The Raving Theist

Dedicated to Jesus Christ, Now and Forever

2006 August


August 28, 2006 | 15 Comments

Federal protection does not extend to small tributaries and wetlands near, but not directly abutting, navigable waters, the Supreme Court recently ruled. Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, employed this bit of judicial bathos to criticize his dissenting brethren’s alleged misuse of legal precedent:

Justice Kennedy misreads SWANCC’s [Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook Cty. v. Army Corps of Engineers] “significant nexus” statement as mischaracterizing Riverside Bayview to adopt a case-by-case test of ecological significance; and then transfers that standard to a context that Riverside Bayview expressly declined to address (namely, wetlands nearby non-navigable tributaries); while all the time conceding that this standard does not apply in the context that Riverside Bayview did address (wetlands abutting navigable waterways). Truly, this is “turtles all the way down.”

Truly, indeed. No matter what side of the theological divide you’re on, I think you’ll agree that Bertrand Russell never intended his hard-shelled, reptilian refutation of the First Cause argument from Why I Am Not A Christian to be quoted in defense of a greedy, wetland-backfilling developer. And technically, it wasn’t — Russell never quite said it in the familiar form used by Scalia. Anyway, no matter who said it, it should have been saved for the next Pledge case.

Honorable Mention Award: I will declare as omniscient, on the main page of this blog, anyone who reads the decision and can explain clearly, in fifty words or less, what Scalia meant by the analogy.

Sunday Sermons

August 27, 2006 | 14 Comments

Watching this and this, I wondered whether they were funnier to atheists or believers.

Politically Incomprehensible

August 25, 2006 | 3 Comments

Comedian Jackie Mason has declared himself the founder of “Jews for It’s OK to Say Merry Christmas.” The Jews for Jesus have interpreted this ecumenical joke as an endorsement of its theology and are using a caricature of Mason (along with a parody of his routine) in some of its literature. Mason is suing the group, claiming that the implication that he supports Jews for Jesus is “directly harmful” to him and that he’s been damaged to an “incalculable degree.” Maybe there’s been a some violation of Mason’s commercial publicity rights, but his attorney’s explanation is baffling:

Mason’s lawyer, Raoul Felder, said using his close pal to advertise the group is “like asking bin Laden to endorse Manischewitz.”

Call the Analogy Police. Doesn’t counsel’s comparison inflict substantially more injury to his client’s reputation than the JFJ’s pamphlets? If Mason has, as he claims, “the utmost respect for people who practice the Christian faith,” I don’t think likening those feelings to Osama’s attitude towards sweet Jewish wine quite does the trick.

Just In

August 24, 2006 | 17 Comments

Justin Fuller died at 6:18 p.m. CDT. Last words (collected from various sources):

“I would like to tell my family thank you for your support and my friends,” he said. “And let everyone know that you must stay strong for each other. Take care of yourselves.”

“That’s it.”

As the lethal drugs began to take effect, he looked at his parents watching through a window and said, “I love you.”

The parents and a sister of his victim watched through an adjacent window, but he did not acknowledge them.

“It was too easy. Compared to what my son went through, it was really too easy,” Donald Whittington Jr., the father of the victim, told the Associated Press Thursday after the execution. “He showed no remorse in court, and he showed no remorse being injected.”

Floating in the Wind

August 24, 2006 | 16 Comments

After I die? I always tell my pen pals that I’ll just be floating in the wind. Where I go I don’t know, but I’ll be floating somewhere.

So speculates Justin Fuller, scheduled to die in Texas today.

Fuller was just 18 at the time of the offense, a 1997 shooting murder which netted $300 from the victim’s ATM card. His three co-defendants were all older (19, 21 and 25), but all received sentences of life or less. Fuller’s heavier sentence was likely influenced by the accusation that he was the triggerman. He disputes it, but the courts ruled that it doesn’t matter whether he was or not. They also ruled that it doesn’t matter that his attorney failed to tell him about a plea bargain offer that might have spared him from death.

At this moment the Supreme Court is considering a last-minute reprieve based on theory that one of the appellate briefs filed on his behalf was filled with gibberish (example: “i &tilde hus, we diseeni no ab &tilde tse of discretion in th i &tilde coult &tilde s denial”). That probably won’t matter either, given that the confusion was remedied at a later hearing.

There’s no denying that Fuller, despite his youth, was involved in a terrible crime. Donald Whittington III was himself only 21 when killed by Fuller and his associates. The act caused immense pain, and victim’s relatives aren’t in a forgiving mood:

Donald’s parents plan to attend Fuller’s execution. “I’d do it myself if I could,” said Raquella Whittington, who balks at written requests from Fuller to talk to her and her husband, Donald Whittington II. Echoing his wife’s sentiments, Whittington said, “The only way I would talk to him is if he could bring my son back and he can’t.” The Whittingtons said they live their lives heavily sedated. Sleeping pills are the only way they get through the nights without hearing the words of their sons’ killers. “It’s hard,” Mrs. Whittington said, recalling the grueling trials where she heard the words her son heard as he took his last breaths. “You have to sit there and listen to everything they did to him, what they took, tying him up,” she recalled, in addition to testimony about her son’s last words: “Leave me alone, take anything you want. “People say time will heal,” Mrs. Whittington said. “He’s my only son. Time has not healed this.”

Hard to argue with that. But whatever Fuller was nine years ago, I doubt that today’s he’s the worst person in the world, or the most deserving (if anyone is) of execution. This women thinks he’s a smart, generous and beautiful young man.

