Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Wrath of GOD is Coming! So what’s all the excitement about?

As I type this I’m listening to the TV reports on hurricane Irene. Still many hundreds of miles away from NH it is nevertheless creating much consternation here in the North East. The track of the storm is now projected to pass immediately over our tipi.

Touted as perhaps the most dangerous hurricane on the east coast in the past seventy years, the news reports are filled with advice on how to prepare. Home Depot has already run out of generators in many areas. Plywood is at a premium in the South. The supermarkets have reported heavier than normal volume in the Carolinas. People are evacuating the outer banks and heading for high ground to escape the storm surge.

But with all this preparation, all this hand wringing, all the activity my only question is ... why?

Those claiming to be US Christians represent 76% of our country’s population. The majority of those Christians believe that their god created the planet, all its inhabitants, all the mountains, everything in the universe...Bam! ...created. This would also mean their god gets credit for creating weather, and according to Bill O’Reilly, the tides. God doesn’t screw up, he’s perfect. He has a purpose and a plan for everything and everyone, as any true Christian will tell you. So WTF is all this preparation all about?

In the early 1700’s a Middle Eastern visitor to London walked through a typical London rain shower carrying a previously unknown implement ...the umbrella. The residents, good Christians that they were, hurled insults, rocks and mud at the dry fellow. Their logic was pure and simple: if God maketh the rain to fall upon plants, animals and humans alike how dare a man challenge God and his well devised plan?

You have to respect that kind of religious think. Oh, not for the obvious idiocy, but for the consistency of illogic that it represents. No back sliding Christians there, no siree. (One has to wonder how they justified hats and roofs).

Their position was representative of a true belief in and respect for God’s Creation and His plan. Yet today nary a Christian can be found on the entire East Coast who is refusing a rain poncho, hasn’t laid in supplies of chips and beer, hasn’t topped off their generator, hasn’t boarded up their windows or hauled their boat out of the marina. Not one has failed to throw an extra tarp over their hovel, or jack up their double-wide above the high water mark. Oh they of little faith.

Pat Robertson knows that hurricanes are part of God’s plan. He credits God with using them to kill homo tolerating heathens en masse, and with a vengeance. If a good Christian opposes gay marriage and gasps at the sight of two women holding hands, what do they have to be “afeared” of?

This frenzied preparation on the part of the faithful shows a complete lack of respect for God’s omni-benevolence. A dissing of God’s intended plan. A blatant lack of faith in the Baby Jesus’ love. If they were TRUE Christians they would just sit back and watch the destruction confident and safe in the knowledge that God’s wrath will be appropriately directed. And if by chance they and their family are killed by a stray wind blown 2x4, or drown in a storm surge it’s all’s all God’s plan. After all, God does NOT fuck up.

Friday, August 19, 2011


I have known fear.

I’m not just talking about the fear one has of snakes, or when spooked by a prankster in a Halloween mask, or the fear that releases a quart of adrenalin into your blood stream following a near miss head on collision. I’m talking about the unrelenting all encompassing fear that stays with you, unabated; a fear that life as you know it can / might / will change for the worse and there isn’t a whole lot you can do about it.

I experienced that kind of fear almost every day and night for a year when I was in Vietnam. I felt that fear when I was diagnosed with cancer. I felt it when we thought our hospitalized eldest son was going to die, and when my wife had an embolism. Fortunately all of those events turned out for the best.

Mrs. Hump tells me that I am a worry junkie - that worrying for me is like the pleasure one gets after they’ve been banging their head against a concrete wall for an hour feels so good when you stop. But, the fact is what I’m feeling right now goes much deeper than simple worry.

This morning’s poll results show Obama with a 26% approval rating, his lowest since his election. Fact is that even though I voted for him, and will again baring some unforeseeable sea change, I’m not terribly impressed with Obama’s performance myself. He has fallen way short of his pre-election rhetoric on a variety of issues. If polled I’m not sure I could give him my unqualified seal of approval either.

