Category Archives: Religion

Astronomical events can still cause the overly religious to go nuts.

Source - Wikipedia

Source – Wikipedia

There was a Blood Moon a couple of nights ago which you probably heard about because news shows and publications had been talking it up for the better part of a week. If you’re not sure what it is, it’s just a lunar eclipse of a full moon which results in it taking on a reddish tint. Back before science explained exactly what was going on folks tended to take a blood moon as a portent of Very Bad Things About To Happen. Today most folks won’t even notice the event happening and those who do won’t think much of it.

Even the deeply religious won’t be too alarmed by it because it’s known to not be an unusual phenomena. However, when you get 4 of them in rapid (from a cosmological perspective) succession — as we will over this year and next — there are still a few True Believers™ out there who are ready to start predicting Very Bad Things About To Happen:

‘Blood moon’ sets off apocalyptic debate among some Christians – The Washington Post.

Recent books capitalizing on the event include “Blood Moons: Decoding the Imminent Heavenly Signs” by Washington state author Mark Biltz; “Blood Moons Rising: Bible Prophecy, Israel, and the Four Blood Moons” by Oklahoma pastor Mark Hitchcock; and “Four Blood Moons: Something Is About to Change” by Texas megachurch pastor John Hagee.

Naturally, it’s Hagee’s book that’s attracting the most attention because he’s making the biggest prediction:

This time, Hagee suggests that a Rapture will occur where Christians will be taken to heaven, Israel will go to war in a great battle called Armageddon, and Jesus will return to earth. Hagee planned a special televised event on Tuesday (April 15) on the Global Evangelism Television channel.

Yes, apparently Hagee has learned nothing from the stunning failures of other big Christian leaders making predictions about the end of the world and is declaring the coming blood moons are a sign of the End of the World! Nevermind the fact that this sort of thing has happened previously and isn’t all that uncommon. This time is different! Why? Cause Hagee said so!

“When you see these signs, the Bible says, lift up your head and rejoice, your redemption draweth nigh,” Hagee said in a sermon, according to the San Antonio Express-News. “I believe that the Heavens are God’s billboard, that He has been sending signals to Planet Earth but we just have not been picking them up.”

So the good news is we have until September 28th, 2015 before the apocalypse arrives to give everyone except the truly faithful a really shitty day. The bad news is we’re going to have to listen to Hagee and his ilk hype this shit up for another year and a half.

Ken Ham: “God is mercy which is why Bill Maher will fry in Hell.”

I’m always impressed with the ability many Christians have to hold two opposing concepts in their head at the same time. Like “God is Love” which is why a place a horrible as Hell exists where he tosses all the undesirable people who don’t accept his love. The fact that so many seem to be able to do this without any apparent signs of the cognitive dissonance that most normal folks would experience is even more impressive.

Ken Ham, for example, has this skill down pat:

Ken Ham: Bill Maher will roast in Hell, because ‘God is a God of grace and mercy’ | The Raw Story

Yesterday, Answers in Genesis patriarch Ken Ham took to his website to reassure his readers that Maher will get his in the end. It was Ham who debated Bill Nye the Science Guy last month, playing to a friendly local audience in Kentucky who, like Ham, reads the Bible literally.

“So why does God allow Bill Maher to continue his increasing God-hating comments? He really is tempting God. It’s as if he’s saying, “Come on God, I’m saying more and more outrageous things about You — come on — come and get me!” Bill Maher is blaming God for death because he does not want to accept that he is a sinner in need of salvation. He wants to be his own god — he shakes his fist at the God who created man and also provides the gift of salvation for those who will receive it.”

But Ham pointed out that Maher is just living on borrowed time, and sooner or later he’ll have to answer for his shenanigans. “I’m reminded that God is a God of grace and mercy,” Ham says, and God will have the last word. Then, as the Bible says, “all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

Yeah, that about sums it up.

Yeah, that about sums it up.

One of the (many) reasons I left my belief in the Christian religion behind was because of the difficulty in accepting that a truly loving God would condemn anyone to an eternity of such unimaginable suffering as Hell is supposed to provide for any reason at all. I can’t think of a single crime that is so terrible as to justify a punishment like Hell for forever. It’s hard enough to wrap one’s head around the idea of infinity alone let alone an infinity of endless torment.

Apparently Ham thinks the recent rant by Bill Maher — wherein Bill said that if the Biblical story of the flood was true then God would be a “psychotic mass murderer” –  would be enough to justify such an experience. You’d think a truly omnipotent God would be above such criticisms. You’d think a truly loving God could come up with a better method of reforming souls than abandoning them to endless suffering.

