The Raving Theist

Dedicated to Jesus Christ, Now and Forever

2006 July

What Madalyn Did

July 31, 2006 | 37 Comments

Last week I solicited guesses as to how atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair responded when born-again Christian Charles Colson approached her after a debate to say that he and millions of Christians were praying for her. The answer was choice (a): “I don’t pray, but if I did, I’d pray that you will lose. You will lose, Mr. Colson. You will fail.”

Colson followed up on the anecdote with this analysis:

Why the furious response? If Mrs. O’Hair believed there was no God, why fight so hard against people like me? If she thought I was pursuing superstition, why not leave me alone, or even laugh at me? That’s what I would do.

I concluded that the only reason Mrs. O’Hair could not leave people to their faith was that she really knew the truth. As I said earlier, I suspect Mrs. O’Hair must have once embraced the truth before turning utterly against it. Perhaps, then, succumbing to sin, she became evil within herself and had to try to destroy the belief system she knew was true.

Perhaps there are some whose atheism consists in “rebelling against God” in the manner that Colson describes. But if one “knows” God exists, one is definitionally a theist, not an atheist. My impression is that O’Hair sincerely believed that atheism was true, and attacked the theistic belief system because she thought it was false and potentially harmful.

Is there a term for people who “know” God exists but yet try to destroy Him? At least part of that “knowing” would include knowing that He is all-powerful and that struggle against Him would be ultimately futile. At first, it seems hard to believe that anyone would willingly take on such impossible odds.

In fact, the secular counterpart to such people is quite common. We call them criminals. They believe in the existence of the police, the courts, the laws, and the prisons; they know right from wrong, and that nearly all of society is against them; and they know that in the end they cannot win. Yet they choose to live as outlaws, succumbing to the evil within themselves and trying to destroy a social and moral order they know to be very real and very true.

More than Matter

July 27, 2006 | 177 Comments

Christian humility is a frequent target of atheist scorn. Contemptible, they say, is the notion of humans as miserable, wretched, sinning creatures trembling in awe of God’s undeserved love. Yet atheists sometimes express, perhaps unintentionally, a form of self-degradation far more pitiable than that devised by any believer. This attitude recently surfaced in a comment to my discussion of the creation and recurrence of the self:

Have you ever considered that this thing you call “I” doesn’t really exist, at least not in the way you seem to think.

Modern neuroscience has shown that everything about our personality is directly connected to the brain. A little more serotonin here and you have a happier person. Enough damage there and a person is no longer able to feel compassion. We know we can control a person’s emotions and personality with drugs. As yet, there is NO evidence that our personalities come from anything other than the physical structure of our brains and the interplay of our synapses with chemical neurotransmitters.

So this “I” may be nothing more than a construct of the brain for the purpose of survival of the entire organism.

How can people think of themselves this way? I despair at those explanations which reduce us to nothing more than slowly-decaying heaps of steaming matter, to the proverbial robots made of meat. Worse yet, we are slaves of some “organism” which somehow has a “purpose.” A purpose not to love or be loved, but merely to survive. For what purpose it wishes to survive is not clear. We do not even know what “it” is. Presumably it is less than a god, less than a man, likely no better than the matter itself.

I sigh at this, but not because my synapses are interplaying with my neurotransmitters. I sigh because I sigh. Certainly I recognize there is a relationship between my consciousness and my brain, that there is perhaps some necessary foundation of matter which must support my every thought. But that I must stand upon a mountaintop to behold the view does not mean that I am the mountain, as lifeless as its rocks and dirt.

The experience of self-consciousness is radically different from whatever its cause or substrate may be. We all know what it is to think and to feel, regardless of our understanding of the underlying mechanisms. Neuroscience will never adequately account for what we are. At best it will complicate the form of the equation expressing the nexus between mind and matter. But in substance that connection will be no better illuminated than it was by Descartes’ pineal gland.

In the end, matter doesn’t matter. As Descartes correctly concluded, the ultimate reality is the self-perceiving self, which must exist even if the rest of the world is some demon-created illusion. Have I ever considered that this thing you call “I” doesn’t really exist? Who, exactly, are you asking? And is it not you who is asking?

