Music, Passion, And Atheism


As anyone who follows my twitter knows, I've been going on a music binge the last few days. Like most people, I love music and listening to all my old favorites while finding some new ones has got me thinking about music and how religious people tend to want to shanghai music and the arts as being products of faith. Either that, or religious people have declared at times that appreciation for these finer parts of life isn't possible without faith.

I have never believed in god or had those passionate feelings people of faith seem to feel when they're talking about their relationship with god. I have never accepted anything about Jesus or Mohammad or anything of the sort. Yet, I do feel profoundly moved when I listen to music. I feel emotions well up in me, I feel like dancing, I smile and laugh when some music comes on and I grow morose and somber when I hear other songs. I can't image that the feelings I'm feeling are somehow muted because I don't believe in god and I don't know how someone who does or doesn't believe might be able to tell to the other person how they specifically feel or what they don't feel.

I think that music is something all people share and it is insulting, ridiculous and rude for someone to say that atheists can't appreciate music as much as anyone else just as it would be insulting to say that doctors, Jews, rugby players, or any other group of people can't enjoy music as much as everyone else.

I laugh when I read someone building that tired old atheist straw man - the atheist who finds no joy in life and lacks passion, is a grump and is cold-hearted but sometimes this stereotype does honestly hurt my feelings. I have a lot of passion for life because I believe it's the only one I have. I try to be both warm and inviting to people but also respectful of their privacy because that's how I prefer to be treated. I have a passion for knowledge but that doesn't mean that by default my demeanor is fridgid.

Atheists may seem cold and mean because we require the build up of a pretty thick skin in order to deal with being told we're arrogant, we're insolent, and we don't feel the same way everyone else does. Most days I don't care one bit about the uninformed opinions that people have about me because I'm an atheist, but today I was so happy listening to music all day long that I was reminded by my own enjoyment just how wrong those uninformed opinions are, and for the first time in a long time, I felt hurt.


Pope: Atheists Are Greedy! (Pay No Attention To That Fortune Behind The Curtain)


The pope has laid it out on the line - environmental irresponsibility is inevitable when people stop believing in god:
Experiencing the shared responsibility for creation (Cf. 51), the Church is not only committed to the promotion of the defense of the earth, of water and of air, given by the Creator to everyone, but above all is committed to protect man from the destruction of himself. In fact, "when 'human ecology' is respected in society, environmental ecology also benefits" (ibid). Is it not true that inconsiderate use of creation begins where God is marginalized or also where is existence is denied? If the human creature's relationship with the Creator weakens, matter is reduced to egoistic possession, man becomes the "final authority," and the objective of existence is reduced to a feverish race to possess the most possible.
The funny thing is, anti-environmentalism as far as I've known has largely been a religiously motivated pursuit. Not to mention - the pope is complaining about 'egoistic possession'?

When looking up information about the wealth of the Vatican, there is a very popular quote which pops up over and over which seems to have originated from this article:
The myth of Vatican wealth. “At the Vatican, everything is for sale, in the popular mind,” Allen said. In reality, the Vatican’s annual operating budget is about $260 million. Allen contrasted that to Harvard University, which has an annual operating budget of $1.3 billion.

“ (Harvard) could run five Vaticans every year and still have pocket change left over for an endowed chair,” Allen said, equating the Vatican’s patrimony - all the assets it could sell - to that of a medium-sized Catholic university. Its total patrimony is $770 million. The University of Notre Dame’s endowment is four and a half times greater, he said.

Allen noted that while people often assume a significant monetary value attached to the artwork the Vatican holds, it is not for sale.

Which is to say that the Vatican doesn't have a lot of money because the annual operating budget for Harvard is greater than the annual operating budget for the Vatican. OK, that's interesting, but that doesn't seem to address the actual question which is in regard to the wealth of the Vatican. The last sentence in the quote seems to be the most telling - A large percentage of the Vatican's wealth is found in non-liquid assets. And those don't count, according to Catholic apologists. Well of course you guys don't think that should count, if it did there is no way you could argue that the Catholic church is not worth a staggering amount of money!

Catholics like to say that the wealth of their church is a myth, but it's hard to swallow that story when it's so obviously not the case. A financial statement of the Holy See for fiscal year 2000 states:
For the eighth consecutive year, the operating statement for fiscal year 2000 for the Holy See closes with a net gain of 17.720 billion, equal to $8,516,000 US at the exchange rate at the end of the year of 2,080.89 lire per dollar. The total expenses were 404.378 billion and the total income was 422.098 billion. Compared with the previous fiscal year, the income was more substantial, having increased by 64 billion. As is easily imaginable, the increase in expenses is strictly related to the celebration of the Jubilee Year, which brought with it greater activity, and therefore a greater need for personnel, within the various offices of the Roman Curia and also of the media organs connected with the Holy See.
As the article states, this is less of a gain than what is normally seen because in 2000 the church had a lot more expenditures with their celebrations of the new millennium. That's the church itself - greedy, for-profit, catholic church. The pope as an individual is no better. The pope is allowed the best medical coverage, the poshest of transportation choices, a spectacular living quarters (see right) and everything he may want free of charge. The pope's only argument in defense of his irresponsible comments regarding greed and atheists is that he himself has no concept of greed since he gets everything he wants without having to even consider a paycheck - all the pope has to do is ask and it is there.

I know it's easy to blame us baby eating atheists for all that's wrong with the world and I know it's tempting - we don't have many righteously indignant platforms to hide behind and so we are easy targets when it comes to flinging ridicule. However, Mr. Pope, it would be nice if next time your attack of us was a little less simplistically easy to refute and reject on the basis of bias and projection. Thanks Nazi buddy!


The Fight That Religion Has Picked


I just realized a mistake I have been making in my thinking and I get very excited when I have such realizations because I feel like the day I stop have realizations is the day i should mark on my tombstone as date of death, regardless of how long my body lives. I have bought into the religious fallacy of, in part, regarding science as if it is in diametrical opposition to religion. It is true that science and religion sometimes address similar subjects, but this does not lend credibility that one is the antithesis of the other.

The only issues which science deals with are natural ones. Some religious people dislike the scientific data that gets released about certain topics. One of the most hot button scientific theories out there is evolution, but evolution is only a controversial issue because religious people say it destroys belief in god. Religious people say this. Scientists say that they've observed X and Y and because of verifiable experimentation and empirical data, accept that X is Y because of A, B, and C. Scientists may personally wonder if these results might indicate something about god or a creator, but the foundation of the creator myth is in faith, not logic. The scientific application of evolution in regard to god is impossible because you cannot legitimately apply science to supernatural concepts.

Besides these few scientific theories and findings, science has very little to do with religion but it seems religion can't stop trying to interject itself into science. Evidently, in part, to weaken the 'Evil Secular Hypnotic Hold' as some have said of science on the youth of America.

This is why I find christian pseudoscience so puzzling. Why would any religious person want to try to scientifically prove any part of something whose most basic pillar is faith - an entirely non-scientific concept? Faith in the biblical sense is believing in something regardless of logic or evidence. Religious people seem desperate to prove that all people live their lives according to faith, making claims like 'you don't know what might happen if you cross the street - you have faith that you'll be OK even though it's been proven in some cases that crossing the street (and getting hit by a car) is fatal. This application of faith in the biblical sense doesn't apply, however, because before crossing the street, you look both ways in order to gather evidence as to the presence of cars which might make crossing the street at that point potentially fatal. People don't fly in planes because they have faith that the planes won't crash. Most people are aware of the statistical improbabilities of a plane crash and are willing to take the risk. Religious faith may be established with information which seems similar to that of plane crash statistics or evidence gathered when crossing the street in the form of personal or anecdotal information, but these things are not scientifically sound. It is irrational for someone to believe that cats steal the souls of sleeping children even if a large group of people tell them it is true.

The motivations of the religious community may be understandable - in very simple and constrained terms - fear, comfort, faith, etc., but to me it seems like religion has not only picked a fight with science, but now that scientifically trained people are defending themselves against this behavior, religious people are now trying to take up that familiar position of the persecuted.