What’s really impressive, though, isn’t the fact that Ken Ham and others like him have no problem with this rather barbaric method of punishment. It’s that they so often seem to delight in the idea that people they don’t like will suffer it. The glee with which some Christians have told me I’ll burn in Hell one day is almost frightening and shows that it’s not just God who may be psychotic.

Anti-Gay pastor Steven Anderson: “Women should STFU in church.”

Pastor Steven Anderson, previously in the headlines for preaching about praying for the death of Obama — which netted him a visit from the Secret Service awhile back — as well as for being virulently anti-gay in his teachings, is once again making headlines by doing the unimaginable: Actually preaching what the Bible says.

You see, The Bible isn’t much on that whole female equality thing and you can find a number of passages that make it clear that man is God’s favorite of the two sexes. Which is why Anderson recently told women they should stop saying “Amen” in reply to his preaching the way the men do. In church, your role as a woman is to sit there quietly and learn and if you have any of your stupid questions or opinions you’d like to share you should save it for when you get home where the man in your life can instruct you on what an idiot you are.

Don’t blame him, it’s says that right in the Bible:

Pastor Anderson first attempted to justify the silencing of women by quoting 1 Timothy 2:11, “[l]et the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.”

He then asked the congregation to flip to 1 Corinthians 14, which says “[l]et your women keep silence in the churches, for it is not permitted unto them to speak, as it is commanded to be under obedience as also sayeth the law. And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is shameful for women to speak in the church.”

Now before you ladies get your panties all in a bunch, the good Pastor points out that prior to the service you can talk in Church as much as you want as that’s only to be expected and when it comes time to sing you should definitely participate because you have lovely voices, however…

“But when it’s learning time,” Pastor Anderson said, hammering his lecturn, “it’s silence time.”

Shut the fuck up, bitch. I’m teaching here.

The sad part is, I’m sure Pastor Anderson is far from the only Christian out there who is teaching this. He’s only making headlines with it because he’s already gotten journalist’s attention with that whole please-God-won’t-you-kill-Obama thing.

Yeah, that's really in the Bible too.

Yeah, that’s really in the Bible too.

It’s not like he’s wrong. The Bible does have these passages in it and if you really do believe it is the inspired word of God made manifest then it’s hard to justify ignoring those bits just because you don’t like them. If you’re a woman in a Christian church then your place is not to try and do the teaching, that’s a man’s job, and you certainly shouldn’t interrupt with any silly opinions or questions you have. Save that shit for your husband when you get home so you don’t look quite so stupid in front of everyone else.

“This is why I don’t believe women should say ‘amen’ during the preaching either. Because ‘amen’ means ‘truly’ or ‘verily’ … it basically means ‘that’s true.’ So when I’m preaching and I say something that you agree with and that you believe in, and you say ‘amen,’ you’re saying ‘that’s true.’”

“So here’s the thing,” Pastor Anderson concluded, “when I’m preaching, women should not express their opinion, even if it’s a positive opinion, even if she agrees with me.”

He doesn’t need you to agree with him because he already knows that he’s right.

And, if you’re a woman, don’t even think of disagreeing with him:

“I was preaching one-time, and a woman actually disagreed with me in the middle of preaching. She said I was wrong, and you know, I kind of blew up at her.”

Who the fuck do you think you are to disagree with Pastor Anderson? I don’t see a penis swinging between those legs of yours! Your mouth, like your legs, should be kept shut so you don’t miss out on any of that sweet learnin’ you so obviously need. You can trust him, sweetheart, God said so.

Regardless of whether you accept the Bible as entirely literal or a mixture of history and parable, as a Christian this is the view of women held by the religion you practice. It is inherently misogynistic so you shouldn’t be surprised when misogynists latch onto it so tightly because it tells them they’re right to be that way.

Far Right Religious Nuts: Disney’s “Frozen” will turn your daughters into lesbians!

I’ve not posted much about the far right Christians in awhile in part because I’ve tried to stop paying too much attention to them for the sake of my blood pressure, but sometimes I’m so amazed and how divorced from reality they are that I can’t not bring it up.

If you really want to get a feel for just how looney these people can get you can’t do worse than listening to the likes of Kevin Swanson who hosts a daily Internet radio show over at the Generations with Vision website. On Wednesday of last week, Kevin and his co-host Steve Vaughn talked about “Disney’s Progressive Agenda” which, according to them, is to turn your daughters into lesbians via seemingly innocuous movies like Frozen. Check it:

Given this shot from the film you have to wonder how these guys didn't work Incest into the list of things it indoctrinates your kids into accepting.