Beyond the self, there are and endless variety of truths which do not and could not depend on matter. Is it seriously urged that one plus one equals two only because a synapse fires in a particular direction, that it would be three if it fired otherwise? That all the truths of mathematics and logic would differ with a different combination of serotonin, dopamine, acetylchoine, cortisol and adrenaline? If so, is the “truth” that they would differ an absolute one, somehow independent of the chemical mix? And how can one rely on neuroscience for the answers, where that discipline itself depends upon the certainty of mathematics, logic and the inferences to be drawn therefrom?

Atheists frequently invoke the Euthyphro dilemma to demonstrate that moral truths, if they are truths, must rest on something independent of God’s will if they are anything more than mere whim. And yet with the self and those ideas forming the bedrock of its knowledge, so many are satisfied to leave the answers to the whims of matter and electrochemistry. There is a reluctance to depart from the purely physical realm, perhaps a fear that the concession that the immaterial is not immaterial will open the door to other, less palatable phantoms.

By now many of you may have tired of my seeming hypocrisy, of my evasive, mealy-mouthed, quasi-theistic mystical pandering. But again, who have I upset or irritated? A bubbling cauldron of cranial soup? Maybe it is your synapses that have misfired, not mine. Perhaps a little more serotonin will help you see it my way, or at least make you happy.

For my part, I will continue to believe in you as something more than the sum of your quarks. I have never seen your bodies but I know you by your thoughts. The words transmitted to my computer, seen through a screen darkly, are sufficient evidence of your existence. You will never convince me that you are just sparks emanating from gray matter; I would no more equate you with that than I would equate you with the sparks which transmit your words through my computer’s memory. You may try to convince me otherwise, but your efforts will only further prove my point.

Content yourself with the thought that the conclusion that you are more than matter does not mean that you are much more than that. I recognize that you are limited. And again, I concede that matter may well be essential. The immutable laws of the universe may require that for Truth to be received by humans it must delivered in a Form Incarnate.

Cleaning House

July 25, 2006 | 111 Comments

Atheism breathed a collective sign of relief recently when white supremacist, holocaust-denying Larry Darby announced that he was abandoning godlessness for Christianity. At least two atheist bloggers critical of my anti-choice/anti-abortion stance bid me a “good riddance” for what they interpreted as a similar conversion. The general idea was that Darby and I were stains on the respectably rational name of atheism, and would be more at home in the supposed intellectual madhouse of religion.

But atheism, it is often argued, does not by itself compel any particular moral conclusions. Nor does pure reason: as Hume observed, reason is at best the “slave of the passions” — it tells us how to get what we want, rather than dictating what we want or should want. There is nothing incompatible with being a reasonable atheist and seeking to maximize one’s pleasure by enslaving the population of the whole world. Or, on a smaller scale, with murdering an old lady for money you could put to better use. You only live once, after all.

So insisting on a connection between atheism and morality is itself irrational. By their own premises, those who would insist on the link are committing the sort of logical error that should disqualify them as proper representatives of rationally-derived disbelief. It’s “magical thinking” to suppose that the absence (or denial) of a belief in a particular being is going to compel a specific course of conduct.

To be sure, some part of the objection to my position (and Darby’s) was not based on its morality. Rather, one argument was that my underlying factual/empirical/scientific premises were so unsupported that my stance could only be explained by the embrace of some form of superstition. Even so, there still lingered the irrational notion of “disgracing” atheism, the concern that the belief system or its community would be given a bad name by the faulty reasoning of an individual writing about a topic not directly related to atheism or theology.

A chemist, biologist, rocket scientist or mathematician may hold any number or combination of moral, political and social views. Rarely, however, is it argued that his or her status as a scientist in a particular field of expertise is compromised by an allegedly irrational or superstitious belief on some unrelated issue. An expert in physics may subscribe to racist, sexist or eugenicist theories unsupported by any facts or logic, but the asserted departure from reality is generally not thought to deprive him or her of the title “physicist.” Certainly some argument could be made that the apparent impairment of reasoning ability must contaminate the science as well — for example, that the physicist’s expressed views on gravity are merely a cover for some more extravagant theory relating to supernatural attractive and repellent forces emanating from skin pigmentation. But such arguments are infrequently made, if at all.

