The Raving Theist

Dedicated to Jesus Christ, Now and Forever

2006 June

Atheist Blogger Hits Out Against Sarcasm

June 29, 2006 | 58 Comments

New York, New York, June 29, 2006
Special to The Raving Atheist

Three years after mocking Pope John Paul II for condemning the use of sarcasm, The Raving Atheist has himself condemned the use of sarcasm.

In a February 2003 “news” item titled “Pope Hits Out Against Sarcasm,” the atheism-themed blog parodied a Catholic press report bearing the same headline by suggesting that the then-Pontiff’s criticism of sarcasm was somehow equivalent to the condemnation of alliteration, onomatopoeia, hyperbole, metaphor, allegory and understatement.

Yesterday, however, TRA denounced his own writings for their inexcusable sarcasm, arrogance, egotism, condescension, bullying, rudeness and cruelty and promised to operate without malice in the future. “At the time I wrote the original post, I was fully aware that sarcasm was more than a mere literary device. Unlike the other ones I listed, sarcasm is intended to inflict gratuitous injury and shame upon a person in order to divert attention from an honest assessment of the actual merits of his or her words or conduct.”

“My earlier post was the worst form of sarcasm — it ignored the Pope’s simple call for a higher standard of human dignity in favor of the pretense that he was calling for a ban on harmless semantic techniques,” he said.

The Raving Atheist said he did not object to the employment of the less offensive device of irony, especially if directed only at oneself. He refused, however, to comment on his potential future use of onomatopoeia, stating that “right now there is a great buzz at my site that I have converted to theism, and I must deal with the booing and hissing of my disillusioned readership.” TRA also said that he must address criticism that his mea culpa, although sincerely felt, was as self-aggrandizing and egotistical as any of his prior posts — something he realized after re-reading it but was too dishonest to immediately correct or admit.

M0RE Than Words

June 28, 2006 | 5 Comments

I will not tell you why I will not.

Thomas More, A Man for All Seasons (1966)

With Malice Towards None

June 28, 2006 | 141 Comments

I’m extending my pledge not to malign God to people as well. From now on The Raving Atheist will be a malice-free site.

Arrogance, egotism, condescension, sarcasm, bullying, rudeness and downright cruelty have permeated many of my posts. Not merely the ones directed at the religious, but at other atheists, at agnostics, pro-choice advocates, anyone who disagreed with me. For the most part I was not trying to hurt anyone. I attempted to proportion my venom to the known sensitivities of the target. Those who enter the Blogosphere frequently thrive on controversy, so much of the time the “victim” was as much a willing participant as I. But some of my behavior was inexcusable, and made more so by the fact that I very well knew what I was doing, and its probable effect, before I pushed the “publish” button. Whatever remorse I later felt did not stop me from doing it again and again.

Arrogance and incivility are of course not the sole property of atheists. The religious can be smug as well. They can condescend, like any else, through smiling but clenched teeth, or affect a false modesty that is worse than arrogance.

And as I have argued before, the arrogance of an advocate is irrelevant to the truth of his or her argument. Often it serves a purpose, acting as a form of shock therapy for those whom civility will not penetrate. To be noticed at all in the Blogosphere often requires a certain level of obnoxiousness.

But in my hands, I now conclude, arrogance was not handled well. Overall, its benefits were outweighed by attempts to prove my superiority and other forms of self-aggrandizement. The truth suffered and often I was outright dishonest. I used the arrogance to paper over my weaker arguments or to promote ones I did not sincerely believe. I seized on my opponents’ errors, large and small, to humiliate them and distract attention from their more meritorious points. I unfairly smeared people with guilt by association rather than focusing upon them as individuals. Hypocritically, I embarrassed others by pointing out their own cruel or arrogant missteps.

I will be revisiting some of my offenses from time to time and will try, subject to the limits of my ego, to dissect myself as mercilessly as if I were my own worst enemy. With others I will turn the other cheek and identify some good in them even when I criticize. I will try to make it all interesting rather than boring but not at the expense of decency.

Perhaps this seems all too little, too late. I don’t deserve or expect to be trusted. I am not attempting to be disarming in the service of some other agenda. Yes, I am still anti-abortion, but my energies in that regard will be largely directed to volunteering, and I will branch off into other less controversial charities. You are as always free to ignore my writings on that topic and I will publish it instead at other venues if I believe it will serve no constructive purpose here.

So this is not a stunt. It is a sincere effort at change. Those of you who are waiting for the other shoe to drop will be waiting for a very, very long time.

Picture This

June 27, 2006 | 57 Comments

The God Who Wasn’t There filmmaker Brian Flemming has described himself as a “Christian Atheist.” He explained his meaning in an interview with Christianity Today last year:

Once you’re a Christian, I don’t think you ever shake being a Christian, and personally I don’t want to . . . [T]he Jesus that I hold in my mind as the Jesus who taught me my moral values in many ways, I don’t want to lose that. I like Jesus. When I see a picture of Jesus that doesn’t make me feel bad, it makes me feel good. I’m an atheist because I only believe those things that can be demonstrated and proved. I don’t believe that faith is a good thing at all. But I’m a Christian in that I love Jesus.

To those of you atheists who once were Christians: How do you feel when you see a picture of Jesus?

God Squad Review CLXXIII (The Holy Spirit)

June 27, 2006 | 25 Comments

A Squad reader requests biblical proof, or the identification of an event, that establishes the existence of the Holy Spirit. The Squad chooses the scriptural option, citing 1 Corinthians 2:9-13. The function of the Spirit is delineated in Galatians 5:22-23, which describes “the fruit of the Spirit” as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

One atheistic objection, among others, is that this theory implies that these virtues are not truly our own our but are imposed upon us by an outside force. That difficulty, however, is not necessarily solved by declaring that the qualities are evolutionary adaptive mechanisms facilitating the mutually beneficial interpersonal interactions essential to the survival and self-perpetuation of the species within the relevant social environment. For that theory still implies that there is something existing outside any individual member of the species — something which is imposing a preference for a self-perpetuation sustained by love, joy, peace etc. And a preference does not exist in the abstract, but is the attribute of a consciousness with a will.