There is no honesty in acting bullied and wounded when someone defends themselves against a fight that you started.


Valley 6 Drive In Donates 2,945 Pounds Of Food


On August 26th the Valley 6 Drive In Theater in Auburn, Washington had a food drive. The deal was, if you brought in a can of food you got in at the junior rate. If you brought in five cans you got a carload for five bucks and if you brought in ten cans or more you got in for free, regardless of how many people you had in your car.

The expectations for this drive were not terribly high, but we all thought it would be a good thing to do for our community since the local food bank has been literally running out of food. The amount of families using the food bank has doubled since last year and the donations have dramatically dropped off causing far more demand than supply.

The night of the food drive was awesome. I was working in the box office that night and not one person brought only a single can and very few people only brought five. Most people who came through brought ten or twenty cans and in some cases people brought in flats of food. While there was the occasional can of eel in olive oil (not joking) or out of date products, most of the food we collected were delicious staples - tuna, corn, mac and cheese, instant mashed potatoes, peas, soups, broths and the like.

Today we brought the food to the Auburn Food Bank with the help of another employee at the Drive In who also has his own business installing and repairing garage doors. We used his box truck to bring the food to the bank and weighed the boxes and bags as we went.

The end result was 2,945 pounds of food - a total which exceeded our highest hopes.

We are already planning on making the food drive an annual event. It was a great day and I feel proud to have been a part of this immensely needed and appreciated gift to my community.

Example of Religious Evil Or Just Plain Nuts?


Somewhat breaking news, a girl who was kidnapped at age 11 in 1991 has been found. Her captor was...a religious nut. Well, I should say captors since the guy had a wife, but she's staying sensibly silent while he is not.
Mr. Garrido gave a telephone interview from jail to station KCRA in Sacramento, saying, "In the end, this is going to be a powerful, heartwarming story."

"My life has been straightened out” in recent years, he said. “Wait till you hear the story of what took place at this house. You’re going to be absolutely impressed. It’s a disgusting thing that took place with me at the beginning, but I turned my life completely around."
Yeah, I'm sure it's totally a heartwarming story involving you impregnating a 14 year old child you abducted and forcing her and the children to live in tents in your backyard without outside contact or medical attention for almost two decades. He had two kids with the girl, an 11 year old and a 15 year old. Previous to the abduction he had been convicted on charges of rape and kidnapping of a minor and was an apparently legally compliant registered sex offender.

This man is obviously a bit crazy. Take a look at his blog and you can see how the guy is convinced he can control sound with his mind.

So the question has to be posed - is this an example of how strong religious belief is a farce or worse, an indication of mental illness or is this guy just a perverse psycho who happened to seek out religion as his most recent outlet?

I think the better question would be, why is it that crazies tend to seek out religion as often as they do and is that occurrence indicative of a sinister nature that religion easily supports and nurtures? I suppose anything is justified if you do it for a god or if you later believe in a god that admonishes you of all fault.


Hitchens 2007 Seattle Town Hall And The None Zone


I just ran across this article from a year back in Seattle Magazine online and I thought I would share:
Grey Matters: Just Say None
By Knute Berger

What is the None Zone? It’s a term coined by religious researchers who reported in 2004 that the Pacific Northwest—Washington, Oregon and Alaska—is the only part of the United States where a majority of people (more than 60 percent) check “none of the above” when asked their religious affiliation. That compares with 40 percent nationally. And nearly one-third say they are purely secular “humanists” or have no religion at all. That compares with 19 percent nationally and a mere 11 percent in the South.

In short, the None Zone is the opposite of the Bible Belt.

Seattle has gained a reputation as a particularly godless corner of the None Zone. For a time last summer, the most-watched video on the Seattle Channel Web site was a Town Hall lecture by Christopher Hitchens about his provocatively titled book God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.

During the City Council races last fall, candidate Tim Burgess was put on the defensive for being a Christian “values” voter. In Seattle, that made him suspect despite his liberal, green and pro-gay politics. And in November, Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist D. Parvaz was excoriated by right-wing Web sites and the Fox TV crowd for seeming to condone “church burning” in a piece about a self-proclaimed performance artist who was alleged to have contemplated torching a church for the sake of “art.” One Northwest Republican blogger concluded that Parvaz “obviously hates Christians.” Though a complete misreading of what Parvaz said, it fit the image that liberal Seattle’s idea of religious tolerance is to tolerate people who would burn churches.

Seattle and the Northwest are not completely irreligious. There are plenty of Catholics and Protestants, and there’s a yeasty fermentation in the number of evangelical entrepreneurs, New Age groups, neo-pagans and other nonmainstream religious groups that call the area home. The West has always been ripe for religious and utopian experiments. And many Nones still profess a belief in God. They may not sit in a pew on Sunday, but most aren’t atheists. They may simply be skeptics of organized religion.

Perhaps the largest contingent of Nones are nature worshippers. In an article on specific Northwest religious trends, called “Secular But Spiritual,” Mark Shibley of Southern Oregon University wrote that “nothing is more central to Northwest nature religion than the idea of wilderness.” Preserving wilderness, therefore, is a sacred act. As a result, he says, “Much contemporary environmentalism in the Northwest is a religious system.” You get a sense of that zeal in the growing movement led by Al Gore, Greg Nickels and others to save the world from the apocalypse of global warming.

The source of Seattle values would be a private matter if it wasn’t for the city’s widespread cultural and technological influence; it matters to people everywhere if Microsoft supports gay rights or whether Starbucks shows a mermaid’s bare breasts on its logo (it once did, but no longer).

Few expect perfect moral behavior from corporate players—heaven help you if you raised your child to be like Boeing, a company that has a history of bullying and cheating to get what it wants. But knowing the source of a company’s values can offer insights into its behavior. Newspaper and magazine columnist (and founder of Microsoft’s Slate magazine) Michael Kinsley says that Ayn Rand is popular at Microsoft. She was an atheist who originated the philosophy of Objectivism and touted the virtues of selfishness and dog-eat-dog competition. No wonder she’s the darling of Redmond’s chosen.

Another reason values matter: Seattle is a biotech research center, and we stand at the threshold of fundamentally changing the world with cloning, gene manipulation, nanotechnology, the wiring of human brains, the impact of new drugs and genetic treatments. We also are home to global organizations that will spread these techniques and technologies to the world. What do these people who carry our future in their hands ask themselves when they go into work each day? “What would Jesus do?” “What would the Dalai Lama do?” “What would Ayn Rand do?” “What would Gaia do?” “What would Darwin do?”

Here in the None Zone, there is no single answer, but the answers are still important.
In case you're interested, the Hitchens Seattle Town Hall can be found here.

Monkey Girl - Evolution, Education, Religion, And The Battle For America's Soul


I just started reading Edward Humes' book Monkey Girl about the trial in Dover, Pennsylvania which centered around a young earth creationist led school board trying to teach ID in science class while also attempting to pressure science teachers into irresponsibly implying that evolution is less of an accepted scientific theory than it actual is. These teachers were told to focus on the gaps in the fossil record, the questionable aspects of the theory. Make sure the kids know that it is 'just a theory' rather than truthfully teaching that it is one of the three most proven theories in science to date (along side Newtonian mechanics and germ theory).

The book is difficult to read because it delves very personally into the creationist's motivations and ways of thinking, but it's also something that should be read. It's very easy to have a belief and to disregard those who don't share your beliefs as idiotic or willfully ignorant as a whole with little more motivation for their fears beyond an irrational fear of a vengeful sky daddy. While I feel like this is essentially true, I think that it's important to understand the true weight of that fear and to at least try to put yourself on the other side of the argument as much as possible.

I'm not talking about apologetics - I don't think these people deserve to re-define science, re-write history, or turn the world into some kind of one-religion theocracy simply because they're scared and we should feel sorry for them. I do, however, feel like I belong to the same race as they do and that they at least deserve my compassion. I want to understand creationists and IDers better because I truly don't understand them at all.