In my own case, I suspect that the alleged “religious” aspect to my opposition to abortion — i.e., my perceived views on the “ensoulment” (or its equivalent) of the fetus — was largely irrelevant to the decision to declassify me as an atheist. Rather, it was my view (expressed in but a handful of my thirty or so posts on the topic) that the law should intervene to restrict the procedure at an earlier point than it currently does. Had I merely expressed a moral distaste for the practice as many people do (especially at the later stages of pregnancy) but declared that the decision should always be left to the woman, I doubt my rationality (or atheism) would have been called into question. The alleged lapse in reason thus related more to my view about the role of government than anything else.

Notably, atheists rarely declare that a religious person who advocates a pro-choice position has thereby converted to atheism. In other words, the rejection of fetus-ensoulment (or its equivalent) isn’t seen as conferring an overall degree of rationality inconsistent with theism. Nor, for that matter, have I noticed efforts to recruit believers with pro-choice views (or other views purportedly reflecting the rationality of atheism) into the godless camp to bolster atheism’s reputation, in a way that’s equivalent to the efforts to protect atheism’s reputation by disassociating from those with allegedly irrational or superstitious views.

Voice

July 23, 2006 | 9 Comments

So much for the atheist.

A Voice from Behind, Anonymous (2006)

The Beam in Mine Own Eye

July 20, 2006 | 70 Comments

Time, at long last, to turn the microscope on myself. For years I’ve been guilty of unfair and unbalanced attacks against decent people who deserved better, employing tactics whose immorality often dwarfed that of whatever faults I attributed to my victim. Regrettably, a case in point is the very post in which I promised to refrain from criticizing religion. That pledge was virtually the only honest part. The rest of it was permeated with lies and half-truths, driven by a combination of self-deception and malevolence. Apart from the fact that what I did was wrong, mean, and hurtful, I’m providing this analysis so that you’ll know what to watch out for in the future and to insure that I tread more carefully from now on.

In the post, I accused a number of atheist bloggers of dishonesty, intellectual laziness and a reckless disregard for the truth in connection with their charge that I was targeting atheist women or mothers for pro-life indoctrination. With respect to the first blogger I attacked, KC of Bligbi, my accusation was grossly unfair. Her conclusion was reasonable in light of all of the evidence available to her. Apart from my comment on her blog, I had solicited two other atheist mothers to volunteer at crisis pregnancy centers. Given the relative rarity of pro-life atheists in the population, KC was entitled to believe that this was more than a coincidence. In fact, in an unpublished draft of my post about one of the women, I did announce my intention to recruit atheists for CPC service nationwide. KC’s suspicions were not so far from the truth.

As it happened, the particular comment I left on KC’s blog was part of a general effort to counteract a Planned Parenthood e-mail campaign and was not directed at atheist mothers alone. However, there was no reason for KC to suspect that some stranger had become obsessively engaged in a late-night mass-commenting campaign, and it would have been virtually impossible for her to confirm that even if she had. It took even me a considerable amount of time to reconstruct the Technorati search that led me to the various blogs, despite knowing the precise wording of my comments. KC was not in a position to recreate my efforts.

Furthermore, when I started the reconstruction process, I actually had no idea whether the results would disprove KC’s conclusion. I was initially concerned that it would not. More than likely, I thought, all of the bloggers motivated to post on the abortion issue would turn out to be women, and women without particularly strong religious beliefs. To my relief, a few of the bloggers turned out to be male — but had I discovered otherwise, I doubtlessly would have engaged in some other subterfuge to score my cheap point.

At some point before I posted, I realized that it was wrong to question KC’s integrity based on information she could not have possessed. I could have left an explanatory comment on her blog instead, or e-mailed her the evidence regarding my subjective intent. But it would have undercut the predetermined theme of my post, and I figured I could get away with it because the evidence would support my basic premise.