The darlings of the Teabaggers - Michele (“subservient to my husband/God speaks to me”) Bachmann, and Rick (“get down on your knees and pray to Jesus/ I was called by God to run”) Perry are now among the front runners in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. Normally I’d shrug it off and say “typical GOP morons.” But this is different.

American’s are by and large stupid. Evidence for this abounds. :

  • The percentage of Americans who reject evolutionary theory is 59%, the highest percentage of evolution deniers among all 30+ Western nations except Turkey.

  • We have among the highest percentage of superstionalists of all the Western nations except Italy and Greece, with 65% saying religion is important to their daily lives.

  • The math and science test performance of US high school students versus other industrialized nations is abysmal with our high school graduates ranking 16th in science, 19th in math, out of 21 industrialized nations.

  • The willingness of so many Americans to equate degree of religiosity to patriotism and denial of the Wall of Separation admonishment of our founding fathers.

Taken as a whole its clear we are not a nation of “rocket surgeons.”

Combine that with a weak economy, high unemployment, growing national debt, and financial uncertainty among a populace that is largely accepting of intermingling religion with government in spite of the constitutional prohibition against it, and the mood of the mindless seems to be congealing into something resembling The Blob on steroids.

It’s the thing bad choices are made of. Choices that could have far reaching and long term implications for the nation - for proponents of a secular government; for proponents of real science in our school rooms; for proponents of equality regardless of ones sexual orientation; for proponents of merciful, dignified, civilized treatment of our least able citizens; for proponents of a woman’s right to retain control over her uterus; for proponents of war only as a last resort; for proponents of a nation of the People not of the Corporation.

I have known real fear. I’m scared now.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Next time I’ll just say “GOD, NO!”

I don’t often do book reviews on my blog. I’ll leave reviews on amazon , but my blog is largely dedicated to ... well, lets face it... me and my perspectives on things religious.

But when the publisher Simon & Schuster asked me to accept a free copy of a famous personage’s latest tome, someone I respect and whose views I share and humor I appreciate; and asks me to post a review on my blog ...well, convention gets pushed aside. It’s Penn Jillette from the Penn & Teller team! Penn, from the TV show “Bullshit!”. PENN, atheist and comedian and magician par excellence! Fucking A I’ll review it!

Now, see that word above ... “fucking”? This paragraph will contain the last use of that word in this blog post. I have no problem with the word fuck; it has its varied and legitimate uses. It’s a great word. But after reading the word fuck some four- hundred times over 230 pages (that’s 1.7 “fucks” per page) one becomes aware of its overuse. Fifty fucks is shock value. One-hundred fucks are fun and games. Four-hundred fucks is overkill. If one can’t dredge up enough wit without “fuck” dependency ... well, there’s a fucking problem

If that was the only problem with Penn Jillette’s "God, No! Signs you may already be an atheist, and other magical tales” I’d give it five stars. Unfortunately it goes much deeper than that.

The first forty to fifty pages are absolute genius. I found myself nodding in agreement with Penn’s disdain for agnostics, a point of view I have voiced here and in my books. I loved what he had to say about Christians who call atheists “know it alls who have all the answers” when in fact we are the first to say “I don’t know”, while religionists claim knowledge of the “absolute truth” without an iota of evidence. I laughed so hard reading about the antics of Extreme Elvis and the atheist conversion of Hassidim that I couldn’t read through the tears and actually had to put down the book lest I pass out from lack of oxygen.

But unexpectedly, like getting hit in the face with a brick filled pie, his on point and amusing commentary on atheism, religion, the foolishness of belief, and rejection of reality faded away. Without warning the tales descended into something less than magical. What followed were rambling, hideously detailed accounts of Jillette’s personal experiences and sexual exploits that have no detectable connection to the theme implied by the book’s title and promised by the opening chapters. Let me highlight a few of the most memorably forgettable chapters:

  • His naked weightless frolicing and vomit filled ride on a zero gravity airplane.

