Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Brutality, Savagery, and Stupidity of Religion in Two Nut Shells

When American journalist James Foley was beheaded by a fundamentalist Muslim  terrorist organization, ISIS, and  the horror of it video taped for the world to see,  it exemplified the very worst that religious fervor brings to civilization. 

The moderate apologists of Islam will insist that it was not driven or endorsed by Islam and Islamic doctrine, which is a “religion of peace”, but by “not true Muslims” who have co-opted Islam for a political purpose. The problem of course is that to religious fundamentalist extremists of any flavor politics and religion cannot be separated, they are one in the same.  It is as true now in Islamic theocracies, and among Christian right wing Republicans who’d happily see the USA a theocracy, as it was in the days of the Hebrew King David, the Egyptian pharaohs, and the Holy Roman Empire.  And in those times and places, the political imperative was marked by brutality and savagery that was justified and spurred by religious belief.

This newest horrific and rabid form of Islam is akin to a mutation of an already deadly virus, one for which there is no cure. For a cure, it would take universal acceptance of reason, and rejection of religious delusion and justification, and that is nowhere in sight.

It will become a world wide epidemic spreading fear, violence and death as it attracts and infects new blood from the ranks of moldable “Moderate Muslims” ripe for radicalization.  When and how this will end, how civilization will deal with this throwback to a Dark Age uncivilized abomination, I cannot predict, no one can. I am reasonably certain that it will get worse before it gets better. And I am very certain I will not live long enough to see the final outcome. I wish I could foresee some sage, positive, hopefulness, but the fact is I got nuthin’ to offer in that regard.

So much for the savagery and brutality of religion; now onto the nut shell of stupidity. 

This evening as I listened to the local news I heard a woman from James Foley’s hometown here in New Hampshire say this: “I said the Rosary every day for James while he was captive.  And now I say it for his family.” 

Obviously the complete and utter irrationality of what she said is entirely lost on her.  For over a year she prayed the repetitive and droning Rosary everyday appealing to the Virgin Mary to intercede on her behalf to cajole and convince Jesus/God to save Mr. Foley and deliver him from evil…only to have it fail with such horrible finality.  But never mind… now she’ll do the exact same prayerful appeals to Jesus/God on behalf of the Foley family and hope for a better result... whatever that may be.  Stupidity.    

James Foley was himself a devout Catholic.  He wrote a piece about his captivity in Libya in 2011. Here is an extract:
”If nothing else, prayer was the glue that enabled my freedom, an inner freedom first and later the miracle of being released during a war in which the regime had no real incentive to free us. It didn’t make sense, but faith did.” 
I imagine James Foley was praying all during his captivity in Iraq. Alas, his god, AKA the odds, didn’t favor him this time.  If prayer and belief gave him courage and strength during that time, and as he was about to die, then it played the only good role the lie and delusion of prayer and religion can deliver. And I’m hopeful for his sake that it did.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Why I hate the South: with apologies to my freethinking Southern friends and readers ...again.

Well, it's happened again.  My unabashed disdain for the South, its religiosity, and backward social culture has gotten people's panties in a wad. I was taken to task by an Austin, TX freethinker for "delighting" in denigrating the region in general and TexASS in particular.  My reply follows.  If I have touched on this subject before, my apologies...but it's elephants that never forget, not camels.

"Every state in the nation has, or has had, its embarrassments- but Southern states seem to make stupidity and obscenity a point of cultural pride. And I recognize that every Southern state  has its strongholds of reason. Austin is one of a handful in TexASS. Hell, I'm sure there are some civilized niches in Somalia and Nigeria as well.

I do not 'delight' in badmouthing the South. It pains me that it is what it is. I've had this discussion with many southern atheists, and I'm on record (about 100 times) as declaring my respect and admiration for freethinkers who survive, keep their sanity, and prosper in the Bible Belt, in spite of their being surrounded by religious nuts, right wing fanatics, and the grossly undereducated with 19th century mindsets.

But I don't make up the FBI, or Pew Survey, or US dept of HE&W, or any of the stats from esteemed organizations which I oft quote that prove the South to be the veritable 3rd world segment of our nation...never mind the fact that a disproportionate number of people in the south are on gov't assistance, and yet those states invariably vote GOP.