My attack on AtheistMommy was both hypocritical and misleading. I accused her of a “breach of trust” for revealing my e-mailed suggestion that she volunteer in a CPC, and claimed that that I had never published an e-mail without first obtaining the sender’s explicit written permission. In fact, just this April I published the e-mail that is the subject of this post without seeking permission or even advising the author that I was doing so. Although it is not my regular practice (and I never disclose even arguably confidential or personal information sent to me), I reasoned that the hostile and offensive tone of the e-mail freed me from the ordinary conventions.

What AtheistMommy did was more justified than my conduct. She merely asked some forum readers for advice on undertaking a project which I had already told her I was intending to publicize on my blog. I had no reason to expect the offer to remain a secret. My real objection to her forum thread was its criticism of CPCs, which, given her pro-choice leanings, was perfectly understandable. I imagine I would have acted no differently had someone suggested I volunteer at Planned Parenthood. No, I do not consider PP centers and CPCs to be engaged in morally equivalent activity, but I should have just stated my position on that issue rather than disguising my motives by disingenuously accusing her of an ethical lapse.

For similar reasons, that part of my attack on Francois Tremblay which faulted him for failing to seek my permission to publish the e-mails was dishonest. Moreover, he was entitled to republish the e-mails without anyone’s permission insofar as they had already appeared in a public forum. Once again, I should have limited my criticisms to those relevant to the abortion issues.

Finally, Melissa of Sugared Harpy was correct to fault me in a comment for accusing her of “mindlessly reprinting” the Planned Parenthood e-mail story on her blog. She did, in fact, announce her skepticism and desire for more information on the incident in a comment that appeared nearly two weeks before I left mine. In my haste to attack and smear, I overlooked her clearly expressed concerns.


Consistent with the promises made here, the following are some memorable posts from the bloggers mentioned above:

Atheist Mommy: Hate Crimes are Not Special.

Bligbi: Was I a True Christian?

Sugaredharpy:An excellent question.

Francois Tremblay: His world view codified and revisited.

[Note: From time to time I will be publishing criticism, like this post, of previous entries at The Raving Atheist. If you believe you have been unfairly criticized, insulted, misrepresented, humiliated or otherwise maligned on this blog at any time since July 2002, please send me a copy of the relevant link at ravingatheist@gmail.com. I will post the necessary retraction and/or corrections, together with an explanation of whether my errors were willful, reckless, inadvertent. I will also reveal any undisclosed motives I may have had in writing the post. If there are any particular falsehoods or inaccuracies you have in mind, please identify them. If you wish the retraction to be privately e-mailed rather than publicly posted, please specify that preference].

What Would Madalyn Do?

July 18, 2006 | 127 Comments

Atheist icon Madalyn Murray O’Hair debated religion with born-again Christian Charles Colson in the early 1980’s on David Frost’s short-lived NBC variety show. The episode never aired, but Colson recalls the encounter in his book The Good Life. Here, he relates what happened after the cameras shut down:

As I was talking to some of the people from the audience, I glanced to the side and noticed that Mrs. O’Hair had gone off to a stool in a corner and was sitting by herself. I walked over to her, leaned forward, and said “Mrs. O’Hair, I want you to know that I, like millions of Christians, am praying for you, praying that you will find the truth.”

How did O’Hair respond?

(a) “I don’t pray, but if I did, I’d pray that you will lose. You will lose, Mr. Colson. You will fail.”
(b) “Thank you for your prayers. We may disagree, Mr. Colson, but I wish you well, too. I sincerely do.”
(c) “I appreciate the kindness behind your prayers. One day you’ll understand that no one is listening to them. In the end, it doesn’t matter.
(d) “Take your phony Christian love somewhere else, Mr. Colson. What you really love is money is and yourself. You are no different from me.”
(e) “Mr. Colson, I want you to know that I, like millions of atheists, am hoping that you will find the truth. I can tell you’re a good man.
(f) “Like millions of Christians, Mr. Colson, you are a fool.
(g) Sometimes I wish I had your simple faith, Mr. Colson. A universe without God is not an encouraging thought.