  • His naked field trip to a gay bath house in the 80’s.

  • His ruminating over his departed older sister whose most admirable quality was that she stated she’d sacrifice the lives of millions of innocents at the hands of an atomic bomb terrorist, rather than turn him in if the terrorist in question was her brother Penn.

  • His admiration for aged porn star Ron Jeremy’s genitalia and ability to perform fellatio on himself.

  • His love of strip clubs and lap dances and the importance of never denigrating an unattractive stripper.

  • His wager that he could have intercourse with a gorgeous large-breasted model while scuba diving which culminated in his masturbating in the ocean, providing a protein snack for the native fish. [Note: all of his many sexual exploits are with gorgeous large breasted women].

  • His obsessions with (A) nakedness (his own), (B) masturbation/ejaculation, and admiration for (C) surgically enhanced breasts, and (D) penises (mostly his own).

I didn’t count the number of references to those last four topics but if I were a betting man, and I am, I’d say one-hundred-fifty references would be a conservative estimate. (Note: that would be 0.65 exhibitionist, sex/masturbation, tits, and penis/cock reference on every page).

I’m as far from being a prude as one can be. I can appreciate ribald stories. I have been called a dirty old man since I was fifteen. But I kept looking for some meaning, some tie back to the primary topic, some redeeming quality and justification. I came up empty. Oh, for sure there were subsequent if somewhat forced stabs at bringing the atheism theme back into the forefront. But it seemed like an after thought given that the bulk of the book was devoted to the shenanigans of an aging, sex obsessed, self-indulgent, and eternal high school sophomore. I wanted desperately to like this book, because I love Penn Jillette. I suppose if I were a teenaged pimple faced kid I’d find it very cool. Instead, I found it a massive disappointment and inexplicably depressing.

Nevertheless, "God , No!" will likely be a big seller among hardcore admirers of Penn who will masturbate under the covers with a flashlight as they live vicariously through the imagery of Penn inserting his finger into a gorgeous model’s anus. He’ll make a ton of money from them, and from the betrayed unsuspecting fan who was seeking Penn’s insights on the religious culture war. I wish him well with that.

By the way, if the back cover blurb attributed to Richard Dawkins (Penn claims him as a friend) was actually written by Dawkins, he should be ashamed of himself. If it was written for Dawkins by a press agent that he shares with Jillette, he should sue the pants off the fu ... uh ... clown.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Christianity and Medical Progress: This will kill you....literally!

I have not read Beyond Belief: Two thousand years of bad faith in the Christian Church by James McDonald, but I have read excerpts; specifically the chapter that speaks to the history of religious obstructionism to advances in medical science.

In the first century AD, Greek physician Celsus was performing cataract operations. He understood the relationship between good hygiene and illness prevention. Amazing advances in medicine continued through the 2nd century AD. But then, with the death of the period’s most famous physician Galen of Pergamum, things screeched to a halt. His writings on medical procedures, anatomy, diagnostics, etc., were lost, likely the victim of Christian destruction.

From 300 AD to almost the end of the 17th century advances in medicine were slowed to a crawl. In the Middle Ages medicine actually regressed. Science and study was replaced with superstitious Christian concepts drawn from Biblical inerrancy which credited all cures to God’s hand just as all illness was a punishment of God; or the work of Satan; of demonic possession, etc. God was credited with curing of illness. If one lived or died it was by the hand of God, it was God’s will. Of course, prayer and penance could influence God’s decision as to the out come. A prayer to one’s patron saint could help too.

To propose man’s intervention, to attempt to alter the course of illness or improve ones chances of survival by actual medical application would be an affront to God; a challenge to God’s divine wisdom and plan. It was heresy.

People died young, and unnecessarily. Suffering prior to death was seen as a penance. Surgery was largely limited to bleedings, or tooth extractions by church edict. Dissections in universities were tolerated, but no research could be done. It was ostensibly an anatomy exercise, repeated without questioning or investigation or experimentation. The following is from McDonald’s book:

“A Greek thinker, Alcmaeon of Crotona, had identified the brain as the central organ in the higher activities of humankind around 500 BC, but 2,000 years later Christian authorities were teaching that the brain was merely a phlegm-secreting gland.”