We see them as kooks, willfully ignorant simpletons, power hungry indoctrinators, etc. They see us as arrogant, tools of the devil, willfully defiant children of a shared creator, etc. While those labels fit the bill some of the time on either side, most religious people are not moronic sheep with cult mentalities and most atheists or people with similar humanist beliefs are not evil minded snobs. We're all people and we have different conclusions brought about by different experiences in our lives.

I recognize in myself an unshakable belief and understanding of science and evolution and I have said that it would most likely take god himself descending from the sky to make me re-consider my lack of belief in a god or gods. I know that there are some religious people that feel the exact same way about their beliefs - an unshakable belief. My beliefs are rooted in science and logic and because of that, I feel that my beliefs are far closer to the truth than religious beliefs which are rooted in faith and spirituality. What I often forget is that there are plenty of people who feel that faith and spirituality supersede logic and reason. In the minds of people who oppose my beliefs, they are just as correct as I am.

At the end of the day, I still feel that religion is pretty obviously a sham. The Bible was a work of fiction written by entirely mortal men without any divine intervention. God is an outdated human invention to explain things we previously didn't and in some cases still don't understand. Religion was at first a means to explain and then a means to control. However, I do feel that the only way people are going to ever really be able to move past this divide between belief and lack of belief is if we try to look at one another as part of the same whole. The ID side may not ever be able to do that since a lot of their beliefs push them to reject non-believers as an entirely evil and dangerous influence outright, but that doesn't mean I have to do the same in return.

This book is a hard read because it does a very good job of showing the human side of the creationist movement without apologizing for their actions or even offering excuses for their way of thinking. It simply shows them as they are - passionately dedicated people who truly believe in their view of reality at the expense of everything else. If I honestly held a real fear in my heart that my darling son might be damned to an eternal torturous hell for believing in evolution, I can't say that I wouldn't act similarly to the folks who tried (and failed) to force a curriculum which would diminish the scientific importance of evolution - regardless of what anyone else on Earth had to say.


Get Out Of My Country!


I don't know about anyone else, but I get a tad bit pissed when someone tells me what my country is supposedly like and that if I don't like it or at least accept it and conform to it, I can get out.

This has come up in my presence a few times at work this season though I was never the recipient of this ridiculous phrase, it bothers me to hear it at all.
Instance 1

National health care came up as a topic and then a debate which led to me, my boss, and two other co-workers in the office talking about this and that. We started to talk about civil rights. I said that I felt that civil rights were paramount and that anyone should be allowed to do anything they please as long as their actions don't hurt anyone else directly. My boss agreed and started talking about gun laws. Yes, just so everyone is clear - Seattle might be the hipster capital of the nation but we regular Washingtonians love our liberal social stances and we love our guns. Personally, I was raised to both respect and detest guns so I'm not big into them, but I also don't oppose other people owning guns outright.

Back to the story, my boss then continues to say that our manager doesn't believe in public gun ownership but does support gay marriage. Essentially, my manager wants his rights and will cry persecution and civil liberties and everything else in order to get his equal rights, yet he feels he can tell someone else that they can't own a gun - a topic which is specifically mentioned in our nation's constitution. I thought that was a good point, though the comparison of marriage rights to ownership of a deadly weapon seemed fuzzy to me and I started mulling it over when my boss made that terribly American mis-step:

"The constitution protects our gun rights. If he [our boss] doesn't like it, he can get out of my country."

Instance 2

My sweetie and I were outside talking to another co-worker and the topic of drug legislature and punishments assigned to drug related crimes came up. My co-worker was arguing that marijuana is a 'gateway drug' and should be treated as harshly as heroine or cocaine. My sweetie brought up how much more destructive alcohol is and how the only destructive aspects of marijuana currently are the issues which are directly caused by the substance being illegal to posses in most states. His argument was that the punishment created the only existing issues which are often sited by police and government sources when asked why marijuana should be kept illegal. If negatives affects on the user can be sited as reason to keep a substance illegal, how can alcohol possibly be kept legal while weed is against the law?

My co-worker looked at him and said; "Well, that's how this country works. If you don't like it, you can just get out. Get out of my country."
This is not your country to pick and choose what you want it to be and have always been, regardless of what your personal logic or specific interpretation of history tells you. America is supposed to be for everyone. Majority is not supposed to rule here, we are a democratic republic, not a democracy.

Benjamin Franklin once said: Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.

We are a nation whose focus is liberty, not majority rule. No law is too absolute to question and no group is so large that it is allowed elevated importance over even the tiniest minority. At least that's how it's supposed to be. Liberty and justice for all.


A Excerpt of Dawkins' Book Inspires Idiocy


Times Online has posted an article which in an excerpt - a sneak peek at Richard Dawkins' newest effort The Greatest Show On Earth. The post in and of itself is a great little taste of what to expect from Show, but the comments the post inspired are riddled with the usual atheist/creationist bickering, support for Dawkins as well as abject rejection and disdain. I picked out a few of the more interesting comments to share/discuss. Keep in mind that these are the comments as they were posted, any spelling and grammar errors are theirs.
Mr. Dale wrote:

It would be interesting to find out what Dawkins actually believes.

He seems to believe in absolute morality, which is near impossible in the atheist world view.

Recognises the argument from fine tuning for God's existence but down plays it somewhat eventhough he himself uses argumentation from inference for his views.

Attacks the denial of history but in the God Delusion denys the existence of Jesus - a fact.

He recognises that the philsophy of science has just about proved science to be a faith based enterprise BUT attempts make little of this.

He seems to like the culture of Christianity, is pleased when some of its teachers agree with him but simultaneously can't seemingly quite bring himself round to agreeing with them!

I sense in his writing a man who doesn't really know what he believes, except for evolution.

August 25, 2009 10:24 PM
My only response to this is - how could you possibly take the evidence for the existence of Jesus and consider that a fact while simultaneously rejecting evolution on the basis that there are not enough evidence to back it up? I understand that this fella didn't specifically deny evolution in his comment, but I've seen it over and over again in other instances.

Evidence for Jesus is overwhelming! Evidence for evolution? I'm just not convinced...

That's because you don't care about evidence. Evidence is a means to an end. If the evidence says what you want it to say, you're all about it. If it doesn't say what you want it to say you reject that evidence. If you applied the same strict restraints on everything else that you apply to evolution, you would reject a vast majority of everything we know to be true.
Sylvia Baker wrote:

To reply to some of those who have responded to my earlier posts:

Richard Dawkins is presenting what is, in his opinion, the best interpretation of the evidence. For the debate to be open and fair, creationists should be permitted to do the same.

Species diversity can be fully explained by those taking a creationist position. They believe that living organisms are pre-programmed to be able to adapt to environmental conditions but that there are set boundaries to the possible extent of this variation. This view was held by Linnaeus in the 18th century and Mendel in the 19th. It was this creationist position which motivated and directed their work and which therefore gave rise to modern genetics. Modern-day creationists build on their work.

Creationists have no problem with the idea of natural selection. It presents no threat to them at all and may be involved in producing variety. However, there are many evolutionists who would deny that it has a role in evolution because they do not see any evidence that it does. It probably mainly acts to stabilise populations; this was known before Darwin.

It would help the debate greatly if people were more familiar with what crestionists are actually saying.

August 25, 2009 1:19 PM
The difference between a scientific explanation for something and what Sylvia is doing here is Sylvia is making shit up that sounds plausible without offering any kind of scientific data to back up her claims. While at one point people looked and a chimp and thought 'we seem a lot like those guys' that initial thought is not what links us scientifically to chimpanzees. Decades of study in biology and genetics have provided us with the scientific data which indicates that we are very closely related to chimpanzees. You have the first bit, you're just missing the decades of confirmed experiments and data collected from countless unaffiliated sources. Dawkins isn't ignoring a similarly valid scientific theory, Dawkins is ignoring unsubstatiated scientifically presented mythology.