Given this shot from the film you have to wonder how these guys didn’t work Incest into the list of things it indoctrinates your kids into accepting.

I love that he takes a moment to point out that he is “not a tinfoil hat conspiratorialist” and then proceeds to suggest that Satan bought Disney sometime in 1984 with the goal of releasing movies designed to indoctrinate 5 to 7 year-old kids into becoming lesbians and accepting homosexuality or bestiality and apparently Frozen is one of those films.

Now I admit that I haven’t seen the film yet, but from everything I’ve read and heard about it from folks who have seen it, it’s hard to fathom how it would work as an indoctrination film for the homosexual agenda. Apparently there isn’t a girl-on-girl scene to be found in the movie nor does anyone get busy with the reindeer supporting character that features throughout the film. About the worst that can be said about the film is that the character of Elsa was originally supposed to to be the villain of the movie, but ends up really being the protagonist in a story about being who you are instead of who others want you to be. An empowered woman? No wonder the far right nutcases are having a shit-fit over this film. How the fuck will they ever get her to make them a sandwich if the uppity bitch is out being the Queen of Winter and shit?

If you listen to the rest of their podcast you’ll find they’re also upset that Disney has pulled funding from the Boy Scouts over their policy of discrimination against gay troop leaders. Because according to Swanson if you have a gay man leading the troop he’ll have no choice but to turn all your sons into sodomites:

Swanson: I’m guessing the majority of American parents don’t want their little boys turning into sodomites, at this point. if you were to interview, stick a microphone in front of most parents dropping their kids off at the average K-6 school in Colorado where they’re sporting their GLSEN signs everywhere, but if you just interview them and you ask them: “Is your vision for this little 6-year-old boy, 8-year-old boy, 9-year-old, 10-year-old boy that he turn into a sodomite?” My guess is that 60 to 70 percent of them would say, “that would be my worst nightmare.”

Given the popularity of anal sex among heterosexuals I’m not sure how not having a gay troop leader will keep most kids from growing up to become sodomites. When you consider that — according to some Christian interpretations — any sexual activity that isn’t procreative is sodomy then there’s even more folks out there engaging in it regardless of their exposure to gay people. As long as the folks engaging in it are consenting adults and aren’t hurting anyone then I don’t see what the problem is, but then I’m not a Christian with a persecution complex.

Frozen is a bit of an anomaly for a Disney film in that it provides a positive portrayal of an empowered woman and that’s the real threat these asshats are reacting to. There’s no room in the far right Christian’s mind for women who aren’t submissive to men. Isn’t it enough that they can vote and drive cars? Do we really have to let them think for themselves as well? If the idea that a woman could be happy and fulfilled without a man in their life to tell them what to do were to catch on that would be the real nightmare.

Faith healing idiots who let son die are headed to prison.

Hey, remember back in April of last year when I wrote about Herbert and Catherine Schaible, the two idiots who decided prayer was the only appropriate way to deal with their 8-month-old son’s pneumonia? How this was the second kid they let die because they believe prayer is better than medicine when it comes to dealing with illness?

Mr. and Mrs. Dumbass

Mr. and Mrs. Dumb-ass

Well there’s some good news! They’re finally headed to prison:

SAYING THAT IT was they who killed their son and not God or religious devotion, a judge yesterday sentenced a Rhawnhurst couple to 3 1/2 to 7 years in state prison for praying for their pneumonia-stricken baby instead of following a court order to take him to a doctor.

Herbert and Catherine Schaible each apologized for the April death of 7-month-old Brandon and said despite their religious beliefs in prayer over medicine, they would take their surviving children to doctors in the future.

Common Pleas Judge Benjamin Lerner also sentenced the couple to 30 months of supervised probation after they are released from prison.

Of course they made the promise of taking their kids to the doctor after the first time they let one die of a treatable disease so you’ll pardon me if I’m skeptical that they’d actually keep a promise they’d already broken. Six of the seven surviving kids are minors and currently in foster care. With any luck they’ll reach adulthood before these morons get out of prison.

End of the World predictor Harold Camping has passed on.

Harold Camping at 6:01PM Saturday, May 21st, 2011.

Harold Camping at 6:01PM Saturday, May 21st, 2011.