And so it was when western civilization was ruled by The Church. As its grip was slowly loosened the re-birth of research, discovery, experimentation and the practice of real medicine had its resurgence. The discoveries of Celsus, 1400 years prior, began to be reintroduced in the 16th century even while the church retained authority over who could practice medicine and exactly how much latitude the physician had. Still, exorcisms, torture, mortification of the flesh was the Church’s preferred method to expel illness.

The Church’s obstruction of medical science even extended to their condemnation of small pox inoculations as late as the 19th century.

It continues today - constantly obstructing the health and wellbeing of those it claims to love and care so much about. In matters of reproduction, contraception, AIDS prevention it has a death grip on the minds of its most gullible and susceptible followers. Heart transplants are opposed by some Christian sects since it is considered the repository of the soul. Blood transfusions are forbidden by other sects. Medical care entirely rejected by others in favor of faith healing and prayer. The life of an adult woman is seen as secondary to the life of a deformed and near death infant. Stem cell research, which holds perhaps the most promising advancements to human longevity and quality of life in medical history is roundly opposed, and stringently limited because of Christian objection to the harvesting of stem cells from discarded fetuses.

Yet you will hear Catholics touting their religion’s contribution to education, proclaiming Catholicism the seed of the university system. You’ll hear them extol the discoveries of Gregor Mendel, or point to Dr. Christian Barnard’s religious roots as they stake their claim to the title of “enlightened.”

But then, why should they care about the deaths of millions brought about by religious brain washing and denial of reality? Why should Christianity want to see lives made longer on this planet when the promise of an imaginary paradise offers true relief from ones ailments? Why should the relief of life long pain and the ravages of disease be sought when pain is seen as sharing the suffering of Jesus, and disease part of God’s plan? Yet strangely, Popes, and Bishops, Cardinals and Monsignors will spare no expense on medical science advancements to keep their decrepit bodies, atrophied minds and useless existence in tact.

One can only imagine where medical science would be today had not Christianity impeded its progress and cursed mankind with its arrogance and devotion to superstitious stupidity. A pox on them.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Corrupt or Religiously Stupid?: NH Politician introduces bill to teach Creationism in science class

I have often touted New Hampshire’s status as the least religious state in the nation (tied with Vermont), where people’s religious perspectives, or lack of them, are usually kept to themselves and not shoved down peoples’ throats. I still maintain that I am largely accurate in that representation. But there are exceptions to every rule.

Gary Hopper, NH state representative for the 7th District mercifully does not represent my town in the NH legislature. His bio says he is a 2nd term Republican, is a machinist by trade, and has a High School diploma.

Gary is also a "Conservative Christian" who believes in the Judeo-Christian Creation myth, rejecting evolutionary theory as “just a theory” with a lot of problems. Not the least of which is that kids are taught that the origin of life is an accident, and thus has no purpose. The inference being that the kids will feel they have no purpose.

Gary doesn’t know that Darwin’s theory of evolution does not speak with authority on the origin of life on the planet, only the development of species through natural selection after life began. But hey, to Gary that’s just details. Rep. Gary Hopper is an asshat.

When I heard that Rep. Hopper is supporting legislation to make Creationism part of NH schools’ science curriculum I wrote him a very brief note:

You're an imbecile and embarrassment to NH.
I wish you represented my district so I could expose your religious infirmity and gross stupidity to your constituency and vote you out. Albeit, I think you already did the former.
Bart Centre

Not very tactful, but I’m not known for tact. I received the following reply:

Hi Mr. Centre,
You may be able to explain something to me. For a very long time I have wondered why do Atheist [sic] become so enraged at the mention of God?

I don't believe in Santa Claus but I am not angered by people who are [sic]. If you believe I am just ignorant what harm does that do to you and how can you detest something that doesn't exist?

