Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Miraculous Jesus Pill: Use Only as Directed

I doubt there is an atheist alive who hasn’t heard a Christian attribute a spontaneous healing, injury pain reduction, or their recovery from an addiction to Jesus’ direct involvement. I dare say that there are thousands upon thousands of Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Wiccans, and every other flavor of supernatural belief, who will likewise attest to their prophet, God, or gods’ beneficial healing power.

Not all of these things are lies or delusions. In fact, it’s likely that the majority of the claims are actually being truthfully attested to by the devout theist. How is this possible?

Let me quote from Wiki:

“The placebo effect or placebo response is a therapeutic or healing effect of an inert medicine or ineffective therapy, … due to the individual expecting or believing that it will work. The placebo effect occurs when a patient is treated in conjunction with the suggestion from an authority figure or from acquired information that the treatment will aid in healing and the patient’s condition improves.”

Whether it’s a sugar pill given by a medical authority, a monkey turd talisman given by a witch doctor, or a minister’s suggestion of divine intervention by murmuring a prescribed prayer, the power of placebo is undeniable and observable. What science doesn’t fully understand is how the mechanism actually works.

Unfortunately, unlike sugar pills, there is an addictive element to the Jesus Placebo. Once a beneficiary of that effect believes that all their ills, all their tribulations, all their personal weaknesses and failures can be overcome by the Jesus pill, they become addicted to it. That addiction is manifested by increased dependency on the supernatural, and a corresponding devaluation of their own ability, own self worth, own strength, and own accountability for their lives and future. i.e. “I couldn’t have overcome my alcoholism with out Jesus! Maybe he’ll help me get a job now.”

And when the illness / pain returns which it invariably does, a medical doctor will explain to the patient the reason, and prescribe an effective medication. But, there isn’t a shaman, a witch doctor, a minister, or a priest who will admit to the “patient” they were fed a faith placebo. Why should they? What possible benefit could come from telling them the truth? So, instead of prescribing a double dose of reality they deduce that the patient’s faith was weak, and prescribe more and higher does of their religious placebo.
“Take two Jesus’ and see me next Sunday.”

The mind is a wonderful thing. That religion messes with it so badly is akin to malpractice.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Piety & Politics: READ THIS BOOK!

The Reverend Barry W. Lynn is the Executive Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. A devout and liberal Christian, an ordained and practicing minister of the United Church of Christ, and an attorney, Rev. Lynn has been an activist leading the charge against religious incursion into our government and our personal freedoms for many years.

I recently read Rev. Lynn’s book “Piety & Politics: The Right-Wing Assault on Religious Freedom”. His grasp of our history, the Constitution, and the dangers of mixing religion and government is both educational and heartening to hear, especially from a clergyman. He doesn’t hesitate to openly chastise those bastions of the Religious Right who falsely promote the fallacy that our laws were derived from Christian or biblical precepts, or that this is a “Christian Nation”. This man stands at the top of my list of truth tellers, modern patriots, and defenders of our freedoms.

The following is the book review I posted to amazon.com. It’s not my typical review, but should serve as a strong recommendation to read this important work.

An Open Letter to Rev. Lynn:

Dear Rev. Lynn,

I just read Piety & Politics and wanted to say "thank you". I just said it by joining Americans United for Separation of Church and State moments ago, but I wanted to say it personally and publicly.

As an atheist I all too often fall into the trap of lumping all Christians together as bible thumping religious fanatics. People who, in spite of my Vietnam service, Bronze Star, and Army Commendation medals, perceive me to be "… non-patriotic, perhaps not even an American" as George Bush Sr. once said, simply because I reject their "beliefs".

People who would happily force every school to promote organized prayer, control women’s reproductive rights, intercede into family decisions of when the terminally ill should be allowed to die, impose their biblical interpretations upon our secular Constitution, and subjugate anyone who's sexual preference, personal philosophy, or religious views do not parallel theirs.

I know that the people of whom I speak aren't the majority of Christians, but I need to be reminded of that from time to time. Thanks for reminding me, and thanks for helping preserve America's freedoms from those who would truncate them.

