive is greed. He doesn’t want to control the 7-11 and couldn’t care less what it charges for its slurpees after he leaves.

It also perfectly irrelevant what the psychologists, psychiatrists and anthropologists say. With respect to faith, every study I’ve seen begins with the circular argument that religion is obviously false and that there therefore must necessarily be some motive other than belief. With respect to rape, all the data as to motivation comes from rapists — and why would you believe them? If you did, you might as well believe their protestations that they are innocent, or that the woman consented to the act.

Try to think of the issue in terms of what I’m doing now. No doubt some of you think I’m after power and control. But if the arguments above are correct, well, then, I’m correct, and your judgment regarding motives to me in this case are most likely to be in error. If I’m wrong, and you think my arguments are so stupid that not even I could believe them, then I couldn’t possibly believe that they’d have any hope of persuading or controlling you. And clearly you aren’t being controlled by them — unless you submit to my will by leaving some idiotic comment explaining how wrong-headed and power-hungry I truly am.

Out of Mind, Out of Mind

May 4, 2006 | 14 Comments

Viole, it appears to me, given the number of comments we’re seeing posted lately, that the site is in its death throes. I used to check in every day, but with the new FreeRepublic format I find myself going for days without even thinking about the place.

Hermesten, comment to You

You

May 4, 2006 | 23 Comments

“The Republicans do a really good job telling you when you can be born and when you can die. They just have a really hard time with everything in between.”

So quipped Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, to thunderous applause, on the Colbert Report a few weeks back. After correctly noting that issues transcend mere party lines, Contratimes suggests that the Daily Kos blogger’s analysis might have been a bit too clever for its own good:

[W]hat Mr. Zuniga sadly fails to apprehend is that if Republicans are indeed generally pro-life and anti-euthanasia, then it is the pro-choice Democrats, in all their progressive finery, who are dressed as executioners: They’re the ones who tell you when you shall live and die. A mother who aborts her child tells it — exactly — when it shall die. If she chooses not to abort, then she surely tells her child exactly when it shall live. Similarly — and with the Terri Schiavo case still fresh in American minds it is immensely important to note this — it was the Democrats who wanted to tell Ms. Schiavo exactly when she would breathe her last, or at least when she was going to begin starving at the hand of compassion and mercy.

I think Contratimes misses the mark, but only by a hair. The real dispute is not over who kills who, but precisely who the who is. Kos’ choice of pronoun unwittingly concedes the answer to the question of for whom the bell tolls.

Paris Hilton Professes Deep Catholic Faith

May 2, 2006 | 14 Comments

Los Angeles, California, May 2, 2006
Special to The Raving Atheist

“Simple Life” actress Paris Hilton is a “deeply religious” Catholic, according to today’s New York Post. “Of course, they’re not going to be running pictures of me in church,” she said, alluding to her well-publicized preference for classical Latin over what she considers the “impure” ecclesiastical idiom favored by the Vatican.

Classical Latin arose from the evolution of prisca latinitas into sermo urbanus through a process of Hellenization. The ecclesiastical idiom, on the other hand, was an outgrowth of sermo cotidianus — a hybrid of sermo urbanus and sermo vulgaris.

Despite these linguistic differences, however, Hilton does not view her canon of scriptural interpretation as varying significantly from Church teaching. “Te totum applica ad textum; rem totam applica ad te,” explained the internet fucking video star in an interview with the homosexual magazine Out. And like fellow “devout Catholic” Stephen Colbert, Hilton embraces the traditional doctrine of trinitarian fictivity.

Special God Squad Review (Gellman’s Newsweek Attack on Atheists)

May 1, 2006 | 29 Comments

Chickening out of a debate a few weeks back, the God Squad apologized to atheists for any misimpressions their writings might have created about their attitude to the godless. But the experience apparently left a bitter taste in Rabbi Gellman’s mouth, as evidenced by how he’s now repeating all of the same old canards over at Newsweek:

I think I need to understand atheists better. I bear them no ill will. I don’t think they need to be religious to be good, kind and charitable people, and I have no desire to debate or convert them. I do think they are wrong about the biggest question, “Are we alone?” and I will admit to occasionally viewing atheists with the kind of patient sympathy often shown to me by Christians who can’t quite understand why the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection has not reached me or my people. However, there is something I am missing about atheists: what I simply do not understand is why they are often so angry.

The attack is all so out of nowhere. We, of course, know that he’s pissed that the Long Island Center for Inquiry challenged him to a debate after he suggested that all atheists are immoral, but the average reader wouldn’t have a clue. If you’re going to use a generalization like “so often so angry,” you should provide at least one concrete example of the people you’re talking about. For example, “Rabbi Gellman concealed the fact that he was recently humiliated by an athesit group — why are Jews so sneaky and dishonest?”

One would think that “the biggest” question would be worthy of debate. Especially in America, where a variety of rights and privileges are awarded depending on how one answers it. After all, even little questions get debated — Should we talk to the sky to cure disease or do medical research? Is there a bomb in that abandoned briefcase? Is that clump on the x-ray malignant or benign? If someone just said, “you have your opinion, I have mine” in response to those sort of questions, and then suggested we were immoral for asking them, we’ve have a right to be angry.

Especially when the person effectively admits that his position is irrational. Note that Rabbi Gelman thinks that Christians are clueless for patronizing him with “patient sympathy” for rejecting Christ’s divinity. Plainly, he believes it should be obvious to Christians that Jews consider the resurrection story a lot of hogwash. Why shouldn’t atheists regard his story, taken from the first half of the same book, as just as crazy?