What would you have said?

Better Know Yourself

July 17, 2006 | 32 Comments

He co-sponsored a bill requiring the display of the Ten Commandments in House and Senate, but could barely name three of them. And so Georgia Congressman Lynn Westmoreland was humiliated by Steven Colbert a few weeks back, in a “Better Know a District” interview now widely blogulating via YouTube.

I have some sympathy for the man, but Westmoreland’s public wounding was largely self-inflicted. While it’s true that legislators often don’t read or understand the bills they support — and even vote for laws they detest — there’s a heightened standard when you’re using something as controversial as religion as the subject matter of your legislation-as-theater. You’ve got to be able to put on a show, particularly if you’re purporting to promote your most deeply held beliefs. You should actually know what those beliefs are. And if you’re just going along with someone else’s agenda, it’s not so hard to memorize ten lines. Westmoreland would have probably come out fine had he managed to recall just six or seven of the Commandments before blurting out “I can’t name ‘em all.”

Colbert’s conduct, however, wasn’t blameless. As it turns out, Westmoreland claims that he did name seven of the Commandments before giving up. The show’s editors made a conscious decision cut out the last four and splice in a shot of Colbert holding up three fingers immediately before cutting to the Congressman’s abdication. I understand that it’s just comedy, but even in that context the tactic struck me as uncomfortably dishonest and unfair. If Fox News did the same thing to an atheist trying to list the Commandments in the course of an explanation of why he opposed the bill, there’d be an understandable outcry.

Google the story and you’ll find many bloggers and commentors boasting that “Even I can name them all, and I’m an atheist.” Upon examination, I discovered something surprising: while all of them did indeed list ten Commandments, in no case did any of them get more than four or five right, with the average being two or three. Yes, I’m making that up — but that’s my point. I’d be rightly criticized if I did something like that without revealing my deception or otherwise making it immediately obvious.

The purpose of Colbert’s piece, of course, wasn’t to demonstrate that a particular Congressman couldn’t name the Commandments. The larger issue was raised by the lawmaker’s inability to think of any “better place” for the display of the Commandments than public buildings. Colbert’s face was fishing for the “obvious” answer — a church — and that Westmoreland was stumped provoked nearly as much laughter as his ignorance of the Decalogue.

But the answer was only obvious if you subscribe to the dubious premise that Colbert’s face endorsed — that religious expression belongs somewhere just because the Constitution says it does, that church/state separation is a self-evidently sensible doctrine. In fact, it’s one of the most unprincipled principles in American jurisprudence. The Constitution takes no position on the truth of the Commandments or any facts regarding their origin, and the courts are forbidden to inquire into those matters. So if Westmoreland can be faulted for demanding that the Commandments be placed in public buildings without caring what they say, the Constitution can be faulted for demanding that they be kept out without caring what they say. And Colbert can be faulted for promoting a doctrine as obvious when it’s anything but.

As I said, I don’t feel sorry for Westmoreland. A reasonable case can be made that his support of the Commandments bill was insincere or even cynical, that his Christianity is more of a facade than anything else. To that charge, though, Colbert needs to answer as well. He asserts that he’s church-going, “devout Catholic” who teaches Sunday School, yet he routinely demeans the sacraments and has referred to Benedict XVI as a Nazi Pope. Even if he merely subscribes to a liberal, personalized version of the faith emphasizing charity and honesty, those qualities were conspicuously absent from his treatment of another alleged believer.

Dust to?

July 13, 2006 | 121 Comments

Atheists often reject the notion of an afterlife because of the concept’s perceived dependence on the existence of God. Only supernatural intervention, it is thought, could possibly sustain the consciousness after the death of the body. We do not come back from the nothingness which ensues from our corporeal annihilation. It is an impossibility. Science, and the evidence of billions of corpses, tells us that when it’s over, it’s over. That is the cold, hard fact.

It is also a cold, hard fact that you were nothing a thousand years ago. Yet, here you are. And you may even consider your existence to have been preordained from the time lighting first struck the primordial soup. An inevitability rather than impossibility.