I encourage every defender of the Constitution and the “wall of separation”, theist or atheist, to buy this book and read it before the presidential election. Here’s a link to it on amazon.com. You can buy it used for under $1.00 + $3.99 shipping.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

"It takes more faith NOT to believe in God."

If you’ve never had a Fundie, or a Children of the Corn Mind Zombie theist throw that "It takes more faith not to believe in God" phrase at you, you simply haven’t been hanging around the right chat rooms or message groups.

It’s one of those platitudes they are taught to repeat. They think of it as the “Rubic’s Cube” of challenges… a real brain teaser. The technique is interesting because they use a theological term, "faith", and try to apply it to the scientific method which is devoid of faith and founded in evidence. Faith by definition is belief in the absence of solid evidence. Therefore evidence is the antithesis of faith, the opposite. They are like matter and anti-matter…they simply cannot coexist in one entity. Thus at face the statement is an exercise in the absurd.

There is overwhelming evidence that the Earth is very old as oppose to 6,000 yrs old as the biblical literalists believe; overwhelming evidence for evolution and none for Creation, nor an intelligent designer. Thus rejecting god/gods for an explanation for the species, or to reject a biblical time line for Earth’s age requires no faith at all.

Here's what eludes theists about this whole issue:
If we as atheists denied the concept of god simply as an arbitrary flat rejection, then indeed, it would be a decision predicated on faith. But, as thinking people, the rejection of a god concept is a result of accumulated evidence that support natural causes for the universe. Not just one piece of evidence, not just one theory, but multiple theories with vast amounts of evidence.

Since cumulatively, these natural, repeatable, and observable pieces of evidence contradict supernatural explanations that are devoid of evidence, it requires no "faith" to accept the natural explanation and reject the supernatural explanation. From there it’s a short step to testing and observing the ineffectiveness of prayer; the dearth of evidence for miracles, or reanimation of the dead, etc., etc. Pretty soon, without any agenda to defend, the illogic of god and supernaturalism becomes self evident.

That they can't fathom this simple reasoning, and thus keep rolling out the “it takes more faith not to believe” canard, I attribute to theistic mental block caused by the religion meme, or gross ignorance.

Science and reason neither demand nor require faith. They simply require examination of the data, the evidence, without an agenda that demands rejection / ignoring of any data/ evidence to keep it viable, which is precisely what theists must do to keep their faith

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Would a 1930’s German Jew Vote for the Nazi Party? Ask a McCain Supporting Atheist.

John McCain’s one time abhorrence of the Religious Right, their polices, their politics, their objective to insert religion into our lives, our constitution and our government, is a thing of the past. Now he embraces them. His selection of a charismatic fundamentalist VP who believes in Creationism, rejects Evolution, insists only ‘abstinence” be taught to school children, et al, is proof of that. It was a cynical ploy to cement their allegeance. McCain has sold his "soul" to the Religious Right to get elected.

But more than that, he has declared openly that when elected he will appoint judges in the same mould as Scalia, Thomas, Alito, and Roberts. That is to say, the most conservative and religious members of the Court. Justices who have in the past made their pro-religion sympathies clear.

Why is this of importance now? Because the next administration will be appointing between one and three Supreme Court Justices. Those appointees will determine the tilt of the court for many years to come. Those appointees will either represent votes to retain our personal freedoms, or will be votes to truncate them in the name of religious fervor.

McCain has made a promise to the Hagees, Robertsons, Dobsons. He made clear that he would welcome the overturn of Roe v. Wade. Let’s make this real simple. McCain has become a tool of the Religious Right. He is a “maverick” like I am Jesus Christ. His judicial appointments will be a victory for the religious conservative extremists.

So, you atheists out there who claim to be dues paying members of Freedom from Religion Foundation, or Military Freedom Foundation, or Americans United for Separation of Church and State, or any other activist organization which seeks to preserve our freedoms from those who would impose their religious fanaticism upon all of us … a vote for McCain is a vote for the Religious Right and counter to where you are putting your both your mouth and your money..