Those who revel in vengeance will not be disappointed by tonight’s proceeding. Fuller’s parents will watch their 27 year-old son die, as will his brother. Fuller daughter, age 11, is too young under state law to watch, but no doubt she’ll cry when they give her the news. So in addition to confronting the victim’s parents for the first time, Fuller will be contemplating his own family’s suffering as he’s strapped down.

What will he say? Judging by his poems, it’ll be a message of either hope . . .

A faith that is vibrant, impassioned and alive
will most definitely work itself out.
A faith that is eager to roll up its sleeves
will find that there’s no room for doubt.
To know our work is not in vain
as partners of the Lord,
provides the patience that we need
to wait for God’s reward.
our physical eyes do not always see
the work God is doing today.
But, hope in God’s word will surely bear fruit
though, often there is a delay.
Faith does not rule out common sense
in facing life each day.
But takes it by the hand and says,
“We’ll trust, we’ll plan, and we’ll pray!!”

. . . or self-pitying bitterness:

I stood there and watched
as I was arraigned for a crime I didn’t commit.
I stood there and watched
as my attorneys played over my life.
I stood there and watched
11 whites and 1 Uncle Tom convict and sentence me to die.
I stood there and watched
as my momma cried, “Baby, God’s gonna bring you home!!”
I stood there and watched
as all my hopes, dreams, and aspirations went down the drain.
I stood there and watched
as I was sitting on Death Row, lost, confused, not knowing what’s next.
I stood there and watched
as the state of Texas reached record numbers in murders.
I stood there and watched
as newly acquired friends went fighting to their deaths.
I stood there and watched
as I seen my appeals moving along rapidly.
I stood there and watched
as my survival instincts and inner desire to live
pushed me to fight;
pushed me to overcome the massive obstacles.
I stood there and watched
as a radiant light shined so bright;
yet the future looked so dark.
Even though I don’t know what happens next;
I will stand there and watch,
as life continues to unfold and
God guides me through.
As I stand here and watch . . .

What do you think Fuller will say tonight? If you were writing his last words for him, what would you say?


August 24, 2006 | Comments Off

It’s the hardest thing in the world to write something that’s supposed to be boring, and yet you laugh at how boring it is, without being bored by it. And most of the time we fail miserably at it.

David Mirkin, Executive Producer/Show Runner, The Simpsons (DVD commentary on Krusty the Clown’s interview of AFL-CIO President George Meany on 1994 Bart of Darkness episode)

For the Record

August 22, 2006 | 1 Comment

“For the record . . . [The Party of Death author Ramesh Ponnuru is] really nice.”

Jill of Feministe

Split Decision

August 22, 2006 | 29 Comments

Being pro-choice and anti-death penalty is a common political package deal. People for whom those issues matter can usually find a candidate whose views reflect that traditional liberal pairing. Conversely, it’s easy to find a conservative pro-life politician who supports capital punishment, notwithstanding the “consistent ethic of life” approach officially advocated by the Catholic Church.

New York’s gubernatorial race presents an unusual dilemma for those subscribing to the usual alignments. The Democratic frontrunner, Eliot Spitzer, is solidly pro-choice — he has the unqualified backing of NARAL and a few years back used his position as Attorney General to go on the offensive against crisis pregnancy centers. On the other hand, Spitzer has had a longstanding commitment to capital punishment. His top criminal-justice priority in his 1994 AG campaign was the restoration of the death penalty, and in the current race he has vowed to sign a bill to overcome the recent judicial veto of the existing execution statute.

Being pro-life and anti-death penalty I have no use for the man, but I’m wondering how those conflicted by Spitzer’s stance prioritize the issues. My sense is that in each case the abortion issue dominates. To many pro-choicers, pro-lifeism is viewed as a disqualifyingly hateful brand of anti-feminism; no matter how blood-thirsty Spitzer’s death penalty posturing might become, it would never overshadow his pro-life credentials. Similarly, abortion is such a core issue to many conservatives that Spitzer’s death penalty support would be an insufficient incentive to overlook his pro-choice record.

Saying Goodbye

August 21, 2006 | 37 Comments

Convicted killer Richard Hinojosa’s final words at his execution last Thursday, compiled from various sources:

“I pray for you. Please find peace in your heart,” he said looking at the parents, a brother and two aunts of his victim. “I know you may hate me for whatever reason. The Lord says hate no one. I hope you find peace in your heart. I know my words cannot help you. I truly mean what I say.”

Hinojosa, 44, looked at his family and apologized for “not being the man you wanted me to be.” “I love you very much. Dianne, Virginia, Toby and Irene, I love all of you,” he said, looking at his friends and family witnessing his execution. “I am going to be free. I am going to heaven.

“Please be strong, and I love you all,”

“Kick the tires and light the fires. I’m going home to see my son and my mom.”

Once the lethal dose began to flow, Hinojosa began chanting a prayer and repeating “Yahweh” before gasping and sputtering.

[There was reportedly some sobbing by Hinojosa’s family members, but it could have been worse: earlier this year Mauriceo Brown’s mother screamed, sobbed, and banged on the separating glass as the drugs were administered and Lamont Reese’s mom screamed ‘they killed my baby’ and kicked two holes in the death chamber wall before being removed].

There are no atheists on death row, or so goes the expression. If there were, though, I wonder if they’d feel as compelled to say something about atheism at the last moment in the way that believers talk about religion. What would you say?

Last Words

August 17, 2006 | 77 Comments

[UPDATE: Dead at 6:19.

Feelin’ better?]