Ok, one more -
Bob Ganert wrote:

Mr. Dawkins, Had opportunity to spend some time to contemplate your recent writings concerning your views on evolution. And although I can follow your flow of argument I cannot accept it.
Yes admittedly we live in a secular society. But to deny the facts of history pointing to the reasonableness of a created universe is regrettably sad on your part.
It has been said that if a lie is repeated often enough and load enough it can be believed. Your reteric and analogies using the Roman deniers and then holocost deniers and then to move the reader to accept your dogma that Christians (the 40%'ers) are on par with with such is wayward in the least, if not abomniable.
I agree with you in that we live in a age of compromise. Where all view points are said to be “respected”. The sad thing about it all is that the proponents of Satanic doctrine is given such prominent press.
Evolution does happen all around us. It is a fact. But if you would study the Bible you would conclude it is the Word of God. In the Holy Scriptures. Once endorsed by the King of England. It has the genealogy of famous men such as Abraham, Moses and Jesus of Nazareth.
Perhaps next you will be denying the existence of the Lord Jesus Christ. History is measured from this man. You should read His words. One day you will meet Him face to face.

August 25, 2009 12:11 AM
...Satanic doctrine? Denying facts of history that point to a created universe? What facts? Is this one of those 'well first you have to accept that the bible is a factual record' things because I don't and the reason I don't is that I understand at least minimally what constitutes something as a historical record and the Bible doesn't cut it. You'll have to re-define history just like you have to re-define science in order to prove your points - essentially eliminating the institutions which you are trying to gain acceptance for your views within.


Tithe - A Divine Insurance Payment


I am so excited. At work today I found a tithe envelope! Now, I have explained at length on this blog about how I wasn't raised in a religious atmosphere, so there's a lot of things about religion that I know next to nothing about. When I found out that tithe was supposed to be 10% of your income I was truly flabbergasted. 10% toward an imaginary friend? Cheese-sauce, that seems a bit steep. Now that I've been to a few churches and I see the expensive cars a lot of pastors have and the nice tailored suits, I understand why (the word of god doesn't come cheap, evidently) but I still didn't understand why someone would actually fork over 10% of their income to a church as if that's what Jesus wanted. Didn't he bust up a church at some point, calling the leaders out for being crooks and telling people they didn't have to go to any specific place to worship? Yeah yeah, I know, I just don't 'get' it, whatever.

I found this tithe envelope for Seventh-day Adventists. The image on the front of the envelope is thoroughly christian, it's two hand overlapped holding with bloody nails out as if in offering. Hello, would you like these bloody nails? Why no thank you, sir. The writing on the front of the envelope says "Tithe Love Offerings" in pretty quasi-cursive font. I appreciate when being swindled out of my money to have it done via nice fonts. No Comic Sans BS, that's for sure.

On the inside flap of the envelope there is quite a bit of writing. First in bold and prominent lettering you see a truncated bible verse. It reads:
A tenth...is holy to God. Lev. 27:32
The actual bible verse reads:
And concerning the tithe of the herd, or of the flock, even of whatsoever passeth under the rod, the tenth shall be holy unto the LORD. Lev. 27:32 (KJV)
Ok, so that adds up. The text under the heading is bit more clear and references another bible verse to back up their logic:
Tithe, the first 10% of our income, serves as evidence of our covenant relationship with God and our desire to place Him first in our lives (Matt 6:33). Tithe is used for the benefit of the ministry of the church and support of gospel workers.
To give this verse a bit of context, Matt 6:31-33 reads:
(6:31)Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
(6:32)(For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
(6:33)But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
So basically, they're referencing a part of the bible where people are being told not to worry about food or clothing - basic needs - as long as you believe in god, you'll be provided for. This pamphlet seems to indicate that belief in god is good, but you have to put your money where your mouth is and keep up with tithe. What if you need the tithe money to buy food and clothes for yourself?

It seems to me like tithe is the equivalent of an insurance payment. God is on your side, watching over you and caring for you as long as you believe in him with all your heart - and pay your bill. God takes 10% off the top. You know, like the mafia.

The envelope is not done! The envelope is asking if you can't afford just a little more. The next bold heading reads:
Responding to God's goodness. Ps. 116:12
Ps. 116:12 reads:
What shall I render unto the LORD for all his benefits toward me? Ps. 116:12 (KJV)
Wait, didn't I just give 10% of my paycheck to god? I'd say I already did my rendering. No, the envelope insists, you should give a bit more.
In response to God's blessings, He asks us to give an offering out of our heart as an extra measure of supporting church ministry in our community and around the world.

The percentage recommendation is: 4-7% for local church expenses; 2% for conference ministries - evangelism, Christain Education and Sunset Lake; and 2-3% for world missions such as television and radio ministry, disaster and famine relief, and higher education.
There are no biblical verses attached to justify this secondary request for funds. I have to wonder, if the additional 4-7% is for local church expenses, what the hell does the first 10% go to? In 2005 the average salary in the US was 31,410 and according to the website (see link) inflation hasn't affected that amount. 10% of 31,410 is 3,141. Divide that by 52 and you're supposed to give 60.40 to the church every Sunday? God is billing you three Jacksons a week for salvation insurance. 241.60 cents a month 'offering', even though offerings were no longer needed with the whole Jesus thing, but whatever. That seems like a lot to me. I know, I know, there is no price too high to pay for salvation, but has it ever occured to the religious people who go in for this scam that they might be getting one put over on them? It seems suspect, I guess that's my point.

They include a very handy and considerate recap of of all of the offerings requested - tithe and local church budget which includes evangelism and conference ministries including evangelism and world budget which...you get it. It looks pretty obviously similar to a bank deposit slip which strikes me as ballsy. This is a pull no punches request for cash.

On the back of the envelope there is a thank you in advance a bit about stewardship:
Stewardship is the personal acknowledgment on our part that God is owner and provider of all the basic goods of life - spiritual, physical and material. As Christians, we are called to be faithfully responsible with the resources entrusted to us by God. We are to manage God-given gifts of time, talents, money and the use of our spiritual strengths.
This entire paragraph is just a reminder that you've done nothing - the only thing that has brought you happiness or prosperity is your belief in god. This is the part where they remind you how comprehensive the God insurance that you're purchasing is. That's how it sounds to me. What's interesting is while a believer might find that kind of message to be uplifting and hopeful, I see it as entirely insulting and condescending. It's difficult for me not to see it as simple manipulation. Maybe I feel that way because they follow it up with this:
Planning for the Future. One practice of stewardship is arranging your estate plan and will. This allows biblical principles of stewardship to continue beyond your life. To talk with professionals and arrange your estate plan and other documents, call xxx.xxx.xxxx
Also...when you die we want your shit.


Claiming Atheism Is A Religion Is Not Only Incorrect, It's Purposefully Insulting


I have a very dear friend who is a man of faith - a Mormon. I enjoy talking to him about religion because he's secure enough in his beliefs to have conversations with me about the issue without getting too upset. We're not trying to change each others mind, we are swapping philosophies and at times challenging the logic behind what the other person believes.

A little personal history before we get on with this. I was raised in a small town in Washington from the time I was in fifth grade to when I graduated high school. After I moved into the area, a Mormon temple was built and Mormons started moving in which gave the local economy a boost and raised the rosters at the local schools quite a bit, causing a need for more schools to be built which created jobs as well. The Mormon immigration was not a bad thing - but you would have thought it was the end of civilization as we knew it. I remember reading about people being singled out and abused because they were Mormons in local shops and at public events and my dad talking about it, saying we're all first hand witnesses to a case of Christians eating one another. It was a lesson I learned about the importance of doctrine to religious people. To this day I can't understand how people rationalize doctrine as divine in any way, but it was eye opening to see at such a young age groups of people who believed in the same god and the same messiah but still stubbornly hated one another because of differences in details.

All this being said, I generally liked the Mormon kids that moved in. They were down to earth, humble, smart, and most of all - they knew that their religion was a whole lot of stuff that to an outsider wounded like complete woo. They understood and Mormonism made sense to Mormons because they were Mormons. Some of them didn't believe it, some of them did. Most of them were like my friend - they generally followed the religion but they also had their own opinions and they didn't fear any repercussions for deviating from strict adherence to the church.