- If you agree that the Right’s extreme fundamentalist religious precepts should not be part of our secular government;
- If you agree that the government should have no say in who can marry;
- If you agree that "abstinence only" sex ed shouldn't be gov't funded;
- If you agree the government shouldn’t be deciding what books should or should not be in libraries or what you can and cannot view on the internet;
- If you agree women should have complete control of their reproductive rights;
- If you agree that family alone should determine with their doctor when their brain dead loved one should be allowed to die;
- If you agree that homosexuality isn’t a choice but by genetic variation that shouldn’t be punishable by second class citizenship;
- If you agree that religious symbolism in our public schools and government buildings is a violation of the Constitution; and biblical precepts have no place in our secular laws;
- If you agree that teaching creationism in public schools works against our youth's intellectual advancement, and for religiosity;
- If you agree that pastors who use their church to overtly support a political candidate or party should lose their tax exemption ...

Then voting for McCain is the last thing you would do.

But, if you agree with George H.W. Bush that “Atheists aren’t patriots, and maybe not even Americans.”, or Falwell’s legacy, or Robertson, or Hagee, or Dobson then voting for McCain is exactly the right thing to do.

If you go that route, if you vote McCain, do yourself a favor: stop contributing to those atheist and “wall of separation” foundations, because you’re voting against those organization’s efforts.
You may as well be a 1930’s German Jew voting for the Nazis.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Of Conscience and Self Interest: Where I Stand.

I despise far Left Liberalism, as much as I despise the far Right Conservatives. The redistribution of wealth and the attempt to mandate economic equality; the wholesale giveaways that make people slaves to state handouts; the attempt to use government to cure all ills, these are the remnants of a defunct and anti-democratic , anti-capitalist mindset. I am for a strong military, smaller government, personal accountability, drilling for oil, and a rabid supporter of immigration enforcement. I couple that with a strong sense of social justice, a commitment to the Founding Fathers principles, a belief in personal freedoms. Thus, I've always applied the label "moderate" to myself.

Recently I made the cardinal error of expressing concern for working / middle class people who represent the vast majority of our population, and especially for those who live near the poverty level. As a result, I came under fire for my “liberalism”. It was a remarkable awakening.

With a group of friends up for the weekend I mentioned that healthcare was out of reach for many, the rate of annual cost increase outstripping the growth in average income.. The response was “I’ve got mine, you’ve got yours…what’s the problem?”.

Today I was exchanging stories about power outages (we had a three hour one this morning) in a conversation with another close acquaintance. I expressed concern for folks near him who experienced a forty-four hour power outage last winter , wondering how they were able to make it through without their pipes freezing … where did they go, what did they do? The response was “I have my generator, you have yours. What do you care?”.

Interestingly, the former is a Catholic, allegedly devout; the latter a non-practicing Jew. Both people’s incomes are mid six figures or better.

Naturally politics came up, and my voting for Obama caused quite a stir. Both chided me for lapsing into liberalism in my dotage. Good thing I didn’t tell them I gave my tax rebate to the local food bank, they’d have thought me insane. I was soundly lectured on the financial implications of voting “Liberal” versus Republican, and pretty much dismissed as having succumbed to opiate induced delusion.

I understand their perspective. For forty some years I voted strictly based on my wallet, and the rights of gun ownership [read: Republican]. But the past eight Bush years have cured me of that. My thinking is broader now. But even before retirement, when I was making the big bucks, I never lost sight of my humanity.

If a good employee got drunk, we didn’t just fire him, we sent him to a program and paid for it (we were non union by the way). If an employee couldn’t pay their rent because their spouse missed work caring for their sick kid, we’d float a long term no interest loan, or give them money from the company welfare account.. We could have paid less, but we paid more or as much as a union shop. And we didn’t do these things only to be altruistic. We did them with our businesses interest in mind. It attracted and retained good employees, it cemented their loyalty, it made for a better relationship between staff and management, reduced absenteeism, reduced the need for overtime and seasonal staff with higher productivity. Inventory shortage shrank. It’s a win win for everyone.