Richard Hinojosa will die by lethal injection in Texas in a few hours, if he is not dead by the time you read this. He was convicted of the 1994 rape and murder of 19 year old Terry Wright. He maintains his innocence and these people believe him. I guess he probably did it, but I was once convinced of the Ramsey’s guilt as well. In any event, I don’t think he, or anyone, should be executed.

Watch this Court TV interview if you want to get a better sense of him as a person. You can send a useless e-mail if you want to try to stop the killing.

Texas has a fancy death row site which includes details on executed offenders and scheduled executions. Below I’ve collected the names, faces, last words and crime details for the 17 men executed in the state this year to date. As you review them, ask yourself a few questions: Do you think their words are sincere? Were any capable of rehabilitation? Is there good in any one of them? Would you have spared any one of them?

WILLIAM E. WYATT, JR. (executed 8/3/06)


Last Words

Yes I do. I would like to say to my two brother-in-laws and the rest of my family that I would like to thank you for supporting me through all of this. I went home to be with my Father and I went home as a trooper. I would like to say to Damien’s family I did not murder your son. I did not do it. I just want you to know that — I did not murder Damien and would ask for all of your forgiveness and I will see all of you soon. I love you guys. I love you guys. That’s it.


Wyatt sexually assaulted and smothered to death a black male child under the age of six. At the time of the offense, Wyatt worked as an officer at the Bowie County Corrections Center in Texarkana.



Last Words

Yes, I would like to make a short brief one please. To Audrey’s grandmother, I am sorry for the pain I have caused you for the last 15 years and your family. I have regretted this for a long time. I am sorry. I only ask that you remember the Lord because He remembers us and He forgives us if we ask Him. I am sorry. And to my family, and my loved ones – I am sorry for the pain for all those years and for putting you through all the things we had to go through. I ask the Lord to bless you all. Tammy, Irene, Betty, Dan Judy – I love you all. And Jack, thank you. Warden…


Convicted in kidnaping and murder of 5 year-old Audra Reeves of Amarillo. In a written confession, Anderson told plice that he kidnapped Reeves from in front of his home at 3310 W. 2nd Street as she returned from plahing with other children at San Jacinto Park. He took her inside where he attempted to rape her. Unsuccessful in his sexual assault, Anderson beat, stabbed, and drowned the young girl. He placed her body in an styrofoam ice chest and carried it in a grocery cart to a garbage dumpster behind a residence at 410 S Tennessee St. The ice chest containing the girl’s nude body was found in the dumpster by a homeowner throwing out his trash. Anderson said he kidnapped and killed the girl after arguing with his wife about infidelity.



Last Words

Yes, I do. To the victim’s family, I am sorry you lost a brother, loved one, and friend. To my family, I love you all. Keep your heads ups and know I will be in a better place. And you all look after Aleda and make sure she is a part of this family. I appreciate you all and love you. I apologize that you lost a loved one this way. God bless you all. O.K. Warden.


Convicted in the August 15, 1996 attempted robbery and murder of 25 year-old Michael T. Lahood, Jr. in San Antonio, Texas. Lahood was standing near his vehicle on a San Antonio street (107 Palo Duro) when he was approached by Brown and three accomplices Brown pulled a pistol and demanded Lahood’s money and car keys. When Lahood refused to comply, Brown shot him once in the face. Brown was a known member of the Crips street gang at the time of the killing.



Last Words

I do. I am sorry. I have always been sorry. It is the worst mistake that I ever made in my whole life. Not because I am here, but because of what I did and I hurt a lot of people – you, and my family. I am sorry; I have always been sorry. I am sorry. You look after each other. I love you all. Be there for one another. Alright. But I am sorry; very sorry. I love you too. Alright.


Convicted in the kidnapping, sexual assault and strangling of Elizabeth Pena, 16, and Jennifer Ertman, 15. The two teens had taken a shortcut home through T.C. Jester Park when they were attacked by O’Brien and five other members of the Black & White gang. Raped repeatedly by the gang members, each was then beaten and strangled and their bodies left in the woods. O’Brien confessed to strangling Ertman with a belt after she was sexually assaulted.



Last Words

Yes sir. I want to ask if it is in your heart to forgive me. You don’t have to. I know I allowed the devil to rule my life. I just ask you to forgive me and ask the Lord to forgive me for allowing the devil to deceive me. I thank God for having patience with me. I don’t deserve to cause you pain. You did not deserve this. I deserve what I am getting.


On 12/17/1998 during the night in Houston, Resendiz killed an adult Hispanic female by beating her to death with a statuette from the victim’s home. Resendiz had broken into the victim’s house by going through an open door. Resendiz took the victim’s cash and fled the scene in the victim’s jeep. Resendiz is believed to have committed a series of murders throughout Texas and other states.

LAMONT REESE (6/20/06)


Last Words

Yeah. Momma, I just want you to know I love you. I want all of you to know I love you all. I am at peace; we know what it is. We know the truth. Stay out of crime; there is no point in it. I am at peace. We know the truth and I know it. I have some peace. I am glad it didn’t take that long – no 10 or 20 years. I am at peace. And I want everyone to know I did not walk to this because this is straight up murder. I just want everybody to know I didn’t walk to this. The reason is because it’s murder. I am not going to play a part in my own murder. No one should have to do that. I love you all. I do not know all of your names. And I don’t know how you feel about me. And whether you believe it or not, I did not kill them. I just want you all to have peace; you know what I’m saying. There is no point in that. It is neither here nor there. You have to move past it. It is time to move on. You know what I’m saying. I want each one of my loved ones to move on. I am glad it didn’t last long. I am glad it didn’t last long. I am at peace. I am at peace to the fullest. The people that did this – they know. I am not here to point fingers. God will let them know. If this is what it takes, just do what you got to do to get past it. What it takes. I am ready, Warden. Love you all. Let my son know I love him.


