Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Reading Fodder for the Sheep

Fundie Christians on the whole are not voracious readers. I chalk it up to three reasons: First, they lack a degree of intellectual curiosity, having already settled in on their “eternal Truth.” Second, the most religious states not only have the worst literacy rates, they are often among the most lacking in disposable income. Books aren’t big sellers in Mississippi and Alabama proportionate to the rest of the country. Third, reading takes a degree of concentration, something that likely challenges many of the most devout.

When the literate among them do buy books the hardcore Christians will often buy whatever their minister recommends, something “uplifting” from the Christian book shop, or one written by their favorite TV evangelist. Pat Robertson’s unending supply of published buffoonery often makes the best seller lists. You can pretty much assume they aren’t being purchased by brain surgeons or rocket scientists. [Interestingly, even with the many thousands of copies his books sell, there are a very small number of reader reviews posted to amazon, even when compared to books that sell less than 5% of his book’s volume. I can only speculate as to why that might be].

Last week two of the top three bestsellers on amazon.com’s Religion and Spirituality list were Heaven Is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back, an account of a 4-year-old’s near-death experience as retold by his minister father. The other was Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, by Rev. Rob Bell, a minister who recently came under fire for proffering that hell doesn’t exist. Heaven is for Real also made the NY Times best seller “non-fiction” list. Non-fiction?! So much for the vaunted NY Time’s credibility.

Why are these books so popular? In the case of the first book what more could one want than to read about an innocent child’s real live (dead?) trip to the great beyond and back, and all the wondrous things he saw there. It’s a reaffirmation from the mouths of babes that what they believed all along is now “proven.” After all, how could anyone doubt a child’s words, especially when his Dad is a holy roller? This must give an enormous surge of confidence to the heaven bent set.

The second book feeds a similar hopeful feeling for some ... that heaven is real, but hell may not be. Whew! Now there’s some good news for the back sliding among them. Good news unless you are a fundie who delights in the thought of Barack Obama, Bill Gates and every Jew on the planet burning for an eternity in a lake of fire. Without assurance of eternal punishment for the heathens half the benefit of being a “true” Christian is lost. But I suspect some of those people will buy it as well, just so they can rail against the undermining of their carved in stone doctrine of hell.

If only they had a little curiosity about their beliefs and the secular world. If only they had the courage to pull back the curtain - just a tad - and peak in to see if there are any genuine insights worthy of consideration. If only they’d spend some mental energy reading a genuine science book or two to see for themselves the beautiful logic and evidence of evolutionary theory.

If only they’d try reading a work by biblical scholars like Robert M. Price, Bart Ehrman, Richard E. Friedman, or Jonathan Kirsch; experts whose understanding of comparative religion, the motives of the writers of the Tanakh and the New Testament, non-biblical historical documents, archeology, etc., would open a world of new information and understanding about the foundation of their religion and its doctrines. What could be the harm?

Never mind, I think I just answered my own question.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Camel celebrates "The Day of the Living Dead"

I really look forward to the coming holiday. It’s the one day of the year that I actually set aside to pay homage to the Trinity that has contributed so much happiness, given hope to billions, and has left an indelible mark that forever changed civilization.

I’m referring of course to the trinity of Messers John Cadbury the founder of Cadbury Chocolates; Sam Born the founder of Born Candy; and David Klein the founder of Jelly Belly Jelly Beans. Three men, fully human yet fully god, whose confectionary delights have given true meaning to Easter.

For what would the sacred Day of the Living Dead be if not for those scrumptious Cadbury eggs, sugary marshmallow Peeps, and colorful jelly beans? Truly, they are manna from heaven, a divine gift from the Creators to their worshipping masses.

It has been a ritual since our boys were the same age that the children of the Midianites were when the Lard saw fit to direct their extermination that my wife would prepare for the holiday by assembling the sacred elements of the Eucharist. She would go to the basement and reverently extract the Sacred Ark, a Rubber Maid bin marked with masking tape upon which is inscribed “Day of the Living Dead Vestments”. With our sons in their holy Oshkosh habits chanting the hymn “Here comes Peter Cotton Tail, hopping down the bunny trail...” it’s inspiring words echoing through the vaulted basement ceiling, invoking a feeling of awe, reverence and spiritual ecstasy, she would lead the procession upstairs. Once there, the Ark was placed upon the alter aka, the kitchen table.