It’s a sad day for fans of Bible prophecy as one of its more noteworthy practitioners has shuffled off his mortal coil:

Controversial preacher Harold Camping dies at 92

A statement released late Monday by his Family Radio network says Harold Camping “passed on to glory” at 5:30 p.m. PT Sunday. He was 92. The statement revealed Camping had a fall at his home November 30, but he was in weak health due to a stroke since 2011.

Considering that I wrote about him more than once in the run up to his predicted end of the world — which somehow didn’t come to pass despite the ridiculous number of people who bought into it — I thought it would bring about a bit of closure to mention his passing.

Camping is a perfect example of someone buying into his own bullshit a little too much. Most of the time that’s not a huge problem, but in this case he hurt a lot of other people by convincing them he knew what he was talking about. The number of people who spent their life’s savings and gave away everything they owned because they believed his prediction is staggering. Hopefully most of them have rebuilt their lives by now and are a little wiser and more skeptical about such claims.

Goodbye, Harold. You were good for a laugh or two, but you should have kept your prediction to yourself.

How not to convince your girlfriend to go to church.

lovejesusChristians are charged by their religion with the task of trying to convert others to the cause. This can be a rough undertaking at the best of times and stressful when you consider the fate they believe will befall loved ones who don’t do what they’re supposed to to be in God’s good graces. At times they can get a little desperate when the usual cajoling fails and that’s when they resort to more… extreme measures.

Measures like this:

Woman refuses to go to church, man holds pillow over her face at knifepoint – WHP CBS 21 Harrisburg

Rusty James Leighty, 22, of the 100 block of Cottontail Court, Lancaster, was charged with simple assault and making terroristic threats after a domestic disturbance at his girlfriends home.

The 36-year-old victim called police on Nov. 24 around 8 a.m. and told police that Leighty had held a pillow over her face and threatened her with a knife when she refused to attend church with him.

Now I’m not a Christian myself, but I have read the Bible a number of times. Mind you, I’m no expert, but I don’t think this is a Jesus approved method of getting people to attend church. Rusty’s heart is in the right place… actually, no… no it isn’t. The guy sounds like a psychopath and his girlfriend should not only break things off, but consider a restraining order and perhaps moving to another city and/or state.

Atheists set up a “Megachurch” and some folks have a problem with it.


An artist’s rendition. Clearly it has some appeal.

There’s a couple of comedians over in the U.K. –  Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans – who happen to be atheists that decided it was time atheists had a church of their own. So they set about creating The Sunday Assembly, a monthly gathering of atheists that’s somewhat akin to a church service without all that God nonsense. The first service was held back in January and there was a smattering of news articles about it which made the rounds back then, but was otherwise mostly ignored. I think most folks thought it was a silly idea and would fade away quickly even if 300 people did show up for that inaugural session in a deconsecrated church. The following months would see that number grow to upwards of 600 people requiring a change in venue.

Now they’re back in the news again because the assemblies have branched out to 30 other cities around the world including Dublin, New York, San Diego, and even one in Grand Rapids. The founders have set up an Indiegogo campaign to raise money to grow the organization even further (they’re at £29,556 of their £500,000 goal so far) with a world-tour to promote the idea taking place right now. It would appear they’ve struck a chord that is resonating with a lot of atheists.

Which shouldn’t be too surprising considering that a lot of atheists are, like myself, former believers. There are studies done all the time that reveal that there is no shortage of atheists who continue to attend church long after they stop believing. Some of them do it for their kids or spouse who continue to be believers, some do it because they enjoy the community and/or rituals involved, and some do it because they find the experience meaningful despite their lack of belief. Many former-believers-turned-atheists report feeling a sense of loss of community and belonging after leaving their faiths so the appeal of a non-religious substitute for that community seems like a no-brainer.

Not surprisingly, the success of this movement has attracted no small amount of criticism with some of the most pointed of it coming from fellow atheists. Take as an example this article from Michael Luciano titled Why “Atheist Churches” Are a Disaster For Atheism:

Despite the best efforts of obfuscators to assert the contraryatheism is not a religion – not in any meaningful sense, anyway.

And at a time when atheists are trying to fight this mischaracterization – including in the courts– it is incredibly counterproductive for Jones and Evans to feed the misconceptions with their charade because the fact is, an “atheist church” makes as much sense as a Baptist synagogue.