Rep Hopper

Once again the obvious eludes the vapid mind of the religionist. It falls to me to educate him:


You are (no surprise here) confused. Atheists don't get angry at the mention of god/s. Nor do we detest god/s any more than we detest Moby Dick, or Darth Vader. It would be foolish to detest a fictional character.

You can mention your imaginary friend in church, at home, in the street, in your car, in your favorite restaurant, bar, Public Park, street corner, or anywhere you like. What atheists resent are people in positions of responsibility using their belief in an imaginary being [and fables] to dumb down education, further setting US students behind the industrialized nations in science; or to forestall scientific advancement that can better peoples lives and longevity; or impinge on the wall of separation; or to promote their religious symbols on government property; or to meddle in peoples sexual activity or truncate peoples' rights and freedoms and happiness by opposing homosexual marriage, or a woman's right to chose - because it offends their so called sky daddy.

We despise those religionists who do not know history and/or who seek to re-write history by implying this is a "Christian Nation", or that our Founding Fathers wanted it to be.

But I imagine this is all lost on you. I sincerely doubt you have the mental acuity to process this. Perhaps the only way you could understand it is if another representative proposed that the Hindu Creation story be taught in science classes; or the Mayan creation story; or if a Satan worshipper petitioned to say an opening prayer at the next legislative session. Then perhaps you'd understand. No doubt you'd go ballistic. That's called Christian Hypocrisy.

Now, be sure to put this on your fb page [as claimed to have been done with my earlier letter]. Maybe it will make sense to those who visit your page but still have a modicum of intellectual honesty, respect for reality, and understanding that Creationism is religion not science.

Yours in reason,
Bart Centre

Fact is I was almost convinced that this buffoon was getting money from the Religious Right to promote this absurd creationism bill, and he may well be. But, it wasn’t until reading his bio that I discovered I was dealing with someone who has a marginal education; who had never taken a course in reasoning, logic, ethics, comparative religions, or philosophy, much less advanced biology.

It’s entirely possible I misjudged his dishonesty and that he is in fact a simple minded superstitionalist with limited intellect who is not satisfied encumbering his own children with mindless fable in place of science, but feels compelled to do the same to all of NH’s children.

I’m not sure if I prefer a corrupt politician to a moronic one, the effect is often the same. I’ll ponder it further.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Buffalo Burgers, Believers, and Bibles: The Hump attends a Xtian BBQ

I love buffalo. I eat it at least once a week. I buy it from an elderly gentleman in the next town who has a few hundred acres of property that has been in his family since the 1800s. He taps maple trees for syrup and maple candy, and keeps about fifty head of buffalo.

On my last shopping visit to his place I was informally invited to a barbeque the following Saturday from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Not one to pass up a free buffalo burger I was in. As I was leaving with my six pounds of buffalo burger patties he admonished me to get there early “The benediction will be given by a State Police Trooper at 11:00, you won’t want to miss that.”


I know the old fellow is a believer and active in his church. He knows I’m an atheist. He knows that I know that the place will likely be overrun by his fellow church goers. I know that he knows that I know that this is not a problem for me as am not about to let a flock of superstitionalists spoil my appetite for free buffalo burger.

Mrs. Hump and I arrived right on time last Saturday ... 12 noon ... expecting to have safely dodged the Trooper’s prayer and the associated baaing of the sheep. No such luck. Evidently things got off to a slow start (or did he hold up the religious mumbo jumbo in anticipation of my heathen arrival?). As we came up the private road we could see the Trooper, in full uniform, with a microphone before the assembled bible bangers all with heads down, and hands folded in prayer.