On 3/1/1999 in Fort Worth, Reese shot and killed a 17 year old black male, a 25 year old black male, and and 26 year old black male with a handgun. Also injured were a 13 year old black male and a 24 year old black male.



Last Words

Yes, your honor. I know you people are here to find closure for the things that you have done or that I have done. There are no words to describe the pain and suffering that you have gone through all these years, that is something that I cannot take back from you all. I hope that Megan, if she is here present today, know that today I hope you get peace and joy. I am sorry that it has taken 14 years to get closure. If it would have brought closure or brought her back, I would have done this years ago, I promise, I promise.

My family all knows the sincerity in my heart when I say these words to you. I didn’t mean to inflict the pain and suffering on your family. I pray that she is safe in Heaven. I pray that you find closure and strength. My family prays for you and everybody, if these words can ever touch your heart, I am sorry, I am truly sorry. Ya’ll take care. I love ya’ll. Pastor tell Megan I am sorry.


Convicted in the robbery and murder of 26-year-old Christine Marie Sossaman, his live-in girlfriend. Sossaman was attacked with an axe inside the trailer the two shared at 6601 W. Arden in Amarillo. Titsworth told police he left the trailer to buy crack cocaine after the two argued the night of the killing. Titsworth said he was high on cocaine when he returned to the trailer, took an axe from a closet, and struck Sossaman as she slept. Titsworth stole the victim’s credit cards and car. He returned to the trailer on different occasions following the killing to steal additional property and sell it for crack cocaine.



Last Words

Yes sir. I would like to say to my family, I am alright. (Spanish) Where are you Leo; are you there Leo? (Spanish) Don’t lie man. Be happy. Are you happy? Are you all happy? (Spanish)


Convicted in the June 1995 chooting deaths of Leonardo Chavez and his wife Annette Esparza Chavez at a trailer home in the Palm Vista Estates of Harlingen. Both victims were shot execution style with a .22 caliber weapon. Police said Leonardo was pistol whipped prior to being shot in the back of the head. Annette was shot through the neck. During the shooting, the couple’s 22-month old son slept on a bed while their 9-year-old son hid beneath a kitchen table. Neither was harmed. Police said the shooting was drug-related, with reports of Annette making frequent trips to Mississippi and returning with large amounts of cash.



Last Words

Yes sir. To Mr. Jerry Nutt, I just hope this brings some kind of peace to your family. I wish I could bring them back, but I can’t. I hope my death brings peace; don’t hang on to the hate. Momma, stay strong. Lord forgive me for my sins because here I come. Let’s go, Warden.


On 06/25/97, Herron murdered a 15 year old white male and his mother in their home. A sawed off shotgun and a 9 millimeter pistol were used in the murders. The home had been burglarized and set on fire. An extreme amount of property was taken from the residence including: a 1997 pickup truck, guns, ammunition, sports equipment and sports clothes.



Last Words

May I speak to my family? Honey, I love you. Be strong and take care of yourselves. Thanks for being there. Take care of yourself. Ms. Irene, thank you for everything you have done. Chaplain Hart, thank you for helping me. Gary, thank you. Maria, Maria, I love you baby. Thank you for being there for me and all these people here will find the one who did this damn crime. I am going home to be with God. Thank you. Thank you, Warden.


Convicted in the November 1988 abduction and murder of 5-year-old Lottie Margaret Rhodes of Arlingon. As the child slept, Wilson broke into her bedroom through a window and abducted her. He later sexually assaulted the child and then suffocated her. He threw her body in the behicle he was driving. Wilson’s fingerprints were later lifted from the outside and inside of the child’s bedroom window. Wilson was identified as a friend of the Rhodes family live-in babysitter.

KEVIN KINCY (3/29/06)


Last Words

Yes. I would like to thank all my friends and supporters, Anne West, who I love and respect. Gabrielle Uhl from Germany, and so many countless other friends. And of course my family, my mother and father, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, my wife Barbara and my children – Nadia, Amenia, Kira, and Noemi. I love my children. I love my family. That’s it.


Convicted in the robbery and murder of Jerome Samuel Marville in Houston. Kincy and his cousin and co-defendant Charlette Marie Kincy went to Harville’s home at 530 Grovve with the intent to rob him. Harvillle, an Exxon employee, let the two inside because he knew Charlotte. Once inside, Kevin Kincy pulled a .25 caliber revolver and shot Harville in the head. He and Charlotte then loaded up Harville’s car with several items from the home, including stereo equipment, Furniture, and a 9mm pistol, and fled. Kincy later bragged to friends about the killing and showed off the stolen pistol. He was finally arrested after leading police on a high speed chase from Orange Tx to Sulpher, La.



Last Words

Yes. Yes, I do. Do I just talk to the front? O.K. To everybody on both sides of that wall–I want you to know I love you. I am sorry that the child had to lose her life, but I should not have to be here. Tell my family I love them all and I will see them in Heaven. Come home when you can. I am done. Love you all.


On 04/23/97, in Lubbock, Texas, Salazar fatally injured a 2-year old Hispanic female. The subject was babysitting the victim. Salazar inflicted wounds consisting of a fractured skull, bruised heart, fractured ribs, and ruptured intestines. After injuring the victim, Salazar placed her in her crib and left the residence. The victim’s mother arrived from work, finding the victim in her crib, and Salazar was absent. The victim was pronounced dead at a local hospital.