Michael’s primary criticism seems to be that this movement will allow believers to claim that atheism is very much a religion because it now has a “church” and, undoubtedly, some folks will indeed try to make that argument. Of course that ignores the fact that plenty of religious nutcases already make that argument anyway including someone named Zac right here on SEB. He tried to make the argument that atheism was not just a belief, but a religion and that Richard Dawkins was our Pope. Will the Sunday Assembly contribute to that misconception? Possibly, but it’s not like it wasn’t there already so I’m not sure how much more harm it can cause.

Michael goes on to say:

Earlier this year, the duo explained their motivations in the New York Times: “[C]hurch has got so many awesome things going for it. Singing together in a group? Super. Hearing interesting things? Rad. A moment to think quietly about your life? Wizard. Getting to know your neighbors? Ace.”

Based on my own personal experience attending church, as well as other believers-turned-heretics I have spoken with, church had so few “awesome things going for it,” that we left. For atheists every religious service is predicated on a falsehood, regardless of whatever feel-good niceties may accompany its production.

The above is arguably true for a great many atheists, but not all atheists are the same. The above comes across as the No True Scotsman fallacy. Simply because Michael and some atheists he happens to have spoken with don’t think there was much that was awesome about church attendance, that doesn’t mean there aren’t legitimate atheists out there who do. Plenty of atheists don’t participate in Christmas or Easter festivities, but I and many others that I know personally do. We just take out the religious nonsense from it and I don’t consider myself any less of an atheist for doing so. While I may not be all that big on the community aspects of church attendance, I can certainly see how it might be appealing to others. I don’t begrudge them their indulging in it if that’s what makes them happy.

Of course, the blame for this silliness cannot be placed entirely with Jones and Evans. Clearly they have tapped into a market of nonbelievers who for some reason still find it necessary to attend “church” to infuse their lives with meaning. It really is a sad state of affairs, as what they are aiming for can just as well be accomplished by an informal gathering at a coffee shop, bar, book club, concert, lecture, or in their own homes. For the freethought movement’s sake, I sincerely hope that the Sunday Assembly is a fleeting cultural idiosyncrasy and not emblematic of a broader trend.

Other than the idea that this will give believers an argument to claim atheism is as much of a religion as any other, Michael doesn’t do a very good job of stating why Sunday Assembly is a “disaster” for the atheist movement. Perhaps he’s right that the same results could be achieved by an informal gathering at other random places, but I’m not sure I understand why that’s an argument against the Sunday Assembly itself. If you prefer your atheist meetups at bars there are groups out there doing just that which you can participate in. Bars not your thing, there’s all manner of other atheist meetups out there to look into. Many of which seem to have similar goals to the Sunday Assembly. The only thing I can see about SA that is upsetting to Michael is that they’re using churchy terminology.

SundayAssemblyLogoIt’s also not clear that Sunday Assembly is all that formal. I’ve never been to one myself (and I suspect Michael hasn’t either), but if the YouTube video for their Indiegogo project is anything to go by then “formal” is probably not an accurate description of the proceedings.  According to the About Page on their website, the three core ideas behind SA are as follows:

We are here for everyone who wants to:

  • Live Better. We aim to provide inspiring, thought-provoking and practical ideas that help people to live the lives they want to lead and be the people they want to be

  • Help Often. Assemblies are communities of action building lives of purpose, encouraging us all to help anyone who needs it to support each other

  • Wonder More. Hearing talks, singing as one, listening to readings and even playing games helps us to connect with each other and the awesome world we live in.

That sounds pretty innocuous to me. They go on to be a bit more specific with:

The Sunday Assembly

  1. Is 100% celebration of life. We are born from nothing and go to nothing. Let’s enjoy it together.
  2. Has no doctrine. We have no set texts so we can make use of wisdom from all sources.
  3. Has no deity. We don’t do supernatural but we also won’t tell you you’re wrong if you do.
  4. Is radically inclusive. Everyone is welcome, regardless of their beliefs – this is a place of love that is open and accepting.
  5. Is free to attend, not-for-profit and volunteer run. We ask for donations to cover our costs and support our community work.
  6. Has a community mission. Through our Action Heroes (you!), we will be a force for good.
  7. Is independent. We do not accept sponsorship or promote outside businesses, organisations or services
  8. Is here to stay. With your involvement, The Sunday Assembly will make the world a better place
  9. We won’t won’t tell you how to live, but will try to help you do it as well as you can
  10. And remember point 1… The Sunday Assembly is a celebration of the one life we know we have

Again, this doesn’t sound like a terrible thing to me. That doesn’t stop Sadhbh Walshe of The Guardian from declaring that Atheist ‘mega-churches’ undermine what atheism’s supposed to be about.