Then the choir boys were dismissed to hunt for the “Day of the Living Dead Holy Chicken Embryos” which Mrs Hump, the High Priestess, and the boys had dyed two days earlier on “Good and Dead Friday.” Only then did she extract from the Ark the colorful woven baskets, hallowed hollow plastic eggs, and sumptuous imitation grass stuffing. As assistant to her Holiness, it was my role to hand her the prescribed number of confections aka, the Eucharist, which she nestled into their respective holiday vessels.

And while I’d often protest that there were an insufficient number of Cadbury eggs, or Peeps to satisfy the multitude, verily she was able to fill each basket to the brim creating a plethora of high fructose delights. Holy, Holy, Holy shit that is some good stuff!!!

And then, after the Host had been received with shouts of Hosanna, and the symbolic bodies of the Trinity of John, Sam, and David has been devoured with much relish, and the sticky blood of the Cadbury yokes was cleansed from the face and hands of the faithfully glutonous, one of the children will ask: "Dad, can we go to church now and worship the King of Kings?" Then we'd all burst into laughter pratically peeing our pants. Afterall, with all that candy how could we fit even one Whopper Junior into our bellies?
Glory to Imitation Flavor and USDA Yellow Food Coloring #6 in the Highest!!!!

May your holiday be just as sweet and fulfilling as ours have been. Amen!
Oh, and as for those who pervert the holiday into a celebration of an imaginary man-god’s zombie act... CLUCK EM’!!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

What's With Atheist’s Disdain for Liberal Christians?

I’ve noticed in atheist blogs and fb pages that there is often greater hostility directed toward liberal Christians than toward the fundamentalist whackos. I find this both confusing and disturbing.

A creationist - Young Earth - evangelizing fundie will be challenged with scientific theory and evidence, their tired old apologetics and fake science soundly discredited with a preponderance of evidence, and all with a level of respect one would afford a person who is actually in full possession of their faculties.

But, a liberal Xtian, who accepts evolution, rejects as parable the Noah’s ark fable, perceives Revelation as a horror story unworthy of belief, the Rapture as laughable, and who doesn’t feel compelled to proselytize everyone in the group is treated with less respect, not just by their Fundie brethren but by atheists as well. I understand the fundies’ reasoning, they despise those who are apostates from the strict “company line” because they bastardize, thus weaken the faith. But the attitude of some hardcore-activist atheists toward liberal Christians disturbs me.

Yes, as liberal Christians they pick and chose what they want to believe from the Bible; and yes, they have modified their Christianity into a hybrid of 21st century scientific reality and 2nd century credulity. True, they can't fully break free of the warm fuzzy “loving God” concept while they readily accept proofs of scientific fact; understand homosexuality to be a fact of nature and accept it as such; and even go along with women’s right to choose. And often they recognize that the Biblical authors had an agenda, and that the Bible is likely not the word of God. But instead of condemning and belittling them for their straddling-the-fence mentality, shouldn’t we welcome and encourage their small step forward into the world of reality?

Some atheists protest that it is the liberalized Christians that allow religion to continue; that those who modify the hard core basic Christian dogma and doctrine are simply prolonging religion’s s continuation / preventing its rapid demise by making it more palatable to be only partially deluded. Without the liberal hybridization of religion it would die off faster. I reject that.

Not everyone who is raised theist can easily dump it all at once and be “born again” into secular reality. Isn’t it beneficial to society if theists / Christians undergo a gradual transformation ... an evolution if you will … to modern thinking, skepticism and acceptance of reality? Shouldn’t we be encouraging those Liberal /Semi-thinking Christians instead of treating them like the proverbial red headed stepchild?

Yes, today’s liberal Christians maybe accommodationists but they are very likely the parents or grandparents of tomorrow’s freethinking children. I’ll happily settle for that over Jesus Camp supporting, “fag” hating, crusade-for-Christ-war-mongering, Christian Nation promoting, and global warming denying fanatical parents any day.

Tell me I’m wrong.