My friend and I were talking about atheism and he brought up that tired old argument that atheism is a religion. I feel like this argument is a derisive one - to tell an atheist that what they believe is religious is like telling a vegetarian that their lifestyle perpetuates the meat industry. I didn't feel like my friend was trying to mean, though, I felt like he probably heard this argument himself and not being terribly big on critical thinking he absorbed it and accepted it without really questioning it.

Dawkins (was it Dawkins who coined this phrase? I'm pretty sure it was...) was spot on when he said that atheism is a religion the same way that not collecting stamps is a hobby. The assertion that atheism is a religion is ridiculous and not really worth exploring in and of itself. I explained to my friend why atheism isn't a religion and he agreed eventually with some reluctance. His argument ended up hinging on conflating the definition of religion to the point where not only atheism, but the belief or non-belief in anything would be considered a religion. Of course, if the only way you can logically prove an assertion is by creating a personal definition of what something is, you've really only convinced yourself - the one person who doesn't require convincing.

I asked him after the atheism is a religion thing was past, how it made him feel when people called the Mormon religion a cult. He shrugged, told me it didn't really bother him that much because he knew they were just being mean. It was then that I told him that I knew how he felt.

If Mormonism can somehow be considered a cult or not, it doesn't matter. The connotations of the term 'cult' are highly negative and so when you apply it to Mormons or any group of people, you're using the term as an insult while also being able to claim that you're properly applying an apt term to a group. It's the same thing when you insist that atheism is a religion. Atheists make no secret of their general contempt for religion. It's true that some atheists don't care too much about religions, but a good deal of atheists seem to view religion with feelings that range from a mild contempt to a passionate distrust with a myriad of emotions in between, all of which could be considered negative. This is not a fact that only atheists are aware of, this is well known, and so to say that atheism is a religion is a way to insult atheists without openly insulting them. It's a low blow that doesn't have to be answered for which is the worst kind of insult you can throw at someone.


A Childhood Favorite - Donald In Mathmagic Land

Not really an atheist post, but does anyone else remember the magic and wonder that was Donald In Mathmagic Land? Man, I loved this cartoon as a kid! Thanks to YouTube, I can share its wonder with everyone who is interested. Enjoy!


Court Repeals OK Law Requiring Mandatory Ultrasounds And Fetus Descriptions


Ok, so this is good news first of all, but it's still very strange that this was ever even suggested and the act was passed in the first place and it leaves me wondering - WTF Oklahoma?

OKLAHOMA CITY — An Oklahoma judge on Tuesday overturned a state law that required women seeking an abortion to receive an ultrasound and a doctor's description of the fetus.

Oklahoma County District Judge Vicki Robertson said the law violated constitutional requirements that legislative measures deal only with one subject. He did not rule on the validity of the ultrasound provisions.

Special Assistant Attorney General Teresa Collett said she will meet with state officials to discuss whether to appeal. The law was passed in 2008, but legal action has prevented it from going into effect.

It seems in 2008 the Oklahoma legislature enacted the Freedom of Conscience Act (full text Word doc). The bill not only contains very broad conscience protections for medical personnel who object to participating in a variety of procedures, but it also requires medical providers, before performing an abortion, to conduct an ultrasound and describe and display in detail the ultrasound image to the woman seeking the abortion.

Now, this is effed up in all kinds of ways, but Stephanie Toti says it best here:

Stephanie Toti, an attorney for the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights that represented Nova, said Oklahoma is the only state in the nation that mandated a physician to both conduct an ultrasound and describe the images to the patient.

"The ultrasound provision takes away a patient's choice about whether or not to view an ultrasound, and it requires physicians to provide information to their patients that the physicians do not believe is medically necessary," Toti said.

"It's an affront to women's autonomy and decision-making power, and it's also an intrusion to the physician-patient relationship."

It seems obvious to me that this is an aggressive tactic meant specifically to bully and browbeat women who are already in a compromising position and often an emotional state. I stay away from posting too much about abortion because I have personal experience with it and find it very difficult to stay emotionally detached enough about the topic but this to me seems like a form of mental abuse. It's like the legislature saying 'We can't stop you from getting an abortion, so instead, we're going to force you and your doctor to have a conversation about the fetus before it's aborted, just so you feel like a real piece of shit for making this decision. And remember, you can always change your mind.'

Is this legislation religiously motivated? Well, it's very cleverly propositioned as a means to 'allow patients to know the full scope of the medical procedure they are requesting.' However, when you look into the political standing and backround of the main author of the bill, Todd Lamb, it's difficult to ignore the importance of religious this man presumes personally and professionally. The fact that this is a seemingly religiously motivated bill which is presented as if it is a medically inspired piece of legislature makes it all the more unsavory.

The presumption that abortion is as easy a decision as what to have for dinner that night is disgusting to me, as is the presumption that women don't understand 'enough' what they're doing by having an abortion. Most women are fully aware and suffer emotionally from making the choice - that doesn't mean they didn't make the right choice for them, the unborn, and society in general.

I'm glad this law was repealed and I have to assume it won't take long before the people who proposed this bill propose similar bills to take its place - ones which can't be dismissed on the same technicality. I can only hope for the people of Oklahoma - women and men - that ya'll have the sanity to stop these kinds of legistlastions in their tracks. How long will it be before the 'ethical protection' of doctors means the only physician in your small town can refuse to sell you condoms because of their religious beliefs? Or refuse to fill your heart medication because they feel medication is a sign of mistrust of their lord? Seriously, this kind of legislation is dangerous for reasons that go above and beyond abortion. Abortion is just the 'easiest' target when it comes to religiously motivated medical ethics legislation.


Atheism And Charity - An Experiment


As some of you may know, I have been trying to figure out a way in which I could become active in my community as an atheist and help promote a more positive image of atheists (if not atheism). I was originally going to try to get a group of atheists together to participate in the Memory Walk - a very worthy fundraiser whose focus is on support for Alzheimer research and support.

I began looking around at different local atheist groups to see if anyone had something similar going on and found out that Tacoma Atheists were planning on participating in the Pierce County AIDS Walk which was happening on the same day as the Memory Walk. Through a few unfortunate turn of events - friends who would have participated with me in the Memory Walk but are out of town on business that day, etc. - I decided to join up with Tacoma Atheists and become a part of their walking team.

My goal was to raise 150.00 for the team and so far I am at 115.00 with a few more people to ask. If you want to sponsor me, that would be awesome! Here's the link you'll need to sponsor - Beth's AIDS walk page.

I am surrounded by people who like me and accept me for who I am, but I was worried that my personal affiliation with atheists might drive people away from sponsoring me. I didn't know if I shouldn't mention atheism at all and hope that my more religious friends wouldn't notice the group I was walking with and sponsor me, not knowing I was walking with an atheist group.

Ultimately I decided against this. I sought out this group as an atheist trying to do something to give back to my community. It seemed dishonest for me to try to hide or ignore this detail when it was such a prominent point of inspiration for my getting involved in the first place.

My personal message on the site reads as follows:
Thank you so much for visiting my page and making the choice to donate a sum of your hard earned income to support an important and noble cause. I have chosen to participate in this particular AIDS walk for two reasons, the most important being this:

1,741 people with HIV/AIDS have come to the Pierce County AIDS Foundation for services, and 638 persons are known to have died from complications related to AIDS as of July 31, 2007. Pierce County has the second highest incidence of AIDS in the State, with 9% of the total number of cases in Washington.

This kind of help is important and it's important that people support these kinds of institutions which are committed to facing and treating a disease which is too often distanced and ignored in our communities because of unfair stigmas which are wrongfully still attached to it.

Additionally, I am proud to join a team of fellow atheists who are intent on proving by example that atheists are just as involved and interested in the community as any other group.