Yours Forever

June 26, 2006 | 20 Comments

Questions have arisen regarding the fate of this site’s Forums, as well as the potential for speech restrictions there or in the comments section to the main blog.

This site shall always be dedicated to the relentless pursuit of the truth, wherever it may lead. Despite concerns I have expressed elsewhere, I have never and shall never ban commentors or delete or edit their input. The only restrictions on speech will be those I impose upon myself.

You also have my irrevocable promise that I shall never close the Forums. As it stands, they are in the control of the site administrator, Chris Michaud, and even were I inclined to shutter them I would have no idea of how to go about it. Beyond this, I hereby authorize her to take all measures necessary to insure that they forever remain beyond my control or interference.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to again thank Chris for her invaluable efforts in maintaining and improving this site for the past three years. It would not exist today but for her initiative and expertise. We originally met after I mentioned her in this post, at a time when the site looked like this. Shortly thereafter she offered her services to overhaul the blog, add functioning comments, and convert it to Moveable Type. The Forums, together with its chatroom and others features, were completely proposed, designed and created by her.

She deserves your appreciation and I hope you will express it in the comments.

More Than Words

June 25, 2006 | 52 Comments

Neither Christ nor Christianity shall ever again be maligned on this site, I have vowed. In contemporary America continuing this blog under such constraints might appear to rival the composition of a thousand-page novel without the letter “e.” Or perhaps without the alphabet, given that Christianity equates Christ with God, and that the denial of His existence could be fairly construed as an insult. The seeming impossibility of the challenge might suggest an abandonment of disbelief. Consequently charges of atheist heresy, of conversion to theism, have now been lodged against me.

With such conversions I am well familiar. Often I have questioned whether a committed, well-read atheist has ever come to faith. No one is better able to recognize the symptoms of a religious transformation than I. But my own diagnosis I will not disclose.

For now I will say only that the accusations are unproven. My critics confuse a commitment to silence with a commitment to belief. All I have promised is to refrain from attacking a religion, not to embrace it. No claim of heresy could possibly be sustained on the evidence of that limited pledge. And all other evidence, every word previously written and remaining on this blog, counts strongly against it.

That leaves open the question, of course, of whether my present views reflect the past. I have already said that I will not address that. The answer would necessarily either confirm or deny the alleged conversion. A denial would certainly betray my promise, because to announce I am still an unbeliever would effectively declare that I believe that the views I have vowed not to disparage are lies.

A confirmation of the conversion would not necessarily avoid that problem. If I did so and then continued this blog my sincerity could rightly be questioned. But shuttering the site could be easily be viewed as a cynical, expedient means to fulfill the promise — that I was saying nothing more about faith only because I had no good thing to say about it. And what would be left behind was a blog whose every word up to the moment of its closure violated the oath.

Perhaps the problem is that I made an impossible promise. I think not. I have noticed that with few exceptions the blogs and books that pursue the themes of this one care very little to discuss the truth of the premises that drive them, or even to identity the premises themselves. Few of my critics have set forth a systematic exposition of their own atheological views. Most neither know nor care about natural or revealed theology or the difference between them. Those who rant and rage against theocracy, of the problem of religion in society, rarely address the truth of religion itself. They avoid the question entirely but insist that for some unspecified reason it is best privately practiced. If pressed on why the authority of religion should not impose itself upon the state they rely only the authority of the Constitution, or on some principle of “obviousness” that they know will be appreciated by a sympathetic readership.

And on countless occasions I have been lectured that the only thing that unites all atheists is the absence of God-belief, rather than the affirmative denial thereof. It is insisted that no further conclusions, metaphysical epistemological or moral, can be drawn from that lack of belief. If that is the case, there are plenty of topics that can be discussed without expressly interjecting God. I can pursue them without breaching my promise to avoid blasphemy, and without committing to whether I am motivated by a desire to glorify Him or acting from an attitude which ignores Him.

I can only assure you that I will not be acting indifferently or agnostically. What has led me to this point, whatever this point is, is a firm conviction that I must go beyond words and set an example. I will not say whether what lies behind that conviction is God or not. You will have to content yourselves with the understanding that the truth of His existence, whether founded in fact, logic, or a combination of both could not possibly vary with what my words might command you to believe. But I will not tell you what I believe. And I will not tell you why I will not, and you will never trick it out of me.

Honor Among Atheists?

June 23, 2006 | 54 Comments

[NOTE: For reasons I will explain in a later entry, this post is unfair in a number of respects to KC of Bigli and Atheist Mommy. I retract those parts of the post which imply that they are dishonest or unscrupulous.]

Is there honor among atheists?

I’m beginning to wonder. My character has been brought into question this week in two posts by atheist bloggers: Raving Atheist Targeting Atheist Mothers? by “KC” at Bligbi, and Raving Atheist exposed yet again by Francois Tremblay of Goosing the Antithesis. Abortion being the topic, I understand the general vitriol and incivility of the attacks. But there’s also a fundamental dishonesty, a reckless disregard for truth and accuracy, an intellectual laziness, a distaste for open discourse, and an abandonment of basic principles of decency which I just don’t understand. I’ve never experienced anything close to it in my interactions with believers.*

First, consider KC’s conspiracy theory regarding my alleged plan to target and brainwash atheist mommies:

Sometime ago the Raving Atheist commented on a post of mine about the Crisis Pregnancy Centers underhanded behavior. His screen name caught my attention so I wandered over to have a look around his site. I found a post where he was encouraging fellow anti-choicers to speak to another blogger, a woman and an atheist, about abortion.

That made me suspicious as it seemed like the kind of thing internet religious apologists do (list sites on their page and encourage readers to ‘engage’ them). I spoke to my husband about it at the time and he agreed that it did seem like RA was targeting atheist women for conversion. I let his comment stand, but didn’t engage him in conversation.