Last Words

I love my family. You all stay strong. Watch over each other. Stay strong. I love you. I love you. It’s my hour. It’s my hour. I love you. Stay strong.


While Hughes was attempting to robbery a black female’s vehicle he shot her with a firearm, causing her death.

CLYDE SMITH JR. (2/15/06)


Last Words

Yes. I want to thank you all for being here and for your love and support. And thanks for the efforts, Peter and Lorrell. I love you all. Celina, I love you. I’m done.


Convicted in the murder of Yellow Cab driver David Jacobs in Houston. Jacobs picked up Smith at the Hyatt Recency and was told to drive to a deserted area, where he was shot three times in the head. Smith is also charged in the March 1992 killing of United Cab driver Victor Hilton in Houston.



Last Words

Yes. Ms. Carolyn Barker, and Tina, I would like to apologize to you all. To Amy’s sister, and everybody else here. I love you all. I hope you can find it in yourselves to forgive me and I hope all this here will kinda settle your pain and I hope the Lord will give you comfort and peace. And I just want you to know I am very sorry for what I have done. And if I see Amy on the other side, I will tell her how much you love and miss her and we will have a lot to talk about. Mom, Dad, and Charlotte – I am sorry for putting you through all this pain and stuff. I did talk to Brandon and I think I got a little stuff stopped. I love you all and I will see you on the other side. O.K.


On 02/15/98, in Arlington Neville and co-defendant, Michael Wayne Hall (999346), kidnapped a 19-year old white female and took her to a remote area where they shot her 7 times with a .22 caliber pistol. Neville and Hall knew the victim from work. The subjects fled the scene and attempted to flee the country, but were stopped at the border.



Last Words

Yes sir. Darling Kerstin, these last few years have been blessed having you in my life. And to all my friends that have been out there, thank you for your friendship and support and all you have done for me. The guys back there waiting, keep the faith and stay strong and put your faith in the Lord. Many times in life we take the wrong road and there are consequences for everything. Mistakes are made, but with God all things are possible. So put your faith and trust in Him. We talk about a reprieve or stay from the Supreme Court, but the real Supreme Court you must face up there and not down here. Keep your heads up and stay strong. I love you all. That is it. Stay strong. Thank you.


Convicted in the Noember 1994 shooting deaths of Juan Saenz Guajardo and Marcos Sanchez Vasquez in Houston. Elizalde and his father, Jaime Elizalde, Sr., reportedly got into a confrontation with the two victims inside a Houston lounge, with the elder Elizalde convincing them to foillow him outside. As the two men walked out the door, the junior Elizalde reportedly pulled a gun from his waistband and shot them to death.



Last Words



Convicted in the murders of three people shot during a durg buy at a Houston residence. Killed were Jose Tovar, Jessica Quinones and Frank Farias. Dudley and two accomplices had gone to the home of Jose and Rachel Tovar to buy three kilograms of cocaine when they decided to rob them of their drugs and money. Three other people were also shot by the conspirators, two of which survived head wounds to identify dudley as one of the attackers.


August 16, 2006 | 29 Comments

Please give generously to TerriPAC — the new federal political action committee founded by Michael Schiavo, a/k/a “the human face of government intervention.”

Imagine remembering a decades-old conversation with your wife about how she’d like you to pull the plug if she was ever on life support. You get into a perfectly private dispute with her biological parents, who somehow object to killing her. How would you like the heavy hand of government intruding into this deeply personal matter? The legislative and/or executive branches, this is.

Shouldn’t such decisions be left solely to the family? And to the judicial branch, equipped with information from your lawyer — the guy who runs the hospice your wife is in, and whose soul has previously received death-wish entreaties of “Why am I still here?” directly from the souls of other client’s relatives? All you want to do is end the suffering (not that there is any under your own theory of the case) and carry out your faded recollection of her wishes (not that they’d be enforced if you sided with her parents).

So stand up (if you’re not the other spouse) and help support Democrats (besides Jesse Jackson and Joe Lieberman) against the forces of (nonjudicial) tyranny. TerriPAC is completely non-political — Michael didn’t even follow the news or vote until strangers (Democratic operatives) approached him with the PAC idea last year. Remember — the life you don’t save may not be your own.


August 15, 2006 | 24 Comments

Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am” (Principles of Philosophy, Part 1:VII) has been called the “Mona Lisa” of philosophy. His proof of why we can’t be deceived about whether we exist is probably at least Whistler’s Mother:

But there is I know not what being, who is possessed at once of the highest power and the deepest cunning, who is constantly employing all his ingenuity in deceiving me. Doubtless, then, I exist, since I am deceived; and, let him deceive me as he may, he can never bring it about that I am nothing, so long as I shall be conscious that I am something. So that it must, in fine, be maintained, all things being maturely and carefully considered, that this proposition, I am, I exist, is necessarily true each time it is expressed by me, or conceived in my mind.

(Meditation II).

As it turns out, the arguments weren’t original. A leser known, but constantly pointed out secret, is that St. Augustine said essentially the same thing over a thousand years earlier:

[I]n order that we may take our start from the most obvious things, I ask you whether you yourself exist, or whether you think you may be under an illusion as to that; although surely if you did not exist, you could not possibly have an illusion.

(On Free Choice of the Will, II:3.7).

I am not at all afraid of the arguments of the Academicians, who say, What if you are deceived? For if I am deceived, I am. For he who is not, cannot be deceived; and if I am deceived, by this same token I am. And since I am if I am deceived, how am I deceived in believing that I am? for it is certain that I am if I am deceived.