Yep, I want to see people being able to afford to heat their house this winter, and winters to come. Yes, I feel badly when I see old folks at the food bank or young couples with kids in tow that they can’t feed on their own. Guilty, that I am discouraged at the migration of jobs overseas, the growth in unemployment, that people are struggling to buy food and gasoline, and pay for their homes in tough economic times. Mea culpa, but I don’t want to see a sick kid suffer because his parents can’t afford to take him to a doctor. That “I’ve got mine.” doesn’t satisfy me. It didn’t before I retired, it doesn’t now.

The government isn’t the answer to all these ills, but it has a role to play directly or indirectly. If that makes me some kind of half assed “liberal”, well I suppose I can live with that. On the flip side: if some one is capable of working, can find a job, but won’t lift a hand to help themselves ... let ‘em starve. If that makes me a fascist, I can live with that too. But you see, it’s not all altruism. There is some self interest.

Just as I am convinced it’s in our country’s best interest to reestablish America’s international influence, credibility and military strength which has been all but destroyed over the past eight years by a demented “divinely inspired” jingoism and self righteous “religious crusade” to spread our culture; just as I decry the complete reversal of Teddy Roosevelt’s admonishment, instead speaking loudly but not even possessing a stick to carry… so too I am convinced that it is in our best interest not to see a larger percentage of our populace descend into homelessness, succumb to the cold, go hungry, or suffer from curable illness because of influences largely beyond their control.

If Obama is elected, and doesn’t improve our standing abroad, and our domestic condition, we get to do it again in four years. Continuation of Bush’s policies via McCain holds out no promise at all.

Some people will deny the importance of our declining national prestige; down play the threat of the fanatical fundamentalist Religious Right to our freedoms; and ignore the implications of a conservative shift in the Supreme Court. These same people will turn a blind eye to the suffering and gradual dissolution of the middle classes and what it foreshadows ... and all this to ensure retention of 2 or 3 percentage points of their earnings. It’s narrow thinking.

“I’ve got mine.” is as shitty a philosophy as was “Let them eat cake!”

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Why do Christians endorse tyranny? Just thank Paul.

Nothing speaks more of Saul of Tarsus’ / AKA Paul’s credulity, blind stupidity, and rejection of reality than his own writings. This one is classic:

Romans 13
13:1 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.
13:2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation13:3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same

Understand what Paul is saying here: Governments do not act against good people; it only acts against citizens who are evil. Thus, do not resist your rulers, for they have been placed there with God’s blessing.

In effect he was saying tyranny does not exist. And yet, if history has taught us anything it’s that a people’s own rulers have committed the most hideous acts against their most innocent citizens. A few notable examples among many more:

The Spanish Inquisition
The extermination of the French Cathars
Russian pogroms against the Jews
Stalin’s “purge”, deportations, and starvation of his own Soviet countryman
Nazi Germany’s “final solution” / The Holocaust
Pol Pot’s murder of 1/4th of Cambodia’s population
Sudan’s ethnic cleaning in Darfur
Extermination of Muslims by Christian Serbs in Kosovo

Those leaders were “ordained of God”?
Those rulers did not commit “terror to good works”?
The millions of victims of their governments had no reason to be “afraid of the power”?
And it was, or would have been, wrong for these people to “resist the power”?

I doubt one out of ten thousand Christians are even aware of these verses. Of those few who have actually read the bible most probably had no idea what Paul was saying, and just flew over it. But the Evangelical Christian Right Fundies buy into it, endorse it, 100%.

So, the next time you hear a fundie Christian say ...

“You shouldn’t fear uncontrolled governmental wire taps, illegal search and seizure, arbitrary access to your library book withdrawals, unhindered invasion of your internet access, being added to the no fly list, UNLESS YOU ARE AN EVIL DOER AND HAVE SOMETHING TO HIDE!”