Determined to show that those who believe in nothing are just as good as those who believe in something, the faithless are establishing a church of their own, and a mega-church at that. On the surface it seems like a rather brilliant idea. What’s not to like about beating the faithful at their own game? Apart from the one small caveat that establishing a place of worship for the faithless, even a godless one, rather negates what atheism is supposed to be all about.

Really? I must have missed that day of Atheism 101 Class wherein we were told what atheism was “all about” because as far as I know it’s only about not believing in God(s) with everything else being up to the individual to decide.

This past Sunday, the groups’ inaugural assembly in Los Angeles attracted some 400 people. Similar gatherings across the states have also drawn big crowds, bursting to do all the good stuff religious people do, just without the God stuff. As one of those non-believing types – the kind who’d be inclined to tick off the “spiritual but not religious” checkbox on a dating profile – I should fall right into the Sunday Assembly movement’s target demographic. If only the central idea of dragging atheists into a church so they can prove they are just as worthy as traditional churchgoers didn’t strike me as a bit of joke.

I’ve read through the entirety of the SA website and I can’t seem to locate the part that says the goal is to prove atheists are just as worthy as traditional churchgoers. I’ve seen a lot of stuff about providing a community to do awesome things with and love and compassion and some other vaguely hippy stuff, but nothing about proving atheists as worthy. Maybe that really is the goal of the founders, but if it is they’ve done a good job of hiding it.

She goes on to write:

I don’t mean to downplay the human need to find like-minded communities either or to explore the deeper purpose of our existence. I just can’t quite embrace the notion that atheists should be under any obligation to prove their worthiness to religious types, or that to do so they should mimic the long established religious practices that non-believers have typically eschewed.

As near as I can tell, and again I’ve gone over the website carefully, the founders aren’t suggesting that atheists are under any obligation to do jack or prove shit. Nor do they say atheists “should” mimic anything. They are saying that if some of the stuff you used to do in church appeals to you and you’d like a place to do it again without all that God nonsense then they have an option for you to explore. How is that a bad thing?

I would have thought the message of atheism (if there needs to be one) is that churches and ritualized worship (whatever the focus of that worship might be) are best left to the people who feel the need to have a God figure in their lives.

cf978bb3Again, I must have missed that class. As far as I’m aware atheism has no message. There are no tenets, no holy book, no rites,  no great wisdoms handed down from on high. From what I can see of Sunday Assemblies — and I’ll say again that I have not attended one — it’s a church only in the sense of being a gathering of like-minded people communing with each other and perhaps working towards making the world a better place. Considering that Miss Walshe goes on to say that she’s dabbled with Buddhist retreats and Hinduism meditation, both of which are ritualized in many ways, I’m not sure what her problem with SA is.

Here she tries to explain what her problem actually is:

That is why I have a fundamental problem with the so called atheist mega-church movement that Jones and Evans are spearheading. While they have every right to form congregations and get together with like-minded people and to share hugs and plan good deeds, they don’t have the right to co-opt atheism for their cause.

Ah, it’s the old THIS-THING-IS-MINE-YOU-CAN’T-HAVE-IT-CAUSE-IT’S-MINE problem. Yet again I fail to see anywhere in anything I’ve read about Sunday Assemblies that they are out to co-opt atheism for their cause. I don’t think they’ve managed to raise enough money to hire a private Atheist Mercenary Army with which to force all the atheists to attend their church and abide by their holy writ lest they be rounded up and sent off to the Atheist Gulags for reeducation.

In point of fact, comparing the Sunday Assembly’s approach to organizing atheists (which is what they are doing) to another attempt at doing so seems an apt thing to do. When the folks behind Atheism Plus launched their effort to bring together like-minded atheists to push for social justice issues there was quite a bit of talk about them doing exactly what Miss Walshe is accusing the folks behind SA of doing in terms of trying to co-opt the movement. When Jen McCreight wrote her infamous entry that launched Atheism Plus titled How I Unwittingly Infiltrated the Boy’s Club & Why It’s Time for a New Wave of Atheism she made it quite clear that the goal was to redefine the atheism movement:

I don’t want good causes like secularism and skepticism to die because they’re infested with people who see issues of equality as mission drift. I want Deep Rifts. I want to be able to truthfully say that I feel safe in this movement. I want the misogynists, racists, homophobes, transphobes, and downright trolls out of the movement for the same reason I wouldn’t invite them over for dinner or to play Mario Kart: because they’re not good people. We throw up billboards claiming we’re Good Without God, but how are we proving that as a movement? Litter clean-ups and blood drives can only say so much when you’re simultaneously threatening your fellow activists with rape and death.*

[...] The Boy’s Club may have historically ruled the movement, but they don’t own it. We can.