I appreciate your support more than I can express and thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I have yet to receive any negative feedback from friends or family regarding this endeavor and I'm thankful for that. This is the first time I've appealed to people I know as an atheist and I feel like the reaction could have been far more incendiary than what I've experienced. While there are plenty of people who have not sponsored me, I have yet to receive any emails or had any conversation with people where I'm being told they won't sponsor me because I'm an atheist. While I know a few people who probably have made the decision not to contribute because I'm walking with an atheist group, the fact that no one has felt resolute enough in their position to be vocal about it seems like a good sign - maybe people realize that while it's ok to support or not support as you see fit, it's not ok to take these differences and use them as justification to be purposefully confrontational.


Fundies and Science - Fear Of The Dynamic Nature Of The Universe


Twitter is a popular site right now - how long it will remain relevant who knows. One thing I like about twitter is the atheist presence on the site and the ease of link sharing. What I don't like about twitter is the unfair advantage fundies are given when you find yourself going against all better judgment and interacting with them on the site. There's plenty of room to type 'god did it' in 140 characters or less. Explaining evolution - not that easy. Not that you would want to and if you did want to, you would most likely provide informative links rather than try to stuff the theory of evolution into two or three or thirty 140 character messages.

While I have a rule about arguing science with fundies (it's as pointless as arguing aquatic plantlife with birds) I found myself going rounds with a fundie today for the first time since I joined twitter and I found out first hand exactly why this particular forum is useless for debate.

While the fundie's arguments were essentially wordy versions of 'nuh uh' and 'well, that's not good enough for me' my arguments entailed trying to explain the intricacies of aviary speciation and also utilizing animal husbandry as a simple and familiar example of evolution when it's being controlled by people. The animal husbandry comments solicited this response - "Oh, so a cow and a cow make a horse? I don't think so."

This is precisely when my head exploded.

There are a few things I really don't understand about the fundamentalist position that I have run across and it may not be indicative of the majority of the group - this is purely anecdotal experience.

1. Prove evolution is correct.

What? No. Read a damn book. It is not my responsibility to prove anything to you. I'll provide you links, I'll make compelling arguments, and I'll offer my opinions. When you ask someone to prove something to you you're asking for more than this - you;re asking someone to take the time to frame information in a way that you can understand it and to present information which you yourself accept. "Prove evolution is correct" is like asking someone to prove air is correct. There's no right or wrong, it's about reality.

2. I reject your proof. More proof please.

This is initially understandable but ultimately aggravating. My favorite example of evolution in action is animal husbandry. It's a simple, easy to understand example of how one can select for traits and breed animals to eventually exhibit those traits selected for most of the time. As the only 'proof' fundamentalists have for their positions is a single unverifiable document - the bible, I like to give two examples of evolution if I ever find myself in one of these torturous conversations. There you go, you have one thing, I have two things, I'm not trying to change your mind myself but maybe you should look into this more as I have obviously proven your initial statement of there being 'no proof' of evolution false. But no. Invariably you will hear this - I don't accept that proof. What else do you have? My response is initially 'Why don't you accept that as proof?' as I don't accept the bible as proof I feel it's fair to ask this question. I have heard all kinds of reason for fundamentalist rejecting scientific proof -
  • "That sounds strange." - ...is...is that an argument?
  • "That's too complicated of an explanation." - the complexities of life are not going to be explained in 140 characters or less, sorry friend.
  • "I don't get it." - No one gets it right away, but you have to be willing to learn.
  • "Science is an invention of the devil" - posted online. Sweet sweet irony.
  • "Science does whatever it takes to trick people into believing evolution" - as if science is a physical entity with evil preconceived desires.
I don't know how to reconcile religious fundamentalist thought with science because I don't feel like scientifically minded people are the ones who are causing the need for reconciliation. Good, reputable science does not start out on the road of discovery with an end result in mind. Science takes up all the evidence, studies that evidence vigorously and from the evidence presents conclusions. Not stoic and unchangeable conclusions - nothing science says is an absolute truth in that tomorrow something new could be discovered that changes everything within scientific understanding. Maybe that's what this ridiculous jihad against science from the fundamentalists is all about - the fear of a dynamic reality.

3. Evolution doesn't make any sense.

Yes, It does. This is the most pig headed argument of all. You can classify this as a ridiculous argument when you ask someone how it doesn't make sense and they respond, 'it just doesn't.' or 'crocoduck' or what have you. No amount of pseudoscience and willful ignorance can discredit evolution as not making sense because evolution is just a term we have applied to how life works. No, evolution isn't a fanciful scientific fantasy - it's the term we now use for the progression of life. Look at how dogs can be bred to have thicker or thinner coats. That's an example of evolution but even before evolution was a theory it was still true that if you breed dog a with dog b, litter c will have the traits of a and b. That is an (oversimplified) fact. By saying that evolution doesn't make sense, people are saying that facts like these don't make sense either.

This is why I don't argue with fundies on twitter or really at all. Arguing with a fundie is a lot like arguing with a child - they've made up their mind and all you're doing is wasting your time with illogical arguments that essentially amount to 'nuh uh.' No thanks, just go clean your room.

How To Be An Open Minded Parent Without Putting Your Ego Before Your Kid


The comments left for the post where I talked about my neighbor who asked to take my kid to church generated a lot of support, which I appreciate, and some criticism which I also appreciate. I can't say I would have handled the situation differently - I don't feel comfortable with handing my son over to strangers even if they promise they're going to church and I don't feel like I should expose my son to religion until he asks about it and wants to be exposed. However, the subject of being open minded came up a few times along with the question "why would you try to keep your child from experiencing religion?"

I feel like being open minded as a parent is just as important as my responsibility as a parent to raise my son in a way that I feel is best for him until he is at a point where emotionally and mentally he's ready to make his own choices. He makes choices now, but there are still things that I decide for him. I decide if he can have ice cream or not, I decide where he's going to go to school, and I decide who he can go off with without me. The point in time where a child is mature enough to make decisions regarding religion and faith is different for every child - some people have children who are very reality based when they are 6. My son is very imaginative, creative and fanciful. My child is still dealing with the death of my father who was the second closest person to my son after me. My son is not at the same place emotionally and mentally as anyone else's kid and the best judge for what is good and what is bad for him right now is me. Not only because I'm his mom but because I'm closer to him than anyone else alive right now and I'm responsible for tempering his exposure to complicated and mature aspects of life like religion and sex and violence.

I don't understand how anyone would want to willingly expose their child to the situation that woman was suggesting. It's as if by offering up my boy to that kind of influence I would be proving something about my own open mindedness that needs to be proven to a stranger. I don't care if this woman feels that I am open minded enough or not - she's lucky I wasn't in a more curmudgeonly mood and didn't yell at her to stop listening in on private conversations and trying to indoctrinate my son as if my beliefs were somehow unacceptable.

Being open minded regarding parenting does not mean allowing every kook and nut job who walks by to have influence over your child. It does not mean allowing people to be extremely socially rude out of fear of seeming closed off or unfriendly. It has nothing to do with forcing your child to be exposed to or even have an interest in religion when the kid isn't curious about religion at all.

I feel I'm an open minded parent because when my son asks me if god exists I tell him that no one knows for sure, some people think there's a god and some people don't. He's asked me if I believe in god and I told him I didn't. When he asked me why I told him because I read a whole lot of books and talked to a whole lot of people and looked at all the evidence and decided that I didn't believe in god - but that doesn't mean he has to agree with me. I've asked if he wants to attend a church service and he has no interest. That's good enough for me. I'm not going to force my son into attending church just so I can have the atheist open minded parent merit badge. That would be me using my son as a tool to further my ego, not doing what my son wants, what he's interested in at this time, or what I feel he's ready for.

I think it's awesome that there are some people who make it a point to take their kids to lots of different services to give them exposure to religions but that's not my way. Personally, I feel uncomfortable going to a church when I know I have little interest in the place beyond using it as a sociology experiment for my kid. I don't want to go to a church where they take my son and put him in a closed off and separate Sunday school area where I'm not welcomed to join in and I know for a fact my son isn't going to quietly sit through a sermon without asking to go home after about 20 minutes. I do have quite a bit of respect for people and if and how they choose to worship - I don't want to be that atheist who crashes the party just so I can feel good about exposing my kid to a theology which I can't honestly discuss without having a completely negative perspective.