So we disagree about God. I’m sometimes at odds with Yankee fans, people who like rap music and people who don’t like animals, but I try to be civil. I don’t know many religious folk who wake up thinking of new ways to aggravate atheists, but many people who do not believe in God seem to find the religion of their neighbors terribly offensive or oppressive, particularly if the folks next door are evangelical Christians. I just don’t get it.

Once again, there’s no context for the suggestion that atheists are uncivil and aggravating. Example needed, like, “Rabbi Gellman published his attack on atheists in Newsweek — why do Jews control the media?”

What’s aggravating is dealing with someone who claims he’s dealing with the “biggest” question in one paragraph, and then compares it to disputes over sports teams in the next. It’s also incivil to make sweeping generalizations like “atheists are immoral,” and then declare that the matter is not a fit subject of debate. The God Squad devotes a weekly column to settling debates which arise within various religions, religions which have given rise to a vast literature debating their internal doctrines. Jews debate over how God wants food prepared, sometimes forcing taxpayers to finance litigation if the state’s Kosher Law Enforcement division doesn’t side with their Jehovah. That sounds pretty angry and uncivil to me. Not to mention idiotic.

As to whether many religious folk think of ways to aggravate atheists, didn’t you just mention evangelical Christians, Rabbi? They do exactly what you find so offensive — they try to covert people to their point of view. But it’s not the mere effort to do so that’s aggravating — people try to persuade us to do all sorts of things — it’s that their arguments are breathtakingly stupid and rest on the dictates of some old book rather than intellectual debate. The debate you so studiously avoid.

This must sound condescending and a large generalization, and I don’t mean it that way, but I am tempted to believe that behind atheist anger there are oftentimes uncomfortable personal histories. Perhaps their atheism was the result of the tragic death of a loved one, or an angry degrading sermon, or an insensitive eulogy, or an unfeeling castigation of lifestyle choices or perhaps something even worse. I would ask for forgiveness from the angry atheists who write to me if I thought it would help. Religion must remain an audacious, daring and, yes, uncomfortable assault on our desires to do what we want when we want to do it. All religions must teach a way to discipline our animal urges, to overcome racism and materialism, selfishness and arrogance and the sinful oppression of the most vulnerable and the most innocent among us.

You don’t mean it when you imply that atheists are selfish, arrogant, racist, sinful, materialistic animals who prey on the most vulnerable? Examples, examples: like “Rabbi Gellman charges $12,500 for an appearance — why are Jews so greedy, materialistic and selfish?”

I’m much too angry to point out that that (1) religions disagree with each other on every debated moral question, (2) plenty of religions promote the vices the Rabbi has identified, and (3) it might be a better idea to focus the debate about morality on human needs in this life rather than the desires of conflicting deities and their plans for the afterlife. Instead, I’ll just suggest that somebody dropped Rabbi Gellman on his head as a baby and scrambled his brains. Or scrambled them with religion.

Some religious leaders obviously betray the teachings of the faith they claim to represent, but their sacred scriptures remain a critique of them and also of every thing we do to betray the better angels of our nature. But our world is better and kinder and more hopeful because of the daily sacrifice and witness of millions of pious people over thousands of years.

No, it’s the leaders who obey the teachings of their faith who are the dangerous ones. As the Rabbi has himself admitted, the “sacred scriptures” are chock full of violently insane suggestions for behavior. It’s the people who critique them — and more specifically critique the very notion that books should be obeyed unquestioningly — who make the world better and kinder.

To be called to a level of goodness and sacrifice so constantly and so patiently by a loving but demanding God may seem like a naive demand to achieve what is only a remote human possibility. However, such a vision need not be seen as a red flag to those who believe nothing. I can humbly ask whether my atheist brothers and sisters really believe that their lives are better, richer and more hopeful by clinging to Camus’s existential despair: “The purpose of life is that it ends.” I can agree to make peace with atheists whom I believe ask too little of life here on planet earth if they will agree to make peace with me and with other religious folk who perhaps have asked too much. I believe that the philosopher-rabbi Mordecai Kaplan was right when he said, “It is hell to live without hope, and religion saves people from hell.” I urge my atheist brothers and sisters to see things as Spinoza urged, sub specie aeternitatis — “under the perspective of eternity.”

I don’t believe “nothing” — but I do believe that life is short and we die, which is all the more reason to enjoy it while we can rather than making “sacrifices” for the 72 virgins.

And to try a little positivity. Last Sunday I took two high-school girls to Cold Spring Labs to meet Dr. James Watson. One of the girls wants to be a research scientist, and the other has no idea yet, but I think she will be a great writer. I think they also both want boyfriends. I want them to stay smart and not dumb down to get a boy. Watson spoke and listened to the girls, and they left, I hope, proud about being smart. I know that Jim believes way more in Darwin than in Deuteronomy, but he also believes that at Cold Spring Labs the most important thing is not whether you are a man or a woman, not whether you believe in God. The most important thing, as he says, is “to get something done.” Now there’s an atheist I can believe in.

Interesting choice of an atheist friend, Rabbi. Did Watson tell you that he thinks “[o]ne of the greatest gifts science has brought to the world is continuing elimination of the supernatural”? And as to your respect for the most vulnerable and most innocent, did he tell you he would have aborted his own son if he knew he’d have epilepsy? With friends like that . . .

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