Today, I find this post at Goosing the Antithesis. Earlier this month the Raving Atheist offered Atheist Mommy $20 an hour to volunteer in an CPC. My suspicion was confirmed as far as I’m concerned — the Raving Atheist is bad news.

But some good has come of it. I realized I had a bias that I’m going to need to work on. When I was sitting up my (now defunct) about page, I worried about mentioning my children and what theists would do with that information.

It never occurred to me to think about what a fellow atheist might do with it. I automatically assumed that other atheists would be rational and honest and not target my children and/or me as a mother.

In short, a zealot is a zealot no matter what side of the theological line they choose.

Let’s consider each of my “victims,” how they were “targeted,” and the nature of the attempted “conversion.”

As KC notes, the comment I left her responded to a post about CPCs — specifically, a post which in she blindly repeated unsubstantiated, unsourced claims about an Indiana CPC made in a mass-generated Planned Parenthood fundraising e-mail. I did not “target” her as an atheist or a mother or a woman or anything, and certainly didn’t target her children. I had no idea what she was in any of those categories at the time I left the comment, and in fact did not know until yesterday when I saw the post quoted above. There was no “targeting” whatsovever. Rather, as part of an effort to counteract the PPs meme generator, in early May I found KC’s site, among many others, by searching Technorati for the terms “Planned Parenthood” and “Crisis Pregnancy”. Without knowing, inquiring and/or caring about the sex, motherhood status, martial status or religion of the bloggers, I left identical or similar comments at least ten other sites: Mike the Actuary’s Musing, The Politically Incorrect Report, Sugared Harpy, Bark/Bite, State of the Qusan, God is for Suckers, Progressive U, D.C. Digressions, One Smoot Short of a Bridge and Forge, Women, Forge. At least three of the bloggers are male, two of the blogs have authors of mixed genders, one is lesbian, only one is obviously atheist, and I believe that only one of the women other than KC is a mother. All they had in common is that they had mindlessly reprinted portions of the Planned Parenthood email** — hardly fertile grounds for pro-life conversion.

And contrary to KC’s implication, my comment was not an attempt at conversion regarding the merits of pro-life/pro-choice debate. It was strictly limited to the factual accuracy of PP’s charges against the unnamed CPC:

Substantial questions have been raised as to whether Planned Parenthood’s story is true (see here and here). I hope the CPC is shut down if the story is true, but it may w[e]ll just be a hoax started by PP as part of its e-mail campaign in support of the proposed anti-CPC legislation.

The links led to two fact-laden posts replete with links to information regarding the controversy, including pictures of the CPC. *** As you can see, I even called for the closure of the CPC if the charges were true. There was no effort, as I believe KC was trying to insinuate, that I was trying to “fool” emotionally vulnerable mothers into believing that their children were part of a continuum of life that began at conception. No, I certainly don’t see anything wrong with that argument, and it’s a bit sexist of KC to propose that mothers are helpless little things who should be shielded from the suggestion, but my comment simply addressed a narrow issue relating to political tactics. KC sought “confirmation” from her husband and chose not to “engage” me — fine — but once she started leveling allegations she should have at least opened her mind to conducting some rudimentary research into the matter.

KC identifies my next “victim” as the subject of a post in which I “was encouraging fellow anti-choicers to speak to another blogger, a woman and an atheist, about abortion.” Understandably, she doesn’t link to the post or identify the poor shrinking violet.**** For she’s apparently alluding to my post at the Dawn Patrol about my good friend Shirley Setterbo of AtheistExposed2 — the gun-toting Texas corrections officer who after two decades “came out” as an atheist and has been terrorizing her Bible belt colleagues and inmates with godless bumper stickers and coffee mugs. Given her lust for debate, I suggested that Shirley try her powers of persuasion at a CPC and post about it at my site. With her full permission, in April I posted this excerpt from one of her e-mails to me and invited reader response:

You know . . . It’s an uncomfortable issue . . . I’m really not concrete on my views on the issue. I mean, I don’t think children should be born to parents, that don’t want to, or are not ready to raise them. So many of the federal prisoners came from just that environment. But, the whole ugliness of killing a baby is just so dreadful, I can barely stand to think of it. But, It does sound like a lively conversation starter. Let me sleep on it a night or two. I think it might, do some good, in spreading the word — “That Atheists are good people”. Shirley

So Shirley, who I have known for nearly a year, was a willing participant in this dialogue. She already finds abortion distasteful, and all I “targeted” her for, out of friendship, was the opportunity to enjoy the same life-enriching experience I have had at my CPC.

Finally, KC points to AtheistMommy, who is indeed an atheist and a mommy. But I did not “target” her — on June 1, she wrote an unsoliticted e-mail to me joking about being paid to go to church like the Ebay Atheist. As I did with Shirley, and have done with men and woman alike who have contacted me, I suggested that she volunteer at a CPC instead. Here is the entirety of our correspondence:

Atheist Mommy June 1, 2006

Regarding your post: Soul for Sale

I wonder how much I could get for taking my little Atheist family to a
church. You know, AtheistMommy needs money to pay off college loans too. : )

Raving Atheist June 4, 2006
I wonder how much I could get for taking my little Atheist family to a

Assuming the church has 250 regular members, there’d be between $500 to $100 in the collection plate Sunday. I’m sure they wouldn’t mind you taking it when services were over — they collect it to help families anyway. Plus, there’s no god to stop you.

Seriously, though, I’d pay $20 an hour for you volunteer at a crisis pregnancy center (mostly run by evangelicals or Catholics) and write about the experience for my blog.

— The Raving Atheist —

Atheist Mommy June 4, 2006

LOL! That’s some funny shit. Hmmm, working at as a volunteer at a crisis pregnancy center, I don’t think they’d let me near that. I wouldn’t mind though. I’m also pro-choice, lol.