Monday, April 11, 2011

From “Give us Barabbas” To “Give us our Molesting Pastor.” The Cry of the Lemmings

I regularly visit a blog called “Deep Thoughts” written by internet friend and fellow free thinker “Mojoey.” Many of his posts are dedicated to exposing clergy who were recently indicted, arrested or convicted for theft, violence or sexual misconduct. It’s a worthy mission. http://mojoey.blogspot.com/

Time and again I have been stunned at the response of the congregations of these ministers, to the accusations leveled against them. But no more. Now I have come to expect it.

Invariably the congregations will side with the accused pastor while ignoring his history, the evidence, and the pain of the victims. From taking up collections for bail money, to searching the internet for blogs or newspaper reports in order to post their defense of their shepherd’s innocence, to overtly blaming and demonizing the victim -- there seems to be no limit to their capacity to elevate the accused and cloak him as the victim/ martyr.

I've tried to imagine something similar in a non-sectarian world. Would a secular club, fraternity, corporation, or non-profit organization solicit money from its members to post $350k in bail for a convicted sexual predator leader of the organization who has been indicted for committing multiple child rapes, the same crime he was convicted of 25 years previously? I can't think of a single historical example. http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2014648646_ministersex01m.html

So what makes the church going rush to the defense of, and dig deep into their own pockets for such people? I’ll proffer three reasons:

  • First, religionists imbue their shaman with demigod like status. After all, a man who acts as a conduit between them and god must be pure of heart and thus must be falsely accused.

  • Second, because they are so dependent on their shaman, so invested in him as an oracle and anchor in their lives, that fear of his loss is overwhelming and takes precedence over justice.

  • Finally, they are so gullible that they can be easily manipulated by the perpetrator’s friends and family to ignore the hand writing on the wall, irrespective of the preponderance of evidence against him and veracity of his accusers. Perhaps Satan is behind the victim’s accusations.

This speaks volumes about the effect of religion on their minds. It so fills the psyche that it leaves little room reasoned judgment or logical discernment. It is “group think” run amok.

I imagine if Pontius Pilate gave them the choice between setting free an impoverished homeless man arrested for stealing food, or their ex-con minister accused of new multiple child rapes, it wouldn’t be too difficult a decision for them. Pathetic theist lemmings.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Confusing Religiosity with Patriotism: A Peculiar Theist Defect

Nobody loves this country more than I. So much do I love it that in spite of its inequities and faults, I wouldn’t change a single word of the Constitution. It may not be perfect, but it’s the best document of its kind on the planet. There is no place else I’d rather live.

I love our flag. When I see it raised during the Olympic Games I feel pride. When I see it folded and handed to a veteran’s widow at a military funeral I can’t help but shed a tear. Forget about the effect the sound of echoing dual bugles playing “Taps” has on me. I don’t want to talk about that.

I love our service people. I think about them as they put their lives on the line everyday in places I wish they weren’t. I honor them on Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day, especially those who I served along side of in combat and who lost their lives. If called upon I would not hesitate to put my life on the line to defend this nation. I still can’t visit the Vietnam Memorial in DC. Forty-two years later, and it’s still too soon.

If what I wrote above was penned by a religionist there would be no question of their patriotic credentials. According to some number of Americans, Christians all, I do not qualify to be called a patriot because I have no belief in a supernatural spirit being. As an atheist I am something less than a full American, clearly not a patriot or so I have been told by President George H.W. Bush and those of similar religious fervor.

I recently visited a Facebook page with a patriotic title of “The Flag of the United States of America.” It immediately became clear that the page owner and its fans were war lovers and religious fanatics, as evidenced by a militaristic bent, bible quotes that extol the worship of God, and rants against those who would strip “under God” from the pledge, or who would drop “In God We Trust” from our motto and currency. The page followers were offering their own biblical verses, religious testimony, and “Amens” ad nauseum.

I scrolled down and came across a quote from Ben Franklin that referenced God’s all seeing and all knowing power; proof to these folks that our Founding Fathers were Christians, or more precisely, that God and Country were inseparable. Whether by ignorance or intent, the page owner and author of the post left out the fact that Franklin’s words were part of his suggestion to open the Constitutional Convention with a prayer to the almighty - an appeal that was soundly rejected by the majority of the Convention’s attendees, Aka our Founding Fathers. The motion was never adopted. I advised them of this, then promptly “unliked” the page lest some fb friends confuse me with a religious fanatic militarist.