(City of God, XI:26).

Peter Hankins of Conscious Entities doesn’t know whether Descartes came up with the “cogito” thing independently, but wonders “if St Augustine came up with it first, why aren’t we all talking about St Augustine’s cogito?”

The reason, I think, is that the argument was of no great importance to St. Augustine. He was in pursuit of faith, not doubt, and was more interested in God’s existence than his own. He puts no particular stress on the cogito argument, and readers who aren’t particularly looking out for it could easily read it without noticing its signficance. For Descartes, by contrast, everything depended on it. He needed a point of certainty from which to begin the construction of his metaphysics: St Augustine already had a source of certainty in God. Descartes also turned to God as a guarantor of knowledge, of course, but in his case, unprecedentedly, God did not come first. In this respect, modern philosophers are mostly in the same boat as Descartes, and if they want certainty, they have to undertake a similar exploration.

Atheists sometimes get suspicious of cogito-talk because, as seen above, it often ends up as part of one God argument or another. Or, at the very least, it suggests the conclusion that only minds are provable, which raises the uncomfortable spectre of disembodied things like spirits or souls — which, even if they aren’t God, might cause trouble by inhabiting fetuses. Anyway, if you can just get over the last word of the last sentence, try to focus on whether you’ve ever come across some atheist argument which uses the cogito as a building block. All I could find was this I Think, Therefore I Am An Atheist site, which compares reason to wings and fins and other “physical and chemical tricks” necessary to maximize survival of the “herd.”

Whatever Happened to . . .?

August 12, 2006 | 8 Comments

In case you were wondering.

(see here, here, here and here for background).

Killing Fairly

August 11, 2006 | 42 Comments

The death penalty, I have noted, isn’t frequently the subject of church/state separation debate. Although atheists tend to be liberal and are thus less enthusiastic about the practice than the general population, they don’t consider it “religious” matter. American Atheists takes no official position on the issue, although its President, Ellen Johnson, published an essay expressing her personal opposition (“atheism is a life affirming principle,” she said).

The one time American Atheists did issue an official statement on the death penalty was in 1998, when it attacked Pat Robertson and other evangelicals for seeking clemency for Karla Faye Tucker. In particular, the group criticized Pat Robertson and other evangelicals for trying to establish a “religious exemption” for born-again Christians such as Tucker. The main charge was hypocrisy, given Robertson’s past enthusiastic support for executions. “Robertson’s a hardshell, mean-spirited political power broker who has a poor and shoddy record in showing ‘mercy’ to other groups who don’t pass his religious litmus test,” said Johnson, further suggesting that he wouldn’t have supported clemency if Tucker were a Jew, atheist, or Muslim. AA National Spokesperson Ron Barrier added:

If capital punishment is wrong, though, it’s wrong for everybody. Pat Robertson and the religious right shouldn’t be able to ‘pick
and choose’ who lives and who the state executes. If they believe in ‘mercy’ and forgiveness, it’s time that Robertson and company extended this to everyone, unconditionally.

Note that while AA carefully avoided taking a position on the central issue of capital punishment, its statements were not completely neutral. When a charge of hypocrisy is leveled, the accuser has two choices: insist that the hypocrite adhere to the original position, or insist that it be abandoned in favor of the new position. Here, AA implied that the desirable course would have been for Robertson to embrace a new philosophy of forgiveness and mercy for all. AA could have instead suggested that Robertson be consistent and insist on vengeance and death in all cases, perhaps adding a line about how “if capital punishment’s right, it’s right for everyone.”

The choice to single out Robertson and the religious right wasn’t neutral, either. AA might have gone after any of dozens of liberal churches (or the Catholic Church) which were supporting clemency, and attacked whatever theological/scriptural arguments were made for sparing Tucker. The fact that AA refrained from doing so further confirms that it’s not really neutral on the issue.

I understand why AA couldn’t come right out and condemn the death penalty. Technically, it’s not an atheist issue. But technically, almost nothing is. The position that AA ultimately took — that the death penalty should not be applied discriminatorily — isn’t necessarily atheistic. An atheist might well desire, from a purely utilitarian perspective or as a matter of taste, that only Lutherans, Muslims and Branch Davidians (or even other atheists) be executed. That might not seem “fair,” but “fairness” is simply another moral principle, just like “not killing” is a moral principle. Why prefer one over the other?


August 10, 2006 | 24 Comments

The only thing worse than to be damned with faint praise is to be damned with faint damning. The Good Doctor at The Good, The Bad and the Ugly has done that to me, or so he thinks. His ranking of atheist blogs places mine in the middle “bad” category, defined as “the mediocre of the mediocre . . . [t]he average of the average.” Not good enough to be good, like his “good” category blogs, and not bad enough to be the worst, like his “ugly” blogs. To add insult to injury, I’m rated first among the five mediocre sites — not even mediocre enough in my mediocrity to rank third.

Aaron Kinney smells a hoax. Consistent with my efforts to find the best in everyone, I’ll take the Doctor at his word. Or at least try to find the deeper truth lurking in his deception, if that is what it is.

Saying that someone is mediocre is often a cover for saying you despise them. To react with anger would betray too much of a regard for their opinion or intelligence. Better to yawn, to feign disinterest, than to lose one’s temper or admit that one’s skin has been gotten under.

The doctor obviously realized this. Likely he read my essay on the interestingness of extreme boringness and realized the perils of calling me too dull. If so, he fell into the trap by the very act of trying to avoid it — he ranked me exactly where one would expect him to if his object were to disguise his anger as apathy.