Raving Atheist June 4, 2006

Doesn’t matter that you’re pro-choice, although that would make it more interesting. I volunteer at a CPC which is basically Catholic, and they don’t care who helps them out. And you wouldn’t be counseling women, just distributing clothes and toys to pregnant women or mothers who made the choice not to abort. Most of the clients are women who want the baby but are being pressured to abort by a boyfriend or parent. You could try it for a few days and give it up if you thought the center was being deceptive or unfair, something I’ve never experienced where I am. If you agree to do it, I’ll have a friend find the best center in your area and call them to make sure they’re right for you.


Atheist Mommy June 4, 2006

The idea is appealing. I’m not sure I could swing it though. Between school and home I’ve got very little to no time.

Why if I only give out clothes and toys would you want me to do this?

Raving Atheist June 19, 2006

Sorry for the delay in response; I overlooked your reply.

Why if I only give out clothes and toys would you want me to do this?

Because it’s enough, and I think being exposed to the other volunteers would give you a different perspective on what it is like to be pro-life. And you would give them a different idea about atheists.

I was very proud to be a part of this story. The mother left grateful comments at both Dawn’s blog and mine. You might have a similar experience.

One hour a month, or even just a one-time visit to help out would be enough. No rush; please just consider it for some time in the future.

I feel at liberty to publish our correspondence because, without my permission and unbeknowst to me until yesterday, Atheist Mommy reprinted some of it on the Infidel Gals forum in early June to ask advice on whether she should do it. The exchanges show that she’s hardly a victim:

Atheist Mommy The Raving Atheist wants to pay me $20 an hour to volunteer at a christian crisis center. I was joking about the “ebay atheist” and wrote the Raving Atheist on his forum. He’s been emailing me about the whole thing. He wants to me join and then write about it on his blog.

What do you guys think?

Junebugg DO IT! Are you crazy? That’s great material! I’d love to read about the experience! And you get paid for it too. No amount of money could make me take my kids to a brain-washing xtian church, but you’re definitely strong enough to handle volunteering at a crisis center. It’s not like you have to worry about them converting you!

Atheist Mommy Oh, I’m not worried about being converted. I’m not sure I have enough time to spare. However, I am worried about them going crazy on me and trying to kill me. The bible belt has its downfalls, which I’m sure you know. But yes, the thought is very appealing.

Apart from her what I assume is facetious paranoia about homicidal CPC volunteers, Atheist Mommy is no target, victim or convert. But you wouldn’t know this from Tremblay’s spin on it:

After his little bigot episode***** and his “parenthood is slavery” stint******, Raving Atheist is now once again exposing himself as a raving lunatic. He is targeting atheist women, without being solicited, to work for his anti-abortion “centers”. In an email to Infidel Gal [Atheist Mommy], he says:

[Reproducing my first e-mail with the original offer]

And recently he has stated that his “most significant reward of nearly four years of blogging” was to help finance someone’s pregnancy to prevent an abortion-burdening a poor confused woman with a child for the rest of her life.

I don’t mean to beat a dead horse, but why does anyone take this vile individual seriously? Anyone who supports Raving Atheist and his blog is supporting his lunacy. Just stop paying him any attention. The sooner his hate blog goes down, the better.

One fact Tremblay never highlights is that he never asked my permission to print the e-mail or even contacted me about it. For some reason, however, he felt it necessary to ask for Atheist Mommy’s consent (see end of Infidel Gal thread), even though she’s posted them, without my knowledge, on a public forum:

AtheistMommy, can I have your permission to post your posts on my blog? To be honest with you, that lunatic bigot (Raving Atheist) has been a thorn in my side for a while, and it would bring me joy to make a small contribution towards bringing him down.

I don’t dispute anyone’s legal right to post an e-mail that has been sent without any stipulation of privacy. But for my own part, I have never published an e-mail without first seeking and obtaining the sender’s explicit written permission.******* I don’t know any blogger who does, and I certainly couldn’t fathom any of the religious bloggers I know even contemplating such a breach of trust.

But what I find most reprehensible about Tremblay’s post is his disparagement of my friend Ashli’s efforts on behalf of that “poor confused woman” whose baby is pictured here, and the further ignorant attacks on her in the comments. Suffice it to say that Ashli earns the undying friendship and gratitude of every woman and family she so selflessly helps and becomes a very real part of their lives. What she lives every day is a truth more real than any one that Tremblay will ever express in his blog.

Nevertheless, I will grant him his wish, in part. I will bring myself down. In honor of Ashli and my friends in the Blogosphere who share her ideals, I will never write another bad word about Jesus or Christianity on The Raving Atheist.


* Except Clubbeaux.
** Except for Smoot, an enthusiastic pro-choicer who nevertheless thought PP might be resorting to “lies and propaganda.”
*** The links were to guest posts by me at The Dawn Patrol, not my site as KC states. That much should have been obvious from the name of the site, and from the caricature of a blonde female person named “Dawn” on the sidebar.
**** In a comment to the Tremblay post, KC inexplicably suggests the woman is this blogger, who is actually male, Christian, and pro-life.
*****This joke post counseling comedianne Julia Sweeney not to read “Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand.
******In March I participated in a debate abortion on Tremblay’s internet radio show. Under his Objectivist philosophy, a woman’s body is her “property” and he stated that legal restrictions on what she could do to a fetus it were tantamount to state “ownership” of her and thus slavery. I pointed out that under his theory, raising the child once born was also slavery because the state would also penalize her if she did not use her body to care for it. Tremblay cut me of by screaming obscenities and insisting that the argument was too stupid for me to continue with further explanation.
*******Except for Nigerian con artists.

Despite Appearances

June 21, 2006 | 26 Comments

“Indians by the thousands are descending on a remote village in eastern West Bengal to worship a man who scampers up trees, gobbles up bananas and has a ‘tail’ . . . [t]hey believe he is a reincarnation of the Hindu monkey god Hanuman and that his 13-inch tail has healing powers,” reports today’s New York Post.