Soon thereafter, a fb ad popped up on my page with a giant cross emblem that advertises The College of the Ozarks. Curious I clicked on it, and the first thing I was met with was this: “The vision of College of the Ozarks is to develop citizens of Christ-like character who are well-educated, hard-working, and patriotic.”

What is it about American religionists that make them insist belief in the supernatural is a qualifier, a prerequisite, for patriotism? How does believing in the supernatural transform one into a truer American?

  • Does Pat Tillman, the NFL football player who left a multi-million dollar career to volunteer for combat in the Middle East in the wake of 911 and who was killed in the line of duty, deserve less admiration because of his atheism?

  • Does Thomas Jefferson’s dismissal of Christianity - indeed his recorded distain for its doctrinal supernaturalism - strip him of the title patriot?

  • Does Lincoln’s statement that ”The Bible is not my book nor Christianity my profession. I could never give assent to the long, complicated statements of Christian dogma." diminish him or call his patriotism and love of country into question?

I’m not sure where this whole Jesus and the flag mindset started but likely it is a holdover from the cold war, McCarthyism, fear of losing our nation to the “Godless Communist Threat.” For certainly the introduction of God into the pledge and onto our currency was a direct result of those times and that fear. But that time is past. Jesus was not an American. He certainly never equated patriotism with support for war, much less endorsed either. It’s time for theists to stop confusing their religious delusion with a higher plane of patriotism and greater love of country. It is non-scriptural, divisive and damnably insulting.

If you’re face to face with me and have the urge to suggest that my love of reason and rejection of religious delusion diminishes my love of country, be sure to take your glasses off first. You won’t have time afterward.

Friday, April 1, 2011

More special treatment for the religiously challenged

Last week I discussed the Mormons in Utah who are largely given a pass on practicing bigamy/polygamy by Utah authorities. But they aren’t the only ones who demand (if not receive) special treatment by virtue of their superstition.

Recently American Muslims and Muslims of foreign birth passing from Canada into the US have been complaining that they have had certain of their religious precepts breeched by Border security. Horribly intrusive things like asking a Muslim woman to remove her veil to show her face and confirm her identity. It’s just too much of an imposition. They are quick to shout “freedom of religion” and invoke the Forth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure to protect their religiously required modesty.

Here’s a flash for those Muslims who want to be remained veiled on their drivers’ licenses, and who refuse to show their face to female Border Patrol agents: Your right to practice your religious delusion stops where it becomes a demand for special treatment not extended to people of other faiths or no faith at all. I can’t expect to cross the border into the US unchallenged wearing a Freddie Kruger mask, nor have my local DMV office put my preferred photo of me wearing a towel over my face on my driver’s license. Don’t want to expose your face? Don’t drive a car, and don’t attempt to enter/re-enter the country... problem solved.

Then there are the Sikhs whose male adherents are required by their religion to wear a ceremonial dagger at all times. They want to wear it on planes, in courthouses, and on public school property in violation of statues that prohibit the carrying of any weapons. If I can’t carry my secular pig sticker on a plane, their supernatural delusion and customs do not grant them a special pass to be armed.

If my own personal religion prevented me from being finger printed, it doesn’t excuse me from the practice in order to obtain security clearance, or a secure a pistol permit. My options are clear. Forego the job requiring security clearance and don’t carry a pistol concealed.

Look, religionists of foreign custom ... here’s the thing: You can walk around veiled, armed, and otherwise encumbered by your religious idiocy all you like. But when it comes down to being treated special and excused from common convention because of it that’s where accommodation of your religious rights come to a screeching halt.

If your god/ gods are going to be offended by you not wearing a knife for a few hours, or his briefs will get in a wad by your face being shown for thirty seconds, then you need to realize that you scraped the bottom of the belief system barrel and your imaginary god is an asshat. Find a new one. If your husband will have to kill you after the fact in order to protect his honor... you picked the wrong husband. Find another.

They have as much right to practice their religion as I have to not have religion, it’s all good. But the choice is theirs. They can adapt to this country’s culture, laws, and expectations of behavior, or forgo the benefits this country has to offer. Frankly, I don’t care which. Just shut up.