My son will grow up and he will get curious and when he does, it will be time to deal with religion. It isn't yet that time for us and to have a stranger suggest that she might educate my kid on religion without me being present because she overheard I was an atheist and me rejecting her offer does not make me closed minded and it doesn't mean I'm shielding my son from religion. I'm just not forcing him to be interested in it. I think that's the right thing to do.

And now, the best vid on open mindedness on the web - enjoy!


The Myth of Atheist Fundamentalism


From the Dallas Morning News comes yet another ridiculous editorial which attacks atheists on the basis of something coined as "atheist fundamentalism." Before, we look at the article, lets get the definition of what fundamentalism is out of the way. From Mirriam-Webster:
1 a often capitalized : a movement in 20th century Protestantism emphasizing the literally interpreted Bible as fundamental to Christian life and teaching b : the beliefs of this movement c : adherence to such beliefs
2 : a movement or attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles
Obviously the 1st definition can't apply to atheists so lets look at the second. What set of basic principles do atheists adhere to? None. Atheism is the lack of belief in a god or gods. There are no sets of laws we obey as atheists, no consistent interconnection at all between atheists beyond the lack of belief in god. Now, socially religious fundamentalism is attached to behaviors that are viewed as extreme and closed minded to other interpretations of the same source material - often holy texts like the Bible. Fundamentalist christians believe the world is 6000 years old because the bible says it is, and they follow the bible literally. Islamic fundamentalists believe in jihad in the name of their religion because of passages found in the Quran. What is the belief or behavior that categorizes atheists as fundamentalists? According to Rod Dreher, it seems to be those atheists who are vocal about their atheism.

This is the same old song and dance that has been trotted out since atheists began being publicly vocal about their beliefs - atheism is acceptable, but why do you have to be so LOUD about it?

It seems the inspiration for this rant was that most evil of all atheist creations, Camp Quest! Yes, the secular (NOT atheist, secular) summer camp is, in Dreher's opinion...well, I don't know. I actually can't figure out exactly what his problem with the camp itself is besides it being an institution which has the support of that evil atheist monarch, Richard Dawkins. If Dawkins supports something, it HAS to be bad, right? Let's see:

And how did you spend your summer? Having more fun, I hope, than the English kids marched off to Camp Quest, a five-day atheist camp supported in part by Oxford scientist Richard Dawkins. The idea, Dawkins said, is "to encourage children to think for themselves." Yes, well, as long as they don't think well of religion, tykes are welcome to join his herd of independent minds.

It's hard to see the pleasure of sitting around the campfire, learning from grown-ups that the world is disenchanted after all. (No ghost stories for you, lad!) But if eat-your-spinach skepticism strikes your fancy, the Lone Star version of Camp Quest will be a one-day affair in late summer, sponsored by the North Texas Church of Freethought (www.churchoffreethought.org).

This is a blatant attack on an institution this man knows nothing about based on the involvement of a person this guy doesn't care for. Super awesome editorial journalism, friend!

The piece goes on to trod out the tired old attacks that atheists have had thrown at them time and again. He mentions Hitler, talks about 'militant' atheism by attributing negative acts perpetrated by atheists as indicative of atheism itself (please ignore that none of this was done IN THE NAME OF atheism - evidently that doesn't factor into the equation) and even quotes his 'atheist friend' quite a bit - a tactic that is humorously reminiscent of the old 'I'm not a racist, I have a black friend!' BS of old.

By the end of the article, we atheists are not only anti-religion but anti-art as well (...ok?) and ends with that delightfully familiar christian claim that we are too closed minded to understand what life is really all about.

In short - epic fail

"Can I Take Your Son to Church?"


I was standing outside this morning and my son was playing with his transformer toys in the yard. As I stood there, dazed still from having just woken up, one of my neighbors walked up to me, all smiles and shiny cheeks. I said good morning in my polite but reserved way and she said good morning back but it was obvious she had meandered over to me with a purpose and I waited patently for that purpose to be revealed. The conversation we had was a bit shocking, but also a bit satisfying.
Neighbor Lady: How's it going?

Me: Oh, OK. I work nights so I'm just getting myself up now.

NL: Well it's nice that your son lets you sleep in.

M: Yeah, he's a good boy, I am lucky.

NL: I wanted to ask you about him, we're going to this thing tomorrow and I wanted to know if he could come?

M: Oh yeah, what kind of thing? What time? He's going to hang out with his grandmother sometime tomorrow so it might not work out.

NL: It's in the morning.
This is when I began to get uncomfortable. Tomorrow is Sunday. Sunday morning. She wants to take my son to a 'thing' on Sunday morning. I must have paused for a little too long or was wearing my concern plainly on my face because my neighbor continued -
NL: It's a church thing, but the kids don't really do a lot of the church stuff they just play. I thought he might like it.

M: Well what kind of church thing is it?

NL: Well, it's church. We go to a really nice church down the street and I have heard you and your boyfriend talking about being atheists, but I figure your son might still want to see what it's all about.

M: My 6 year old son?

NL: Well, yeah.

M: You're asking to take my 6 year old kid to a church, knowing that I'm an atheist?

NL: Well, I know you rejected god, but that doesn't mean your boy has to grow up without knowing all his options, right? I'm not trying to offend you...
It was at this point that I took a long pause. I told the neighbor, a very nice lady who I honestly feel wasn't trying to be insulting and who has genuine concerns regarding god, judgment, and hell, that I needed a minute to think about things. She seemed to misinterpret my pause as if I were considering for even a moment allowing my son to go with her but that was fine as she patiently waited while I considered my response.
M: You have the little blond girl, right? The nice girl my son plays with?

NL: Yeah, she's my daughter and she LOVES the church we go to.

M: I want you to consider something and I'm not trying to be mean, I'm trying to prove a point. Were I to come up to you and ask you if I could take your daughter with me and my son to an activity where all of the people there besides your daughter would be atheists 'just to give her another perspective', would you be comfortable with that?

NL: (immediately blurts out) Well of course not!

M: Well then you completely understand why I would rather not have my son go to church with you tomorrow. And for the record, I would never suggest that myself - not for my son or your daughter. Our kids are 6 - I feel like they need to figure out for themselves what they believe and right now, they're still taking in all the possible explanations.

NL: Well, if you want your son to make up his own mind, why would you be opposed to him coming to church with us and checking it out?

M: For one, I think he's too young. More important than that, he's not the one who asked me if he could go to church, you are. He's not yet interested in your faith and I'm not going to push the exposure on him. When he's ready, he'll look into it and if you guys are still living next to us, I'll let him know then that you'll be happy to take him to church with you.
This was the end of the conversation. I don't know if the interaction offended the woman or not, but it shouldn't have. I remember being a kid and being present during similar conversations between my parents and friends and neighbors of theirs. When I was in 5th grade my parents decided I was old enough to go to church with people if I wanted to and I remember going to a Carman concert with some neighbors of mine and feeling like I had stepped into the twilight zone.

The religious practice of 'get 'em while they're young' seems unsavory to me because it takes the minds of people just as willing to accept the existence of Santa Clause or Optimus Prime on faith as anything else, and produces for them a creator god who they are to take on faith is real as well. Then, they take away Santa and Optimus as fanciful, childish things, yet they maintain that god is the real deal? How can you willingly do that to a kid and not consider than you might be messing them up?

Christian Church Wins Lottery - Suddenly Gambling Is OK


Evidently a church in Michigan has won the lottery.

HASLETT, Mich. – Divine intervention? Or just plain luck? No matter what the circumstances, a Michigan church is $70,000 richer courtesy of the Michigan Lottery. The Covenant Life Worship Center and its 25 members in Haslett, Mich. had one of the second-prize tickets in the Lucky 7s raffle held May 4.

The $10 ticket was purchased at a convenience store in Haslett, five miles northeast of downtown Lansing. The lottery Web site says the odds of a single ticket winning $70,000 in Lucky 7s are one in 55,556. Michigan Lottery officials say the church will receive the full amount of the prize because it is a tax-exempt group.