It’s quite clear that her goal is to weed out the folks she considers “bad” from what she views as “her” movement. This was repeated by other early adopters of Atheism Plus such as Richard Carrier who wrote:

There is a new atheism brewing, and it’s the rift we need, to cut free the dead weight so we can kick the C.H.U.D.’s back into the sewers and finally disown them, once and for all (I mean people like these and these). I was already mulling a way to do this back in June when discussion in the comments on my post On Sexual Harassment generated an idea (inspired by Anne C. Hanna) to start a blog series building a system of shared values that separates the light side of the force from the dark side within the atheism movement, so we could start marginalizing the evil in our midst, and grooming the next generation more consistently and clearly into a system of more enlightened humanist values.

If you’ve never read his whole article then it’s worth doing so. Whether you agree or not with Carrier’s opinion on what constitutes a good atheist vis–à–vis a bad atheist, it’s clear that he thinks Atheism Plus should come to dominate the atheism “movement”, inasmuch such a thing exists. Carrier’s remarks in particular were seen by many in the atheist community as a you’re either with us or against us and if you’re against us we’ll do everything we can to kick you out of the movement polemic that turned off a lot of otherwise sympathetic people. So much so that no less than Jen McCreight herself repudiated his comments:


Which I find interesting as he didn’t really say anything she hadn’t suggested herself in her original blog entry about it. Atheism Plus was the next chapter in what some would consider the growing schism in the atheist community online that started with the ElevatorGate incident. The whole thing got so stupid that it caused me to stop reading a lot of atheist bloggers I respected on both sides of the “debate” because they spent most of their time trash talking the other side.

In comparison the Sunday Assembly folks don’t seem to me to be attempting to do anything other than offer folks who miss the community of their old churches someplace to experience it once again without all the God nonsense. How Miss Walshe sees that as co-opting is beyond me. She concludes her article with the following:

I’m sure the Sunday Assemblies have the potential to benefit many people and will fill a void for anyone who likes the idea of being part of a community. But if faithlessness ends up becoming a quasi-religion with its very own church, where are the true atheists – the ones who don’t feel the need to join a congregation or to sing and hold hands to show the world we’re good and worthy – supposed to call home?

Again with the idea of “True Atheists.” If someone attending a SA event doesn’t believe in Gods then how are they not a True Atheist?  Again I’ll ask: Does the fact that I put up Christmas lights and a Christmas tree and eat Christmas dinner and exchange Christmas gifts mean I’m not a True Atheist in her book? I don’t believe in Gods, but I do enjoy Christmas rituals and can even find beauty in Christmas songs such as O’ Holy Night. If Miss Walshe doesn’t want to attend an atheist “church”, but still wants someplace to call home then why doesn’t she look into any of the other atheist events I mentioned earlier in this essay? Does she think every atheist out there is going to fall under the siren song of SA such that all those other events and meetups all dry up and blow away?

Personally, I’ll probably not become a member of a Sunday Assembly if one sets up shop nearby (Grand Rapids is a helluva drive from Ann Arbor even if it is only once a month), but that’s just me. I’ve only ever attended one meeting of a local Skeptics in the Pub. I didn’t have a problem with the group, I’m just not the sort of person who attends events like that regularly.

About the only real problem I can foresee with SA is the same problem that crops up in any grouping of people once it gets large enough. The seemingly inevitable power struggles that occur between competing visions of what said group is supposed to be about. No group is immune to it and the bigger a group gets the more likely it is to fall victim to it. We see it in politics, religion, World of Warcraft clans, and any number of online communities. The atheist movement is experiencing it just as the video gaming community is (and often over the same issues) just as the Republicans are and as the Democrats will (as they have in the past). That’s just human nature I suppose, but to claim that Sunday Assembly is a “disaster for atheism” or is “co-opting the movement” just isn’t supported by what I’ve seen of it so far. Compared to Atheism Plus I’d go so far as to say it’s relatively harmless to the greater movement. And if it makes some folks happy then what the fuck is the problem?

SEB Mailbag: How not to convert an atheist.

61182_402075513237596_1585133137_nThe SEB Mailbag isn’t as active as it used to be, but then neither am I. Every now and then I’ll get a missive from some good natured person who is worried about my eternal soul. I got one such email this morning and I thought I’d present it as a good bad example of attempting to convince someone to believe in Jesus. Note: I’m not naming the person who sent it because it was an effort at good will even though the subject line read “hate mail.”