Similarly, a few years ago a Nepalese village hailed a girl with four eyes, two mouths and two noses as the incarnation of the goddess Bhagawati. At the time I noted that the ability to “see God’s image” in such people was touching, certainly an improvement over the “lookist” tendency of many cultures to stigmatize disability and difference. But observe that in both the Bengalese and Nepalese cases, looks are still the basis for adoration: what matters is the visual resemblance to a particular deity. Those with deformities not corresponding to the features of any god (or perhaps features shared by demons) might well receive uglier treatment.

Preferable is the Biblical ideal — “[t]he LORD does not look at the things man looks at . . . [m]an looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” Even so, the LORD is not portrayed as completely insensible to looks. He recognizes physical beauty, which implies he perceives “ugly”, too, and all the gradations in between. His talent, then, is apparently in disregarding it in favor of each person’s moral worth.

One of the benefits of the internet is that we are often unaware, and thus undistracted, by the appearance of those with whom we interact. Even when this is not the case, participation in the Blogosphere compels an intense focus on the pure essence of an individual person — on the human mind as expressed through words. So like the Biblical God, we are able to form a greater appreciation for the inner aspects of a person than the outer. The lesson often learned is that the plainest people may be the most plainly good, and that the most hideous evil may lurk behind a pretty face.

Chastening Thoughts

June 20, 2006 | 76 Comments

Liberal Christian Jill of Feministe is not thrilled by The Thrill of the Chaste, the upcoming book by conservative Christian Dawn Eden. The author’s criticism of pre-marital sex with dating partners perturbs Jill, particularly Dawn’s observation (excerpt available here) that women who indulge in such sex before marriage can’t appreciate men the same as those who practice chastity. “[J]ust as I would never tell [Dawn] that she must have premarital sex in order to appreciate men for who they are,” says Jill, “I find it completely offensive that she would attempt to tell everyone else that we can’t possibly respect and love men as human beings unless we refuse to have sex.”

The disputants do not, at least in the posts linked, cast their arguments in religious terms. I have supplied the labels because, as I’ve noted before, I believe that the opposition to pre-marital abstinence (and chastity generally) is a case of good ideas facing rejection because of their historical association with theistic orthodoxy. The notion of “saving oneself for marriage” has religious overtones, and the term “fornication” is now rarely seen out of the Bible. But a case can be made that Dawn’s position, in addition to probably being more consistently Christian that Jill’s, is more secularly sound.

Like many forms of liberal Christianity, Jill’s faith resembles that brand of misguided atheism which for some reason considers itself bound to pronounce relativism as the only virtue. Thus, she says, “[t]he problem comes when you try and convince the rest of us that making the same choices as you will set us on the path to eternal happiness.” But the suggestion that Dawn has engaged in unreasonable generalization cannot withstand close scrutiny. People often counsel against adultery, bigamy, polygamy and prostitution notwithstanding that others have survived or even flourished after engaging in such conduct. A man who revealed that all of his “relationships” consisted of masturbating to the “About Me” pictures of feminist bloggers after leaving comments on their sites might benefit from advice, even though he insisted that the practice was harmless or “worked for him.” Pre-marital sex may not be, in the scheme of things, a grave moral offense, but its desirability is not something that should be immunized from debate.

And Jill herself is engaging in only the pretense of non-judgmentalism. In fact, she considers Dawn’s advocacy to be a problem, and declares that the world would be a better place if women refrained from trying to convince others of the superiority of non-marital chastity. She is scolding them every bit as much as Dawn, except that her recommendation is that they shut their mouths rather than their legs.

Jill is not truly neutral on the subject of chastity. In at least one context she has pronounced it “unhealthy and sad.” Notwithstanding her claim that she would never project that “personal belief” on anybody, it is in every way a moral assessment whose very utterance is intended to convince others of its truth. Regarding pre-marital sex, her message is equally clear. Jill might “respect” chastity in the minimal sense that she thinks it should remain a legal right, but believes that people like Dawn who actually endorse it are irrational and emotionally unbalanced. And she believes that those who are convinced to follow Dawn’s example will be hurt. Dawn’s book would not otherwise pose a “problem.”

What Dawn’s book poses, however, is not a problem but an ideal. The ideal is to restrict sex to marriage — a state involving the mutual recognition of a lifelong commitment to a monogamous relationship. Viewed as an ideal, the problem people like Jill have is suggesting something better, or establishing the superiority of an earlier consummation of the relationship.

It is not easy analyze the issue without confirming much of the truth of Dawn’s fundamental premise. First, I have to assume that there is at least some point in a relationship that Jill would consider too early for sex for anybody under any circumstance. For example, she might counsel a friend or sister or daughter not to engage in sex with a man the very instant she met him, before she knew his name, before any words had been exchanged — especially if a bag covered his head and she had not even seen his face.

The example might seem ridiculous, but the point is simply that in such a situation most people — even Jill — would likely recommend chastity and in fact would consider it ridiculous to consider any alternative. So clearly the notion that there is something necessarily offensive, much less “completely offensive,” about attempts to convince others of the value chastity is flawed. The man must be known and appreciated, in some way and for some time, in a purely non-sexual way. The woman is indeed “saving” herself for the point at which the relationship has matured enough for it to become sexual.

The basic principle being established, it is a small step to conclude that it might be best for the parties to a sexual relationship to have reached the point where they actually love each other. Again, most people, if asked whether they believed that it was preferable to engage in loveless sex, would answer in the negative without debating whether inappropriate judgmentalism were involved. A woman considering a date with a man who she knew to be simultaneously sleeping with three others might well heed her friends’ advice to forget about him — and his protestations that he didn’t love them or that they “meant nothing to him” would not likely be persuasive.