... remember from whom these bleating sheep got their mindless acceptance of tyranny from a leader chosen by God; from an ignorant Roman sycophant named Paul who insisted government leaders are empowered by God, and would never act against you if you’re innocent.

One can only wonder if Paul rethought his position just before Nero had his empty head cut off.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Faith Healers: The Ultimate Testament to Christian Delusion.

Do a Google search for “faith healers” and you’ll get to watch YouTube videos of the most despicable and bizarre acts of cruelty, deception, and gullibility on the face of the planet.

Diabetics, children with spin bifida, wheelchair bound paralytic elderly, people with practically every known malady come to these “revivals” desperate for a chance to have some self proclaimed agent of God heal them, where medical science could not. They come expecting that their faith in God, and faith in this man who claims to be the conduit for God’s healing power, will make them whole, will resurrect their dead organs, their disintegrated nerve cells, and their wasting muscle tissue.

Of course, time permits only a very few to be selected to receive a face to face laying on of hands by this agent of JESUS. And some will invariably collapse to the floor upon the electric touch of the healer, jump up, claim to be healed, and fade immediately into obscurity, never to be seen again, nor their medical histories made available for examination. How convenient.

So many others, the truly ill and incurable, are used as just so many pawns. When they are challenged before the thousands of eyes of the faithfully expectant, as to whether or not they felt the power of GAWD enter their bodies through the slap to their forehead, or a kick to their chest, their options are two fold: Say “YES, Thank You JAYSUS!!”, and be praised by the frenzied multitudes, be the focus of their hallelujahs, prayers, and waving of hands by their fellow sheep; or say “NO”, and be dismissed as lacking faith and given the bums rush from the stage to clear the way for the next act . There are genuine and immediate benefits to saying YES.

And yet, whenever those claiming to have been healed can be found by skeptics and debunkers, invariably there are two outcomes: either the perfectly healthy “healed” person can produce no medical records or genuine accredited physicians who will attest to their original illness; or the person is still in their wheelchair, still paralyzed, still succumbing to their disease, etc.

None of this is a new revelation. All of it has been documented by debunkers and the media for years. Faith healers are exposed regularly for their tricks and accomplices in the audience, for their less than holy life styles and illegal money making schemes. The Benny Hinns, the Todd Bentleys, the Peter Popovs, the Theodore Wolmarans, the W.V Grants, the list of the disgraced and exposed is legion.

And yet the faithful keep coming, they keep believing, they keep trusting and tithing. Every newly anointed healer, with their promise of having a divine gift brings the bleating flocks of the desperate ready willing and able to be duped and sheared of their money. Even those who were wheeled or climbed onto that stage and had their heads touched but who, sometimes after a brief improvement due to the placebo effect, are still succumbing to their illnesses, even they retain their belief that something good has or will eventually happen. There seems to be nothing that can shake them from their self deception and involuntary servitude to delusion.

While my reasoning side tells me to despise these sheep for their ignorance, gullibility, credulity, and blind denial of reality, more so even than the charlatans who prey upon them; my …what shall I call it … “humanity?” makes me just pity them. Not for the incurable illness of their bodies, but for the incurable illness of the mind that is the religious meme.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Loosing My “Faith” in America, a Country in Distress

With approximately sixty days before the national election, I have become less and less optimistic about the direction this country is going, and where it will end up. The reason? My realization that a large percentage of people in this country are utter morons.

There are some number of voters out there who claim they were once avid Hilary Clinton supporters, but because of the type of genitals the Republican VP nominee possesses, are now voting for McCain, abandoning any social or economic principles they ever had. Or maybe they are just using that as an excuse so they don’t have to vote for a black man. Who knows.

People who will enthusiastically support a Presidential candidate who 8 years ago decried the intolerance of the Evangelical right wing and it’s hold on his party, and now has abandoned that perspective, embraced them, and named an evangelical VP nominee in a move to placate them.

A VP candidate who believes the victims of rape and incest must be forced to bear children against their will. Who is a creationist, and would like to see her religious tenets taught alongside evolution in public schools.