Since their attention was occupied and eyes diverted I was able to quietly slip the Pathfinder in behind the Trooper’s cruiser on the side of the road unnoticed. And there we waited - inconspicuously, windows up, AC on - for the ritual to subside. I had hoped to see some hand-waving, or flopping around in the dirt or talking in tongues. But no, this is NH. Our religiously afflicted are classier than that. About all that stood out and seemed to separate them from “normal” non-church going folk was the glazed look on their faces and a submissive demeanor about them that testified to ... I don’t know what ... perhaps the fatalism that comes from turning responsiblity for your life over to an imaginary friend. Or maybe an attrophied mind.

In short order it was over. I was musing over whether the Trooper was holding a prayer meeting while on duty, my tax dollars supporting his religious moonlighting when Mrs. Hump poked me and we unassed the vehicle. She had brought some cake and added to the abundant food buffet. After congratulating our host on his 80th birthday we wandered over to the only other people we knew, a husband and wife pastor couple from our town. The husband is a pastor of a United Church of Christ and is a pretty normal guy. The UCC in New England is about as close to being agnostic as a Christian church can be. I call it the “the religionist’s waiting room pending acceptance of reason.” We exchanged niceties, talked about the effect the failed May 21st rapture prophesy had on my business and book sales; then the scent of charcoal broiled buffalo grabbed my senses and I drifted off to the food line.

I noticed there was a donation box for the church at the head of the line, along with a guest sign in book to wish our host a happy 80th. A skinny guy with the even skinner wife in front of me dropped in a $20. Dilemma ... do I really need to support a church, or is this expected as part of the feeding? Figuring my contribution wouldn’t affect the state of religious affairs of the universe too dramatically, I reached for my wallet. A $20, two $10s, and three singles were my complete bankroll. I did a quick calculation buffalo burger = $7.50 lb at retail. One burger = ¼ lb. Two burgers = ½ lb = $3.75.

I figured the cake we brought more than off set the value of the coleslaw, baked beans, and potato salad we’d glom up. And my host didn’t pay retail for his own burgers. I gingerly placed the three singles into the box, deftly covering them with the Skinny Guy’s $20.

“I know Elmer from church, I play the organ there.” Skinny Guy volunteered. “I know Elmer from his buffalo burgers; I buy a lot of them.” I countered. As I reached for the paper plate, plastic fork, and napkins I saw him eyeing me suspiciously (or so I thought, maybe it was just my imagination). “I’ve never seen you at church. Which church do you attend?”

I could feel the synapses in my brain firing at warp speed. Immediately all manner of potential responses filled my head. “None, you religious sheep.” was one. “Do I look like one of your Children of the Corn?” was another. “They don’t let the Anti-Christ sing in the choir.” was on the tip of my tongue. But I suppressed them all. “I don’t attend any church.” was the simplest and least offensive reply figuring that would end that. I was wrong.

“We’d be happy to have you in our congregation.” he smiled. I smiled back: “Well, actually I’m an atheist and anti-theist, so I don’t think your fellow congregants would share your happiness.” Skinny Guy looked a little skinnier and paler than he did before he plopped that burger onto his bun. “Oh, uh, you’re him ... I mean ... you're the author and pet rescuer.” he fumbled for words. “That would be my claim to fame, yes... I’m him.” I said unabashedly, amazed that my reputation preceded me. Elmer must have let the beans out.

There was no further conversation between us as we moved through the feeding line. His wife looked a little shaky in the knees. I guess that’s what comes of imagining you’re attending a barbeque with Satan’s minion and being so skinny. My wife looked a little perturbed with me; clearly she was not as happy with my selected response as was I, feeling it could have been more subtle. I don’t do subtle.

We didn’t stay too long. After eating we walked around, looked at the baby buffalos grazing in the pasture, petted a couple of dwarf donkeys, and said hi to the host’s pet emu. We left as inconspicuously as we had arrived.

I don’t know if my invitation is owed to my being a good customer and acquaintance of the birthday boy, or my quasi-celebrity as the open atheist, or if I was a target of a weak proselytizing attempt. I do know that the burgers were great, the baked beans awesome. I hope Elmer holds another bash for his 90th. I’ll still be a buffalo burger aficionado...and the only atheist there.