Finally, the question becomes whether sex is best reserved for the point at which the love has ripened into the desire for a lifelong attachment, e.g., marriage. As an ideal, it is certainly more than merely defensible. One would rather have a stronger emotional bound with one’s bedmate than a weaker one. There was an old Onion headline to the effect of “You Are the Woman Who I Want to Completely Devote the My Next Three Months and Four Days of My Life With” — while sex with such a man might appear to be preferable to sex with one who promised to dump you in the morning, the principle is really the same. Absent a permanent commitment the parties are merely using each other.

God Squad Review CLXXII (Parkinson’s Foundation)

June 18, 2006 | 5 Comments

God Squad Review CLXXII (Don’t Care What They’re Saying)

If you’re interested in reading the Squad’s babblings on sin and coping with death read their column. I’m giving them a pass this week in honor of Father Hartman’s pledge to cure for Parkinson’s disease within ten years through the efforts of his foundation.

Decent and Honest

June 15, 2006 | 154 Comments

A bumper sticker proclaiming that vehicle’s owner is a “Decent, Honest, Atheist” adorns Shirley Setterbo’s car. It’s just an simple, innocent declarative statement, but somehow it’s provoked rage from McDonalds drive-through cashiers, conversion attempts and laughter from truck drivers. Shirley is naturally puzzled by these reactions. It’s almost as bad as the time she taped a sign to her butt to demonstrate the correct spelling of the phrase “Kick Me,” and discovered that people were misinterpreting it as an invitation to violence. The experience has made her so paranoid that she’s decided to leave her “Religions are just cults with more members” and “My Karma Ran Over Your Dogma” stickers behind on the refrigerator.

Seeking an answer to this mystery, I came across this possible explanation from Professor Mike S. Adams:

When I pulled into the parking lot this morning, I saw a car covered with sacrilegious bumper stickers. It seemed obvious to me that the owner was craving attention. I’m sure he was also seeking to elicit anger from people of faith. The anger helps the atheist to justify his atheism. And, all too often, the atheist gets exactly what he is looking for.

In fact, just the other day, I heard a Christian refer to Michael Newdow as an “attention-craving SOB.” It reminded me of the time I heard someone refer to Annie Laurie Gaylor as a “b**ch.”

Professor Adams, however, disapproves of these hostile responses. He harbors no ill-will towards atheists, “even I see them attacking my basic religious freedoms.” Instead, he feels sympathy, because “[w]hen I look into their eyes I see an emptiness that evokes pity.” So instead of taking a hostile, contentious bumper stick approach, Adams suggests a kinder way:

The answer is simple. The advice was given to me by someone who sincerely considered the matter to be urgent. And that sense of urgency was conveyed without a trace of anger. It was just a matter of one human being communicating his concern for another without being pushy and holier-than-thou.

If a Christian really believes the things he professes to believe, he will go to great lengths to share it with others. He would even crawl on his belly across a desert of broken glass if he thought he could reach an atheist. He would certainly do more than utter profanity and show contempt for the atheist.

The art of gentle persuasion is apparently effective in dealing with false creeds other just atheism. Just last week, in a piece called Charlatan’s Angels, the professor patiently explains why Mormon founder Joseph Smith was “a few fries short of a happy meal,” a “quack”, and a “fraud and a heretic.” And readers who e-mail him their opinions sometimes find themselves named as the recipient of his Jackass of the Year award. His site doesn’t sell bumper stickers, but when you’re as honest and decent as Professor Adams, you don’t need to advertise.

Ask a Stupid Question

June 13, 2006 | 70 Comments

Like religion, separation of church and state is a topic as poorly understood by the poll-givers as it is by the poll-takers. According to this article, “Church and State Separation Splits Americans.” That conclusion is based on CBS News poll which included the following questions and results:

(1) In general, do you think that teaching the Bible in a public school does or does not violate the Constitution and the separation of church and state?

Does violate 46%

Does not violate 46%

(2) Do you think public schools should or should not be allowed to teach the Bible as a piece of literature, in classes like English or Social Studies?

Should 64%

Should not 29%

The article correctly notes that the controversy originated with the early 1960’s Supreme Court decisions which forbade Bible readings but permitted teaching the scriptures as literature. The ban on readings — i.e., compulsory sectarian prayers — caused national outrage and was widely perceived as throwing God out of the schools. Given this context, the poll questions are flawed for a number of reasons.

First, neither question addresses the issue of reading or reciting from the Bible as a form of prayer or worship. Instead, both frame the issue as one of “teaching” the Bible. And the first question asks about teaching it “in general,” as if the question could be meaningfully answered without knowing whether the scriptures were being taught as fact or fiction. Insofar as the question is framed as a constitutional one, that is the central distinction — teaching that the Bible is the literal or inspired word of God is establishing religion, whereas an examination of its literary merits, cautiously approached, may be permissible.

The mere fact that the first question is framed in constitutional terms is another problem. Bible prayer is plainly unconstitutional, but the question isn’t meant to elicit a confirmation of that dry legal conclusion. It’s really asking whether church/state separation should be ignored, whether God should be restored to the classroom. That agenda is confirmed by a third poll question quoted by the article, “[w]ould you like to see religious and spiritual values have more influence in the schools than they do now?”

Also note that the second question isn’t ditches the issue of constitutionality in favor of asking whether the Bible “should or should not” be taught in a particular way. What Americans are “split” over, as the headline suggests, is not whether church/state separation is constitutionally required. Rather, the debate is over whether it should be respected at all.

Ma’am, Have You No Sense of Irony?

June 12, 2006 | 55 Comments

Fox News’ Julie Banderas goes ballistic on Shirley Phelps-Roper, who has brought her “God Hates Fags” campaign to the funerals of soldiers who have died in service of this Sodomite nation of ours. Unfortunately, Julie also goes Biblical, not the best strategy for someone opposed to the notion that God Hates Fags. Worst of all, she quotes some irrelevant language from Leviticus, whose pertinent passages commands people to kill fags — and she compounds the error by calling Shirley an “abomination”, which is precisely what God Calls Fags. And in the middle of her own preaching about what (she thinks) the Bible says and God wants, Julie demands to know what authority Shirley has to preach.