A VP candidate who still believes preaching abstinence only to kids will counter adolescent sexual urges and protect them from unwanted pregnancies, in spite of the obvious fallacy that stares her in the face over the breakfast table.

A VP candidate who’s claim to foreign experience is having been a less than two year governor of the state “closest to Russia”, as the intellectually astute beer heiress and would be First Lady explains.

A VP who will be one heart beat away from the Presidency of a 72 yr old cancer survivor, but who has less experience in national or international affairs than 90% of the congressmen and senators in the legislature / 70% of sitting governors.

While the list of her questionable decisions and actions as governor and mayor continue to be unearthed and scrutinized by the media, the Right Wing attempts to ignore them while endlessly fawning over, and trying to legitimize and glorify, this cynical and purely political decision. Its transparency, its insincerity, its disingenuousness and its lack of benefit to the nation is obvious to anyone who still has a functioning brain stem.

But what frightens me more than anything is that the rank and file Republican mind sheep, the under educated, myopic thinking, one theme Christian devotees, consider her nomination some kind of brilliant revelation … a miraculous gift from God. Never mind that we may well find ourselves with this un vetted political novice, duplicitous hack, religious fanatic, and “moose hunting hockey mom” in the position of the world’s most powerful office sometime over the next four years. None of this matters to a vast number of Americans. What matters is she’s an Evangelical Christian fanatic, a woman, an ultra-conservative, and rabid anti-choice.

If this is the best the country can do; if this is what “energizes” the masses; if this is what we have come to as a country; then this country is in distress. I hold little hope for our future. I will mourn the final demise of our nation’s once proud status as western civilization’s bastion of benevolent measured power, intellectual and scientific advancement, and personal freedoms.

As if any semblance of that still exists after the past 8 years.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Christian Speak Translated Here

It’s just after three PM on Labor Day. I’m listening to a report about hurricane Gustav on NPR. The commentator is phone interviewing hurricane evacuees from Mississippi, areas of which are being hit harder than New Orleans.

One woman proudly explains in an upbeat voice steeped in a redneck southern accent:
“Well, looks like my house is under water. They say it crested at over 16 feet, and my house is at 16 feet. But I’m used to it. I lost a house to a hurricane five years ago, lost my second house to Katrina, now losing this one. But I’m not worried, God takes care of everything.”

To those who aren’t versed in Christian Speak this probably sounds confusing. One would not be mistaken to conclude that a number of things are very very wrong with that woman’s thinking. For instance, one might think:
“Hey, imbecile, maybe you should stop rebuilding your hovel in a flood zone.”; or
“God’s been trying to take care of everything alright, but you keep escaping anyway.”; or
“Has it occurred to you that if a God existed who gave a fiddlers phuck about you he’d stop screwing over you and your continuously flooded brethren in the first place?”

But to those of us who have studied Christian Speak here’s what “God takes care of everything” actually means.

It means that she has Federal Flood Insurance, for which she pays next to nothing because of her poverty / low income status. It’s funded entirely by tax payers who will bear the cost to rebuild her home and replace its furnishings with very little out of pocket expense to the home owner herself. So, what does she care if she gets a new home every three to five years as long as the government is stupid enough to keep throwing good money after bad?

You might say: “But that’s got nothing to do with God/gods or the supernatural?”, and you’d be correct of course. But to Christians who’s minds cannot make a distinction between supernatural intervention and the reality of taxation and misguided / mismanaged governmental programs, every handout, every avoidance of having to bear the brunt of financial disaster themselves, means GOD has worked his miracle. GOD has intervened. GOD takes care of everything.

The bureaucrats who will assess her loss, write the check, and hand her our tax dollars are simply agents of God, angels who will lift this woman from her homelessness to her newly built government supplied housing. And she won’t thank you or I for building her miserable little house. Her imaginary sky buddy will get the credit. Hallelujah Sister!!!

Christian Speak … a marvelous invention of the self deluded. Just slightly more annoying than talking in tongues.