Look I'm not inflexible, I'm prepared to revise my position when reason starts to prevail in the South. When Governors do not openly promote Christianity / or do photo ops manning machine guns at the border (Perry), or conduct exorcisms (Jindal), or declare God's wrath is upon the nation for its sins (Huckabee) just to mention three of the most outrageous examples; when its school boards stop trying to promote Creationism as science and influence other states school books accordingly; when citizens stop parading in the streets, restaurants and stores with loaded AKs and AR-15s.

When public school athletic teams stop praising Jesus on the field; when having the highest execution rate in the nation isn't a point of pride; when the investment in education meets the other regions and the calculated average IQ of the South rises to meet them as well; when laws aren't passed forbidding a doctor (on pain of losing their license) from asking their patients about guns in the home (FL). 

When their judges stop insisting Ten Commandment monuments are their right on government property (Alabama) ; when it stops spawning the nation's most grotesque televangelist charlatans and born again haters (i.e. Hagee,  Robertson, Osteen, Falwell,  et al); when it stops passing laws to prohibit reasonable access to abortions and  prohibiting gay marriage; when poverty is considered a challenge to be fixed and not an imposition; when the crime rates, and unemployment rate, and standard of living indices improve, THEN I'll be the first one to welcome the South into modernity.Until then, screw the South. Fuck TexASS. To Hell with the Alamo. Long live Santa Anna ."

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Annual Jehovah’s Witness Visit: Hump bets his atheism, finds no taker

A car sets off the driveway alarm on this beautiful Sunday afternoon.   I pop out to greet a minivan loaded with six middle aged folks dressed in suits and dresses.  Only the leader of the pack ventured forth: a forty-something, short stocky guy in a pinstripe suit, dark blue shirt, and floral tie. With a tie bar. 

“Lemme guess…don’t tell me.”  I implored, ”JW’s right?”
”Yes, how did you know?”
”Because the Mormons usually wear short sleeve white shirts, black ties and no jackets…and only travel in twos or threes.  You seem to have the whole congregation with you.”  He smiled broadly.

Right off the bat I give my bona fides: atheist; author of two books on religion; write an atheist / anti-theist blog; been atheist since my teens;  atheist in a foxhole; studied religion as a minor in college; read the KJV and NIV; and dismiss all religion and all gods as a throw back to when men believed the sky was a firmament. 

He began to sweat, and mopped his brow with his free hand. In the other he held copies of their Watch Tower publication, the Bible, and another pamphlet. I offered him and his hoard a cold drink and use of the bathroom.  He declined graciously on their behalf.

”If you read the Bible you know it has all the answers.”  He offered. “I didn’t fully understand God until I read the Bible.”  I explained that having read the bible only reinforced my dismissal of god as fable and myth, and the original writers as misogynistic, blood thirsty, Bronze Age and first century C.E. cultists. He looked perplexed.

”If the bible has all the answers then you should be able to answer this:  Why did god command a woman’s hand be chopped off, and for her to be shown no mercy, for coming to the aid of her husband and grabbing the genitals of her husband’s attacker?”

He had zero idea what I was talking about. 
“Deuteronomy 25, I think. That’s the Old Testament” I offered snarkishly.   “And please, no ‘CONTEXT’ reply, since I’ve yet to hear anyone give me the context in which god comes off looking good, kind, loving and merciful for demanding a ‘hand sandwich’ for a grope.”   

He thumbed feverishly to find the verse.  While he searched  I asked how is it if god has all the answers that there are 30,000 Christian  sects and denominations who perceive the so called answers differently, as well as the questions? Why couldn’t his god been more specific?

And how is it god forgot to out law slavery, and instead established rules for when a master can beat a slave? And why no prohibition against pedophilia?  

He was digging for his glasses now, fumbling with his bible. “Well, we don’t go by the Old Testament anyway…Jesus established a New Covenant replacing the old.”

”Oh, so what’s your position on gay rights and gay marriage?”  I queried.
”Well, we are obviously opposed to it, since it is an abomination to God.”
”But, that’s the OLD Testament, the OLD Covenant”  I reminded him, “Jesus established a New Covenant.  So unless you are keeping Kosher, and stoning your unruly child, are you saying you are cherry picking what parts of the ‘old covenant’ you will keep as god’s law and what parts you’ll disregard?”