As you’ll see, the post in which Michelle Malkin highlights this clip is meant to cheerlead for Julie. Interesting, given that just last year Michelle was complaining about how the “feminists and post-modernists” had gotten their hands on the Bible to give it a “PC rewrite.”

God Squad Review CLXXI (Natural Evil)

June 12, 2006 | 10 Comments

A Squad reader who lost a leg to bone cancer at age 12 has “a problem with people who believe God allows adversity in their lives.” I have a problem seeing how his logic could support anything but the opposite conclusion:

I don’t believe God visited this malady on me. I believe He created natural law. The cancer came about through His natural law. The cancer cells were obeying natural law. I’m sure God knew this would happen and could see the life choices I would make as a result of losing a leg.

Seems to be more that just “allowing” adversity — the problem has been planned down to the last detail, including the victim’s reaction to it. The reader then backtracks a bit, asserting that God also knew he had the “tools” to deal with the disability but that it was his “choice to use my God-given talents or not.” Does the Squad think, he asks, that this mass of contradictions represents “flawed thinking”? Of course not:

You have a very mature, wise and theologically sophisticated view of the problem of theodicy, a fancy term for the problem of why bad things happen to good people.

The idea that adversity is punishment is sometimes plausible, but not in your case. Obviously, there is a connection when people who smoke become gravely ill, when those who overeat and fail to exercise become diabetic, or when those who steal land in jail. However, what happens to such people is not so much punishment from God as the consequence of unhealthy or immoral behavior.

God has set before us all two paths — a path of righteousness and faith and a path of unhealthy physical and spiritual behavior. It’s our choice to walk in the path of righteousness. It’s also our choice and sad fate to bear the burden of our moral lassitude if we choose the wrong path.

Your bone cancer, however, was not the result of any bad choices you made. It’s an example of “natural evil,” as opposed to “moral evil.” You rightly understand that in such a case, God walks with you and helps you through your faith and trust in Him.

Actually, bone cancer sometimes kills people no matter what “tools” they’ve been given and no matter what trust they place in God. As do speeding cars operated by hit-and-run drivers, some of whom are never caught and live long, happy lives. And God occasionally gives smokers the “tools” to somehow avoid lung cancer, while depriving non-smokers of that same immunity.

So the whole “tool” analysis seems shaky. Moreover, if the ability to cope with bone cancer is a tool, so is the ability to cope with the urge to smoke or overeat. Calling a lack of will power a “choice” is questionable — it’s at least as likely that God selects those who will capitulate to it just like he plans out the progress of cancer in children.

Atheist Holocaust Denier Blames Prejudice for Election Loss

June 7, 2006 | 59 Comments

Montgomery, Alabama, June 8, 2006
Special to The Raving Atheist

Defeated after winning only 44% of the vote in his party’s primary for Alabama state attorney general, Democratic candidate Larry Darby blamed the loss on public misconceptions regarding atheism and Holocaust denial.

“Atheism is just the lack of a belief in a god or gods, nothing more, nothing less,” said Darby. “It doesn’t mean that I reject morality or worship Satan, or require me to take a particular position on any given issue. Unfortunately, old stereotypes are hard to overcome.”

Darby likewise explained that his Holocaust denial was simply a lack of belief in the Holocaust, and that it would be unfair to draw other conclusions from his historical convictions. “Not everyone who disbelieves in the German Final Solution agrees on tax policy, on school vouchers, or even on who’s responsible for controlling the media to spread myths about concentration camps,” he said. Darby pointed out that reasonable people often disagree over the proof and extent of other alleged genocides, and noted that virtually everyone would profess to be a holocaust denier with respect to the Klingon massacre of Ferengis. “I just believe in one less ethnically-based mass extermination than you,” he added.

Some atheist groups distanced themselves from the candidate during the campaign, with Ellen Johnson of American Atheists likening Darby’s embrace of atheism to an attempt to “put lipstick on a pig.” Darby, however, expressed hope that in the future atheists would take a “big tent” approach and welcome both holocaust admitters and deniers. “By the same token, I think there’s enough room in the neo-Nazi inn to accommodate believers and skeptics alike.”

By Far

June 6, 2006 | 26 Comments

What do I consider the most significant reward of nearly four years of blogging? By far, my association with kind and caring people like Ashli of the S.I.C.L.E. Cell, who made me and many others a proud part of this happy story. She reached out last fall to a stranger in need, stood by her for many difficult months and eventually brought her into her home. No post I’ve written has come close to accomplishing as much good — or ever will.

God Squad Review CLXX (Biblical Inerrancy)

June 5, 2006 | 85 Comments

“We don’t love the Bible because it’s old; we love it because it’s true,” said the God Squad. But that was last week. This week, in response to a question about conflicting scriptural accounts regarding the sequence of creation of men, animals, and women, they dismiss the book as a bunch of “legends.” Specifically, they embrace the “non-religious, scholarly view” known as the “Documentary Hypothesis”:

Under this hypothesis, the story of the creation of man in Genesis, Chapter 1 (the account where man and woman are created at the same time) was written by the P author, and the story of the Garden of Eden and the creation of Adam and Eve was written by the J author. So, there are two stories of the creation of man because there were two authors, and the authors reflected two different traditions of storytelling about the creation.

The Squad also presents a religious defense of the “storytelling.” Apparently, it can be explained by more storytelling — of a sort that has no scriptural basis at all:

For religious folk who believe that God wrote the Bible and that there can’t be contradictions of any kind in the text, these two stories were a big problem.

One very interesting Jewish commentarial tradition tries to reconcile the two stories by teaching that they describe the creation of two different women. The woman created with the man in Chapter One was called Lillith, and the woman described in the Eden narrative was, of course, Eve.