Why is it that so many consider the idea of consciousness arising after the nothingness of death so much more improbable that its emergence from nothingness before birth? Plainly it cannot be the difficulty of deriving something from nothing, for nothing is the starting point in each case. What people have trouble with, I think, is the repetition of the self-aware “I” — that it is as difficult imagining oneself existing again in the future as it is imagining oneself now being simultaneously conscious in a different body on another planet. It’s easy to think of billions of future selves coming into being out of nothing — we know they will — but the idea of any of them being “you” is troublesome. Even if some distant year every molecule, atom and subparticle now composing your body suddenly swirled back into its exact present configuration, you might not expect it to perceive things as the “you” that is so self-consciously reading this page. You’d think of it as someone else, no more “you” than the stranger you see reading a newspaper a few seats down on the bus.

Or would you?

My Word

July 11, 2006 | 137 Comments

Atheists were once barred from testifying in court as untrustworthy. John Locke, in his Letter Concerning Toleration, explained: “[p]romises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist.”

I have pledged to never malign God or Christianity again on this blog. Although I first announced the policy in here, the decision did not originate in the dispute underlying that post. The post merely presented an opportunity to act upon a very specific and unambiguous promise I had made to a friend in an e-mail two days earlier.

Many of you, as atheists, would not have made that promise in the first place. But I did, and (for whatever reason) I intend to keep it. My question now is this: Would you break the promise if you had made it? Would you ask me to break it?

God Squad Review CLXXV (Atheist/Theist Relations)

July 9, 2006 | 49 Comments

A “happy, well-adjusted atheist” advises the Squad that he would be “interested in your comments about atheism’s claim that there is no god.” The reader also expresses his fear that America is “becoming a nation of ‘Talibaptists,’ so to speak; increasingly, we pass judgment on those who disagree with us, particularly on the topic of religious belief (or lack thereof).”

The Squad doesn’t address the God question, so I won’t either (and can’t). The problem with second question is that it reduces the dispute to one involving just speech and civility. But what bothers people isn’t that someone is “passing judgment” because they disagree. That is the very nature of disagreement — each side “passes judgment” that the other side is wrong. The important issue is which side is right, and the consequences, if any, of translating one set of judgments into action through law or social pressure. The Squad’s focus on school prayer and other public invocations of God similarly ignores much of what the debate is about, although it’s true that those symbolic issues consume a disproportionate amount of atheist attention as well.

The Squad concludes with a prayer that religious Americans will “come to see the atheism of some of their neighbors as neither betrayal nor blindness but rather just another way to stand on the purple mountain majesties.” I am warmed by the generosity behind the thought, but the relativism of it makes me want to jump off of the mountain. Which side I won’t say.

Interesting Enough

July 7, 2006 | 37 Comments

“The most boring speech” was once a category in the Guinness Book of World Records. The winner was a lecture on “How to Tell Left From Right,” complete with black-and-white slides of arrows illustrating methods to tell the difference from various angles. I don’t recall any of the runners-up. They were not memorable.

Which leads to a familiar philosophical paradox. The “most boring” entry could not have deserved its title. It was more interesting than the rest by virtue of its spectacular, record-setting boringness. The honors should have gone to a speech more mediocre in its dullness, one of the speeches which now eludes my memory.

Which leads to a further paradox, one which seemingly compels the conclusion that everything must be interesting. Whatever speech seized the honor from the most boring one would itself become the subject of fascination and thus disqualification. And so on, and so on. Each speech would have its fifteen minutes of fame, riveting our attention in the process of losing its distinction.

Can it really be that nothing is boring? We know this cannot be. We are bored, and often a lot. Logic tells us not only that some things boring, but that there must be something perfectly boring. For once bored, we can imagine being more bored — and imagining being more bored is no different from being more bored, boredom itself being a mere state of mind.