Pastor Marilyn Parmelee tells the Lansing State Journal that the prize money will go toward the church building fund, setting up a missionary fund and supporting local community service projects.

First and foremost, please consider these biblical quotes as well:

1 Timothy 5:8 says:
"But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever."

Proverbs 12:11 says:
"He that tilleth his land shall be satisfied with bread."

Proverbs 28:20 says:
"He that maketh haste to be rich shall not be innocent."

Proverbs 28:22 says:
"He that hasteth to be rich hath an evil eye, and considereth not that poverty shall come upon him."

Proverbs 13:11, says:
"Wealth gotten by vanity shall be diminished; but he that gathereth by labor shall increase."

Now, I was never a believer and I won't even claim to have read the bible cover to cover, though I have read a bit of it for a comparative religions class. I don't like to 'quote mine' the bible but on this point I feel its valid to point out the possible hypocrisy of a christian church that gambles. Personally, I read biblical versus and I just shake my head. This shit is often confusing and worthlessly vague. I looked up these versus not immediately, rubbing my evil atheist hands together as I gleefully attempted to find hypocricy and gloat - no. I looked them up only after listening to my partner's reaction to this news article.

Interestingly, my reaction to this article was a bit of a chuckle over hypocrisy and more annoyance over the fact they they won't be taxed on that money. My sweetie, however, was immediately outraged. He was raised southern baptist but is now agnostic, and the hypocrisy of this story really effected him on a personal level as if by reflex. He was raised that the above bible versus (among others) mean that gambling is explicitly wrong and not a behavior to be engaged in by christians.

Now, this small fellowship has an ambiguous name so it's hard to tell if they are one of the thousands of Christian sects that interpret the bible to say that gambling is wrong or not (though their site does mention living life true to the Word of God). I'm sure if you asked them now, they would certainly distance themselves from any interpretation of their holy text which claims gambling is wrong. That, to me, is one of the greatest strengths of the Bible. The book is a labyrinth of contradictions and vague speech - you don't need to adhere to it, you just make it adhere to you.


A Word On Evolution


I don't tend to engage in arguments that are staged as 'creationism vs. evolution' because I don't see the two views being at all comparable. The creation myth is simply that - a myth. When someone demands proof for evolution, I often suggest they start by reading The Origin of Species - a 150 year old book which conceptualizes the idea, and then continue research with the knowledge in mind that this idea has become as solid a scientific theory as that of gravity. The 'softer' argument that seems to pop up in regard to evolution is the 'it's just a theory' BS. Angie the Anti-Theist is having a grand old time staving off the logical fallacies of one such person and I chimed in and what happened - I was accused of being Angie and my questions were entirely ignored. Typical.

I feel like the issues with debating regarding evolution are ones of scientific illiteracy. A theory to the layman is nothing more than an idea. A theory as its established in science is far more conclusive. To attribute the layman's understanding of what a theory is to the scientific classification of evolution as a theory is a mistake that many uneducated people tend to make and refuse to correct. What exactly is the point of debate with someone who stubbornly refuses to understand the way basic science works?

To say that proponents of evolution are asking for people to accept facts on faith is ridiculous as well. This to me is just another way of saying 'your explanation is complicated and I don't immediately understand it, therefore it must be your explanation that is faulty.' No. Life and the universe are complicated subjects which require complicated explanations. A person's unwillingness to take the time and dedication to learn does not in any way make the complicated explanation any less true. Even more interesting is that as you learn about science, the explanation of complex ideas becomes far less confusing and difficult to understand because science builds on itself.

I feel for Angie - conversations like the one she finds herself in are the reason even my mother understands the term 'head/desk'.


Ray Comfort Pamphlet: Americans Blame Hot Dogs for Increase in Cancer


The other day my sweetie was cleaning out our car, a Subaru WRX, when a guy with a painted on smile came up and struck a conversation with him.
Painted On Smile: Nice car man. I saw a thing on YouTube where they showed you how these things are made. Cool machine.

Sweetie: Thanks! Yeah, I wanted to get an STI but this is an '03 and they didn't import STI's from Japan that year...

POS: Yeah, I like the color, that's a Subaru specific color isn't it?

S: Yeah, it's the slightly darker yellow.

POS: Cool. Hey man, I have this brochure I want to give you. Is that cool?

S: (pause) Uh...yeah. Ok, I guess.

POS: (hands Sweetie a pamphlet with the words "AMERICA AMERICA" printed on the front with a crudely disintegrated American flag on the front, bad photoshop job) Cool man, later.

(Sweetie watches man as he walked over to a Ford Bronco two vacuums down)

POS: (to Bronco owner) Nice car man. I saw a thing on YouTube where they showed you how these things are made. Cool machine...
And thus the YouTube proselytizer moved along, tricking proud car owners into seemingly friendly conversations about their vehicles and feigning human interest for no other reason than to litter the minds and/or ground with his ridiculous message.

The pamphlet is produced by this website - the Ray Comfort site! Yay! I feel like my sweetie was confronted by the circus clowns of the conversion circuit.

The pamphlet begins...
See if you can spot the odd one out: earthquakes, floods, droughts, cancer, AIDS, terrorism, war, hurricanes, God's blessing, tornadoes.
I'm sorry, but I can't spot the odd one out - all of those things can be considered or have the potential to be terrible, life threatening occurrences.
Of course "God's blessing" is the oddity.
Oh, because that's made up and the rest of the things on that list are actual eventualities, right?

The pamphlet goes on in the normal, moronic way they usually do - earthquakes happen because you masturbate, god's mad at you for wanting an X-box, And evidently, we're all blaming cancer on hot dogs:
Meanwhile, despite our national sins, a blind and mystified world points to everything from coffee to hot dogs as the reason for the increase in cancer.
Wait, what? I personally have never blamed a single beverage or ballpark delicacy for the raise in cancer. I may have attributed the rise in cancer diagnosis with technological advances in recognizing cancer in earlier stages or possibly a rise in cancer coinciding with the large baby boomer generation reaching a collective age at which cancer tends to develop, but I never blamed coffee. I'm a Seattleite - coffee isn't the cause baby, it's the cure.

Let's skip to the part where we're all a bunch of powerless shits:
Don't be fooled into thinking you can clean up your life. No "good" you do can wash away your sins - only God's mercy can do that.
That sounds a biiiiit...culty. Sorry, but that sounds like a manipulation tactic often used by cults to recruit wanton followers. Step one, convince the person they're a piece of shit. Step two, tell them they can be less of a shit if they follow your religion/god/vitamin regime/etc. Why should you care, you ask? You asshole atheist bastard, you? Well...
The Bible says, "God commended His love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." When Jesus died on the cross, He stepped into the courtroom and paid the fine for us. His suffering was necessary to satisfy the Law you and I violated.
So by simply being born - my creation being an unexpected byproduct of my parents sexual fulfillment with one another - I violated a law? Sorry, I violated a Law? No. I was simply born. Born into a world innocent and without any positive or negative marks on my score sheet. Not to get all sentimental mommy here, but I can't fathom how anyone who has ever had a child or has held a baby for that manner could look at that little person and see a horrible sinner who has violated anything beyond its own diaper.

The end of the pamphlet is what really reveals the extent of the absurdity this publication is promoting:
If you care about America, if you care about the children of America...if you care about your eternal salvation, tell God you are sorry for your sins...
In the words of Helen Lovejoy - Oh won't someone PLEASE think of the children?!?

I am thinking of the children, Ray - that's precisely why I am as outspoken as I am AGAINST this kind of self hating religious propaganda bullshit. In the recycle bin you go!

And a note to the YouTube proselytizer that slipped this worthless bit of American flag laden garbage into my sweetie's hands - he really thought you were a nice guy who wanted to talk cars with him. When he discovered you were lying to him just to throw him off and get him to take your culty pamphlet, it hurt his feelings. Way to add to the ever growing stereotype of the American asshole christian.