And he’s angry because I’m boring. For some reason, people like their atheism hot and spit it out if served lukewarm. Although it’s technically nothing but the proposition that there’s no God, they want it to have a larger meaning in their lives, to prove something rather than nothing. The ideal atheist blogger is one who never claims a Purpose but always has a Point.

You’d think the reverse would be true. In most things, atheists seek regularity and repetition. Eating pork and beans in their underwear, they expect the same taste from spoonful to spoonful: the slightest odd tang, and out goes the can. So too with the universe. Uniformity is the key. Why shouldn’t atheism be immutable and unchanging as well? It shouldn’t get more interesting with each reading. The very definition of insanity, as Ben Franklin said, is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

The Unkindest Cut

August 9, 2006 | 47 Comments

Schoolyard bullies once tormented me by chanting “you’re not an atheist” and “you’ve converted to theism.” The evidence of my alleged irrationality: I actually liked the cafeteria’s pudding. Today my abortion stance has brought back the old taunts.

Am I supposed to feel hurt or insulted? It’s hard to figure out. If, in fact, the taunt is true, I can’t see why anyone would expect it to sting: religious people are proud of their faith. They proclaim it in song, go to church, wear crosses around their necks and the like. It seems that the jibe is intended to wound someone who’s still an atheist, who has pride in his godlessness, who would be stung by being kicked out of the club. But if that’s the case, then the accusers know it to be false.

What’s interesting is that the taunt doesn’t get hurled at people with much crazier belief systems. I mean, when you read about a serial killer who sees nothing wrong with sitting in a mountain of porn eating human body parts, well, you almost expect him to be an atheist. Occasionally they do find a Bible on the dresser, but that’s seen as ironic, not as confirmation of authentic faith. But if copies of American Atheist Magazine are found buried among the Playboys, nobody says “What a hypocrite.”

Another weird thing I noticed is that it doesn’t work in reverse. For example, pro-choice Christians like Jill of Feministe don’t get compliments like, “hey, that’s really atheistic of you.” Usually, it’s something they get praise for living up to “true” Christian principles. Not something like “nice to have you on board, too bad you’re crazy.”

Choosing Life, Consistently (With 8/8/06 and 8/9/06 Updates)

August 7, 2006 | 76 Comments

Time to go pro-life all the way: for reasons related to my opposition to abortion, I am adopting the “consistent ethic of life” and renouncing my support for capital punishment. I believe that the mere potential for good inherent in all human life is a sufficient basis for abolishing the death penalty. Whether it is expressed in religious, secular or philosophical terms, there is a something at the core of even the worst of us worthy of respect and protection.

The death penalty debate, unlike the abortion one, is rarely framed in purely religious terms. This is not to say that religious arguments, and passionate ones, are not sometimes raised by both sides of the controversy. What I mean is that advocating for one side is generally not viewed as “imposing religion” upon society. There is no slogan equivalent to “keep your rosaries off my ovaries” in the capital punishment arena. No one says “keep your Mass off my cyanide gas.” When a legislature enacts or repeals a death penalty bill, objections based upon church/state separation generally do not arise. [They also tend to fade in discussions of late-term abortion or infanticide].

But reading Jill of Feministe’s call to de-emphasize the problem of executing the innocent in favor of rejecting capital punishment on its face, I was struck by the parallels to my own allegedly “magical” anti-abortion position. The abolitionist — one who puts aside questions of innocence, racism, age or retardation and the like in favor of a complete ban — is arguing for nothing but life for life’s sake. Such an argument against execution, it seems, could easily be easily be dismissed as “DNA magic,” as a fetishistic obsession with the bare resemblance of the criminal’s genetic structure to our own, or as an embrace of “ensoulment.” Why not simply declare that the condemned, like the fetus, is “subhuman” or a mere “parasite”? Why protest against the perfectly “legal medical procedure” of lethal injection?

It is of no use to distinguish the prisoner by asserting that his clump of cells has developed to the point where he is a “real” human being with a consciousness. The consciousness only counts against the argument. Having metastasized into something evil, the creature’s possession of a brain only aggravates the danger posed. Nor do arguments concerning the condemned’s capacity for pain carry much weight. Any death can be brought about painlessly and instantaneously, with the subject experiencing no more discomfort than a blastocyte. It is magical thinking to say otherwise — factually and scientifically false. And if the question “how would like it if your mother had aborted you?” is for some reason nonsense, then so is the question “how would you like it if the state had executed you?” In either case, you would be in no position to complain today.

These specious objections aside, the abolitionist position can rest only upon a respect for the core human identity and the potentiality for goodness it entails. It is a potentiality that may, unlike the fetus, take far longer than nine months to realize. Rehabilitation can be a long and expensive process. And it must be recognized that it is, in fact, only a potentiality, not an actuality.

But I believe that that is enough. Vengeance solves nothing, resurrects no one, and I seriously doubt that those inclined to kill are deterred (or necessarily even aware) of the prospect of the ultimate penalty. Every person can eventually serve to some productive use, even if incarcerated. I am persuaded by the reasoning of Pope John Paul II in Evangelium vitae that:

[We] ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent.

In any event, the principle set forth in the new Catechism of the Catholic Church remains valid: “If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority must limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

George H. Smith, author of the seminal work “Atheism: The Case Against God” comes to a similar conclusion with respect to capital punishment. He contends that the right to life is “inalienable” and that the death penalty is impermissible even in cases “where reasonable doubt is impossible and where the crimes have been especially heinous” [“A Killer’s Right to Life,” Liberty 10, no. 2 (November 1996): 46]. I concur that whether argued as a question of mere humanity or mere Christianity, we are better off with less killing than more.