This is where he asked me what I meant by “kosher.” I patiently explained about pork, shell fish, and other food sources that the Old Testament prohibits. He nodded as though he had heard of this but had briefly forgotten.

”Well…no, we don’t pick and choose. But being against gay marriage is just common sense be sides, it’s in the New Testament. There are rules against homosexuality there as well.”  

”Ah…but any reference against homosexuality in the New Testament would have been by Paul.  I thought you followed the word of Jehovah, and his son Jesus Christ…not Paul as an intermediary, who never even met Jesus. You’re not Paulists are you?”

”No, no, not at all!  But I’m sure Jesus said something about homosexuality.” he offered feebly.  He started leafing through the Bible again, abandoning the Deuteronomy amputation clause research.  Things were obviously not going according to his plan and script. He was frazzled.

”Tell you what.  If you find where Jesus specifically speaks against homosexuality… against man lying with man, or woman with woman; I’ll become a JW.”

I could have sworn at that instant the guy was having a vision of heaven, or was hearing a heavenly choir, or experiencing religious ecstasy. He positively lit up. He asked for my email and said he’d find and send the chapter and verse to me.  He extended his hand as if he was about to make a deal with the Devil which he figured was at worst a no lose situation. That’s when I hit him with the down side clause:

”Naturally… if you can’t find Jesus’ personal admonishment against homosexuality, you’re going to give up your faith and become an atheist. Right?” He withdrew his hand, with a sheepish smile and quickly opted out of the bet.

As we said our goodbyes, the group asked where the camels were, referring to the Camel Ranch sign at the top of the driveway .  I explained we’re between camels right now…well… except for me. “I’m known as the Atheist Camel. You can find me on Google.”   They smiled and chuckled softly, then drove down the drive way to their next…hopefully less educated … potential convert.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Leaving your children orphans for a fable gets no kudos from me.

"I thank God that everyone prayed for them."  Said the brother-in-law of Miriam Ibrahim, the Sudanese Christian woman who made her way back to her home in New Hampshire last week.  She was met at the airport by representatives of both our State senators, the Sudanese community from Manchester, NH,  and throngs of news media.

You’ll recall the story:  Born to a Muslim father and Christian mother, she was raised Christian since the age of six.  On a visit to Sudan she was detained when one of her relatives reported that she is an apostate from Islam who married outside her religion.  Given the opportunity to denounce her Christianity, she opted not to - preferring death before denunciation of her belief. She was sentenced to death by the court. It was to be carried out after she gave birth to her second child who was born in the prison.

World outrage and behind the scenes negotiations by Italy and the US, which no doubt included the promise of financial support or the threat of it being withdrawn from Sudan, succeeded in getting the woman released one piece.  No god things need take credit… thank social media and the power of the dollar. 

But, Oh … how the images of great Catholic Saints rushed before the eyes of the devout masses at the thought of a young woman ready to die for her god, her devotion, her ancient mind virus and delusion brought to Africa by soul saving white missionaries.  How brave, how holy, how noble, how utterly insane and grotesque.

Look, don’t misunderstand - I’m happy she’s home and safe.  Not for a minute would I wish otherwise -  if not for her sake certainly for the sake of her two children. But the fact is I have no praise for this woman.  She’s no hero. She’ll get no accolades for standing by her faith from me.  This woman was prepared to permit her toddler, and new born baby, to go motherless in the name of lies, foolishness and superstition.  In the least she could have denounced Christianity to her oppressors, gone home, and said: "Ha!  Fooled ya! Up yours, Mohammed!"

Had she been threatened with death for not divulging the names of fellow apostates in country; or the names of anti-government freedom fighters; had her children’s lives been threatened if she did not offer to forfeit her life; had she been a spy for America threatened with execution if she didn’t give up her Sudanese contacts … then she would deserve praise and the accolade of hero.  But to die for a lie, a myth, for a thankless image of a long haired / long dead so called Jewish man-god and the carrot like promise of an afterlife in paradise, while leaving your children motherless?  No…that’s simply obscene.

She has had her fifteen minutes of fame.  She had her meeting with a congratulatory pope. Likely she’ll have a book deal that will pay her well. And that’s the end of that. But I am something of an optimist as it relates to the next generation. With any luck her children will one day ask her about her brush with death for her refusal to denounce her belief, and after considering the alternative out come will offer: “Mom...that was pretty fucking stupid.”