Lillith was, according to legend, the first wife of Adam. She had long, flowing red hair and was the first feminist! When Adam told her he was boss, she fought with him and ultimately flew away from him (OK, so we forgot to tell you, Lillith had wings!). Adam was so down in the dumps because Lillith had left him to make demon children at the Red Sea (it matched her hair) that he complained to God. That’s when God decided to make a second woman out of Adam’s rib so she would get the idea that Adam was No. 1. Lillith definitely got bad press from this story, but what do you expect from a legend that’s more than 4,000 years old?

In other words, you’d have to be a complete idiot to accept a literal interpretation of Genesis — it’s much to old to be true. Unlike the stuff written just 2,000 years ago, in which dead men fly to heaven without wings. Only angry atheists could doubt that.

Don’t Pick on the Atheist

June 3, 2006 | 18 Comments

Don’t you hate it when you come back to your desk and find that someone’s put a sticky over the word “Atheists” on your “Atheists Love America, Too” coffee mug? I can see despising America enough to cover up that word, but who dislikes atheists? The worst part of it all is deciding what to say in the e-mail you send to your boss, your boss’s boss and your co-workers, as Shirley Setterbo of AtheistExposed2 did.

Expect the Unexpected

June 2, 2006 | 28 Comments

One problem skeptics have with Christianity is the mechanics of the salvation scheme: why would an infinitely intelligent being decide that the only way to redeem mankind was to have a son by a virgin, sacrifice him, and bring him back to life? The plan might be efficient by Rube Goldberg standards, but most of us could think of quicker and surer ways to go about it. Like erasing our sins by snapping His fingers. Or making us good in the first place. But in Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis argues that the improbability of the scenario establishes its truth:

Besides being complicated, reality, in my experience, is usually odd. It is not neat, not obvious, not what you expect. For instance, when you have grasped that the earth and the other planets all go round the sun, you would naturally expect that all the planets were made to match-all at equal distances from each other, say, or distances that regularly increased, or all the same size, or else getting bigger or smaller as you go farther from the sun. In fact, you find no rhyme or reason (that we can see) about either the sizes or the distances; and some of them have one moon, one has four, one has two, some have none, and one has a ring.

Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed. That is one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It is a religion you could not have guessed. If it offered us just the kind of universe we had always expected, I should feel we were making it up. But, in fact, it is not the sort of thing anyone would have made up. It has just that queer twist about it that real things have. So let us leave behind all these boys’ philosophies-these over-simple answers. The problem is not simple and the answer is not going to be simpler either.

The argument is akin to the notion that God’s “hiddenness” proves his existence, that only a perfect being could conceal himself so perfectly. In fact, it goes somewhat further, asserting that the less likely the theory might seem to you, the more likely it is to be true. This type of reasoning is not entirely unprecedented. Prosecutors frequently argue that inconsistencies between the testimony of various police officers enhances their overall credibility — after all, if everything they said matched up perfectly, you’d know that they conspired to make the whole thing up.

However, one problem with Lewis’ claim might be that the resurrection story isn’t improbable enough. It may be ridiculous, but it’s not perfectly ridiculous. Quite a few people believe it, have “guessed” it, something you wouldn’t expect if there was a god who was truly trying to make it so queer as to defy expectations. Anyone of us could have thought of a way to made the story just a little less sensible, for example, having a two-headed Jesus drinking a Starbucks decaf latte on the cross. Certainly God could have added an infinite number of even more unpersuasive details to make it all absurd beyond belief.

So as it stands, I am completely, totally, and absolutely unconvinced that a God had anything to do with it. Or, as Lewis would put it, it’s just gotta be true.


June 1, 2006 | 30 Comments

Is there something special about sky-god baby-talk fairytale belief that requires the state to treat it better than any other kind of lunacy? In a new paper, Professor Brian Leiter says no. From the abstract of Why Tolerate Religion:

Religious toleration has long been the paradigm of the liberal ideal of toleration of group differences, as reflected in both the constitutions of the major Western democracies and in the theoretical literature explaining and justifying these practices. While the historical reasons for the special “pride of place” accorded religious toleration are familiar, what is surprising is that no one has been able to articulate a credible principled argument for tolerating religion qua religion: that is, an argument that would explain why, as a matter of moral or other principle, we ought to accord special legal and moral treatment to religious practices. There are, to be sure, principled arguments for why the state ought to tolerate a plethora of private choices, commitments, and practices of its citizenry, but none of these single out religion for anything like the special treatment it is accorded in, for example, American and Canadian constitutional law. So why tolerate religion? Not because of anything that has to do with it being religion as such — or so this paper argues.

(The full essay can be downloaded in a variety a formats if you scroll down to the bottom of the page).

Reading the treatise, I surmise that there must be some academic convention that prohibits a scholar from coming right out and calling the majority of his readers stupid. The analysis is chock-full of euphemism. The conclusion — “there is no moral reason why states should carve out special protections that encourage individuals to structure their lives around categorical demands that are insulated from the standards of evidence and reasoning we everywhere else expect to constitute constraints on judgment and action” — does come close to being insulting, but still falls short. I can understand why some writers avoid words like idiotic, nonsensical, moronic, imbecilic and brainless, but if one of your primary premises is that religion is a pack of lies you shouldn’t risk having that point hidden by jargon. And it doesn’t necessarily require invective. Leiter could have simply described some of the most common religious dogmas, e.g., virgin-born crucified martyrs, invisible elephant-headed deities, and made the necessary comparisons to astrology, alchemy and the Wizard of Oz.

Part of the reason, I suspect, that Leiter holds back he’s not arguing that there’s something especially harmful about tolerating beliefs that are unhinged from evidence — indeed, he asks, “is there any reason to think that attention to evidence precludes embrace of abhorrent categorical demands?” His thesis is merely that there’s no reason to accord favored status to the subset of false beliefs categorized as religious. All stupidity should be treated equally. But that conclusion, at a minimum, does require a clear showing that religious belief is stupid. And I doubt Leiter would have written the piece at all if, deep down, he didn’t think it was better and safer to be smart rather than stupid.

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