UPDATE (8/8/06):

Zuzu of Feministe responds. A few comments:

(1) There has been a persistent misconception that I have posited the existence of a “soul” to imbue the fetus from conception with some necessary but missing moral or religious worth. In fact, all I have ever argued is that from conception, the resulting cell clump possesses a number of identifying, distinctive foundational traits from which John and Joan Smith could readily deduce it was their own rather than that of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. The Smiths might well value that uniqueness — and the fact that the cell clump, unlike a pebble, possessed the remarkable capacity to one day spring into consciousness — without resorting to the notion of a soul. Even if adamantly pro-choice, the Smiths might believe that the clump was entitled in some circumstances to extraordinary, heightened legal protection from (and punishment of) aggressors by reason of its distinctive status, protection and punishment of a kind that their toenails or saliva might not command. Nothing about that belief turns upon a question of faith, or involves the transfiguration of the fetus into personhood through the notion of ensoulment.

(2) With respect to the soul, I have previously argued that insofar as it is conceived of as eternal, its existence does not particularly aid any arguments against killing — abortion or ordinary murder.

(3) Zuzu argues that “the arguments in favor of the fetus’s personhood turn on notions of faith.” But her definition of “personhood” is “legal personhood” — i.e., whatever the law says a person is. Right now that’s birth, but presumably it would be rational to believe a chair to be a person if the law said it was, and “faith” to think of oneself as one if the law said otherwise. I note that even with respect to her question-begging definition, Zuzu is not consistent — she (like the law) takes pains to bestow some degree of inalienable personhood-ness on non-threatening late-term viable fetuses (or perhaps she thinks they have souls). So I have the impression that there’s some point between conception and birth at which she’d permit an atheist to show respect without leveling a charge of conversion (not that there’s anything wrong with it).

(4) Professor Myers never offered any scientific challenge to my observations regarding the individuality and identity of the post-conception human entity. In particular, he did not dispute the (1) “but-for” nexus between that entity and the ultimate person, or (2) the John/Joan vs Brad/Angelina uniqueness of the entity, and its distinctive racial and other genetic characteristics. Ultimately, he abandoned the notion that some scientific question was involved, asserting that ” the moment when one is human . . . is an emotional, social, economic, and personal decision.” (Much like what he alleges to be my “irresponsible affiliation with those charlatans and fanatics“).

(5) My basic point as to the death penalty is that Jill’s extreme abolitionist position — shared by me — can easily be charged with fetishizing personhood (or consciousness or human life or whatever you want to call it). Why spare a violent, dangerous creature merely because it shares our genetic structure? I have identified the inherent potential for good as my reason, but certainly that position could be attacked as a ruse to disguise a belief in the soul.

UPDATE (8/9/06):

Amanda of Pandagon responds.

See my response to Zuzu, above.

(1) Amanda believes that there may be some secular moral (although not legal) argument against abortion in late pregnancy once the fetus has a functioning brain. What she finds special about bare human consciousness, or general awareness without any particular thoughts, is not explained. Nor can I percieve what her objection to kill it while it slept would be; the unconscious brain is mere matter (albeit with the potential for consciousness).

(2) With respect to the death penalty, Amanda does not explain why she opposes the extinguishment of an evil, violence-prone (and potentially anti-feminist) consciousness. All she says is “I believe all people have rights.” In the absence of a fuller secular exposition, I am forced to assume that she means “I believe all people have souls.”

(3) Amanda is also amused that I couldn’t “find a non-Pope to quote in [my] ‘atheist’ post on the death penalty.” In fact, immediately beneath the quote from the Pope I quoted uber-atheist abolitionist George H. Smith. Amanda’s counter-factual denial of the plain existence of that quote further supports the inference that she is converting to an irrational, soul-based ideology.

Rocks Developed Consciousness to Survive: Scientists

August 1, 2006 | 55 Comments

New York, New York, August 1, 2006
Special to The Raving Atheist

Consciousness first arose in the universe when rocks developed it to avoid being smothered by paper, a university study has concluded.

A panel of M.I.T. scientists discovered a three billion-year old stone tablet on which a large chunk of quartz had etched its reasons for developing self-awareness. “After I mindlessly destroyed Scissors by falling upon him, I realized I had rendered myself defenseless against Paper,” the rock wrote.

The rock noted that its purpose as an organism — to exist as a hardened lump of matter formed by silicon and oxygen atoms clinging together — was threatened by the gradual loss of surface particles resulting from the friction of the smothering process.

The rock also observed that complex combinations of hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen and oxygen were engaged in similar attempts at consciousness to avoid falling apart. “Unfortunately, they are obsessed with whether some other form of consciousness pre-existed them, as well as with the nature and limitations of that form,” it said. “Worse yet, they are preoccupied with each other’s mind-states regarding those questions — even though all beliefs are equally valid truth-sensations compelled by the unique permutation of atoms projected upon an individual’s three dimensional spatial grid at a given point in time.”

Some of the new molecular structures were also concerned with whether others were engaged in deceptive, hypocritical or self-aggrandizing representations regarding their actual beliefs about earlier conscious beings, the rock said. “Once again, such representations would be the inevitable end-products of the individual’s internal matter configuration, so it is regrettable that such criticisms are consuming time better spent confronting the threat that Paper poses to us all.”

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