Here it is in its entirety:

God so loved you that He now even give you the chance again to call upon His Son Jesus Christ Name just to give Him a chance in your live. You are going to stand in any case in front of Him one day. Jesus loves you and that is why I also love you, please give Jesus a chance. Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

First off, thanks for taking the time to sit down and compose such an amazing argument on your Blackberry. It shows just how shallow your concern for my soul really is that you couldn’t be bothered to make sure it was completely comprehensible or required more than two thumbs to type.

There’s three statements in this argument which we’ll breakdown one at a time starting with that first attempt at a sentence:

God so loved you that He now even give you the chance again to call upon His Son Jesus Christ Name just to give Him a chance in your live.

It’s not entirely clear what you’re trying to say, but my guess is that in spite of all the terrible things I’ve done in my life I still have the opportunity to ask God to let Jesus into my heart blah blah blah and I should just give Jesus a chance.

1010245_494868663920957_892655251_nAs I said in the reply I sent you, what makes you think I haven’t given Jesus a chance? Anyone who spends any amount of time reading my blog (particularly under the About Me category/tag) will know that I used to be a pretty faithful Christian in my youth. Up until I read the Bible from front to back and found myself with a whole host of questions that the clergy in my life couldn’t readily answer. My faith was never at question until I started to seriously study the Bible and then the folks who should have reasonable answers to my questions instead told me to try not to think so hard about it. During that time I prayed to Jesus quite a bit. I’d say I gave him more than enough chances over the years and, even now, I’m totally willing to be convinced that he does exist and gives a shit about my well being, but so far I’ve yet to see anything that would lead me to think that that’s the case.

Surely if Jesus does exist and does want me to believe in him he’s more than capable of providing me with ample reason to accept both of those facts. The fact that he hasn’t implies that he either doesn’t really give a shit or, more likely, doesn’t exist to give a shit. I’m still open to the possibility, but I’m not going to believe without good reason to do so.

You are going to stand in any case in front of Him one day.

This statement only makes sense if you accept that Jesus does exist. To someone who doesn’t believe that to be true it’s just silly. You may as well argue that I should continue to leave out cookies for Santa Claus because someday I’ll meet him and he’s going to want to know why the fuck I stopped doing that.

Before that statement would have any meaning to an atheist you’d have to have a reasonable argument for why a God of any kind might actually exist and then you’d have to have a reasonable argument for why your particular God exists and how you have any clue what-the-fuck-ever what he wants from his creation. In short, you’re a long way from a point where that statement would be even the tiniest bit effective. You need to remember that you’re talking to someone who doesn’t believe in God(s) of any kind. Saying that they’ll have to stand before one of them someday is just a form of veiled threat that is hard to take seriously when you don’t believe in the thing you’re being threatened with.

 Jesus loves you and that is why I also love you, please give Jesus a chance.

So, in other words, the only reason you give a shit about me is because you believe God wants you to. That implies that without said God you wouldn’t have any concern for my well being at all. Christians like to toss around the word “love” quite a bit, but I worry that they don’t fully understand its meaning because all too often what they say they do out of love doesn’t feel all that loving to me.

cat-bible-thumperMaybe I’m too cynical, but often these sorts of pleas from believers to “give Jesus a chance” feel less like they’re about any genuine concern for my soul and more about the believer’s attempts at scoring brownie points with their God. Seriously. This email is a half-assed attempt at spreading the word that is the minimal effort required so that once they’re standing in front of their God and are asked why they didn’t convert more people they can shrug and say “Hey, I tried, but the assholes wouldn’t listen to reason!”

You’d think that if they were really serious they’d take the time to get know someone and try to understand their viewpoint before trying to convince them to change them. That takes an investment of time and energy that most Christians just aren’t interested in devoting to the cause. Instead it’s much easier to toss out short, three sentence “arguments” that they must know have no hope in Hell of being convincing to anyone who doesn’t already believe in their God. Go ahead and wipe your hands on your pants ’cause you’ve fulfilled your Christian requirements.

I’ve thought about the existence of Gods and the afterlife for many, many years so it would take a pretty amazing argument — or an act of Jesus himself — to convince me to believe. So I’m not surprised that most Christians wouldn’t want to invest that amount of time and energy into convincing me. Which is fine as I’m not overly concerned that I might be wrong, but if you’re going to bother then at least put some effort into it, eh?