The question is how to reach that ultimate state. Attempts to achieve it are underway in the Blogosphere, but for the most part have been stymied by the considerations underlying the paradoxes discussed above. The overreach of The Most Boring Blog in the Universe is self-evident. The World’s Most Boring Blog suffers from the same pretense, and in any event is bested by The Most Boring Blog in Colorado. No need to consider whether a Wyoming or New Mexican site would triumph — The Boringest Blog in Town would beat any less parochial efforts. Location, however, is not the key. I do not know where The Most Hideously Boring Blog is, but it is clearly trying much too hard.

Modesty doesn’t help matters. Possibly The World’s Most Boring Blog still fails by reason of its attempt at most-ness in the world-ness. The Second Most Boring Blog in the World is doomed by its transparent cleverness. And by the prospect of The Third Most Boring, The Fourth Most Boring, ______*, and the Fifth Most Boring.**

The problem, I think, is in the very identification of the goal. To announce that one is trying to be the “most,” or even to be “boring,” expresses an aspiration. A self-conscious striving to excel in some way, to be interesting. As every party-goer knows, bores do not know they are being boring. They are not self-conscious. They are not trying at all. They disinterest us naturally and effortlessly.

So the truly most boring blog will not broadcast its intentions. It will not even know of them. The lack of effort might be obvious from the name, perhaps something random and forgettable like “r5Jg2ggg” or “sitcsigtwyobotitmbpaIwryitmpce.”

Although that still might not be sufficient. One final problem is that like the sound of the hypothetical tree falling in the forest, boredom must be experienced to exist. A blog so boring that no one actually read it would bore no one. The most boring blog must be one which causes the most boredom to the most people, one which maximizes readership while minimizing interest. One which manages to keep its readers on the edge of their seats, half-asleep.*** One which is not at all interesting, but with enough promise to draw people back in order to defeat their expectations again and again. A blog of the sort which might, say, compel its readers to leave comments claiming that the site is so boring they will not likely return, or, say, comments that they left out of boredom months ago and now mostly hang out in the forums.

To strike such a delicate balance, however, might require greater effort than any bore could summon. Trying not to try is harder than it seems. I could certainly not attempt it. My passion is unbridled, will forever be devoted to an atheist blog which discusses neither religion or God and does so without malice or sarcasm. I certainly hope it is interesting. Interesting enough.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

*I had originally intended to fill in this blank with the name of a blog with which I have previously expressed distaste, but could not do so without violating my new policy against sarcasm and malice.

**Google will not come up short until you search for “Seventh Most Boring.” Until now.

***Those who fall completely asleep, however, might have Ann Althhouse’s most boring dream (“I was napping on the sofa, and I dreamed I was napping on a different sofa and trying very hard to wake up”).

Love Thy Enemies

July 6, 2006 | 68 Comments

From now on, this site will devote itself to finding the best in people rather than the worst. Whenever possible, I will attempt to affirmatively advocate my own ideals rather than criticizing someone else. Sometimes, however, I will be discussing people, groups, ideologies or belief systems that I have disagreed with or attacked in the past. In such cases, the following rules will apply:

(1) The post will say at least one kind or favorable thing about the person and/or group under discussion. If I reject the relevant ideology completely, the compliment may pertain to some unrelated talent, accomplishment, or memorable post.

(2) All compliments will be sincere, not sarcastic or backhanded.

(3) The post will identify at least one false, cruel, inappropriate or unnecessary statement I have made about the person or group in the past, and explain why I was wrong to say what I did.

(4) Criticism or commentary will focus solely on ideas, not upon the person or people comprising the group to which he or she belongs.

(5) When commenting on a post that criticizes or attacks me I will not retaliate in any way, no matter how unkind, untrue or even vicious the commentary. I will not quote language from the offending post, or link to the post at all, if I believe that doing so will ultimately make the person look foolish or otherwise embarrass him or her.

(6) If I believe that there is a possibility that the person will be offended or embarrassed by my post, I will forward a draft and seek approval before posting.

(7) These rules will apply with equal force to religious people, atheists, agnostics, and political and social organizations, including pro-choice advocates or organizations.

I am not entirely sure that what I have outlined above will make for the most effective or interesting blogging. There are many blogs that I enjoy immensely that break these rules, and often it is precisely because they break these rules that I enjoy them. However, given my baser inclinations, I believe that this code of conduct will best serve my purposes, whatever they are, and I intend to adhere to it strictly.

Thank You for Your Prayers

July 4, 2006 | 97 Comments

You know who you are.

I am grateful, although I cannot say why without breaking a promise.

To the rest of you, Happy Fourth of July.

God Squad Review CLXXIV (Music)

July 3, 2006 | 17 Comments

Concerned that “flat note after flat note” issues from the fingers of his church’s organist, a Squad reader asks whether it’s more important to be supportive of the musician or improve attendance with a more talented replacement. The Squad opines that bad music is a “disservice to the spiritual excellence” of the church and recommends the latter option, while noting that it could be a traumatic and divisive event for the congregation.

Would the answer differ for an atheist or humanist organization that provided entertainment at its meetings? First, rest assured that there is a body of relevant music. Dan Barker, a preacher-turned-atheist who is co-president of the Freedom for Religion Foundation, is a prolific songwriter and composer. His five albums — “Beware of Dogma,” “Friendly Neighborhood Atheist,” “Freethought Then and Now,” “My Thoughts are Free,” and “Reason’s Greetings” — are available at FFRF’s online shop. Songs include “Battle of Church and State,” Stay Away Pope Polka,” “You Can’t Win With Original Sin,” “Nothing Fails Like Prayer,” “FFRF,” “Just Say ‘NO’ to Religion,” “Days of the Theocracy,” “Smarter Than You,” and “No Hurry to Die.”

Dawn Eden apparently declined to do the liner notes, but from the titles and available audio clips I surmise that the lyrics to these tunes are meant to be more didactic than uplifting. Battle contains the entire religion clause (establishment and free exercise) to the First Amendment. The title song to Friendly Neighborhood Atheist combats a canard (“I don’t have any horns/If you care to inspect me/But don’t expect me/To think just like you”). When performed, musicianship would likely be subordinate to message-delivery.

Pot of Gold

July 2, 2006 | 140 Comments

Some pranks are so cruel that even the law punishes them. The classic example, known to every first year law student, is that of the joke played on an eccentric old woman obsessed with the delusion that a pot of gold was buried in her yard. A man buried a real pot there but filled it with dirt, so that when he led her on a triumphant procession to city hall to open it she was humiliated by the discovery.

A reader has now suggested that I might be setting up my religious friends and readers for a similar “smack down.” At first I wondered what in my past behavior could lead someone to believe me even remotely capable of such a design. Maybe there is enough. But that is not my plan.

I will tell you that I am digging for the pot. Consistent with my promise, I make no representations regarding whether I believe it contains gold. I will not say whether I believe the people who are digging with me are deluded for thinking it does. It does not matter if it is empty. For we are going there to fill it.

Humoring You

July 1, 2006 | 20 Comments

The onomatopoeia wordplay in my previous post was unfunny and unsubtle, a reader has suggested. To this I would add it was unoriginal — not only in a general way, but also because the identical “joke” was employed in the post it criticized. None of this escaped me while I drafted it. I considered adding a line acknowledging my concern that readers would resent my resort to Highlights Magazine or “dad” humor as much as my perceived conversion. But I was too rushed to figure a way to squeeze in that thought without affecting the post’s flow or coherence. I decided to leave it out and address the issue if and when it surfaced in the comments — which I was fairly sure it would.

So I was sufficiently self-aware to anticipate the reaction to the “humor.” And, after a thousand-plus essays on atheism, to everything else. On reflex I could conjure up a post purporting to expose the deficiencies of the last. Daily I come across items on religion and my mind cycles, on autopilot, through every angle I might have pursued in critiquing them, were I now inclined to continue as before.

My heart is incapable of doing so. Whatever instinct drove me up until recently has vanished. Content yourself with the thought that if the objections to my words are so obvious then you hardly need me to articulate them. If it is the sarcasm you miss them perhaps the spectacle of self-flagellation I have planned for the coming weeks will provide an adequate emotional substitute. But I would no more go back to what I was than I would set fire to a little kitten.

Because I love little kittens. :)

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