Tag Archives: Atheism

On picking the right battles.

jesusr-no-runningSo there’s been a couple of news items recently about restaurants causing an uproar by offering discounts to customers displaying their religiosity. In one case Mary’s Gourmet Diner in Winston-Salem, NC was offering a 15% discount to customers they saw praying before eating their meals.

The owner claimed it was more about public displays of gratitude than religion, but the receipts did list it as a ‘praying in public’ discount, which makes that claim seem a bit dubious. That said, it was never officially advertised and was handed out entirely at the discretion of the service staff for years before a pleasantly surprised customer posted a photo of their receipt with the discount to Facebook and it went viral. It wasn’t long after that the the owner was contacted by the Freedom From Religion Foundation – a group I support — with a letter informing them that the practice was a violation of the Civil Rights Act. The owner ended up deciding to discontinue the discount despite a lot of offers of free legal representation and visitors to the diner are now greeted with the following note:

“While you may exercise your right of religious freedom at this restaurant by praying over your meal to any entity or non-entity, we mush protect your freedom from religion in a public place. We are no longer issuing the 15% praying in public discount. It is illegal and we are being threatened by a lawsuit.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor told News & Record that the group didn’t threaten a lawsuit, but a lawsuit “would not have been off the table.”

She added that it’s illegal to “charge an atheist more than a Christian.”

Now the FFRF has contacted Bailey’s Pizza in Arkansas for offering a 10% discount to people who bring in church bulletins:

Sent earlier this month, the letter alleges that Bailey’s owner, Steven Rose, is discriminating against patrons who have not attended church.

“The law requires places of public accommodation to offer their services to customers without regard to race, color, religion or national origin,” wrote FFRF representative Elizabeth Cavell.

Bailey’s, which opened last month, also allows patrons to write Bible verses on one of the restaurant’s walls.

In an interview with local media, Rose denies that the discount violates the Civil Rights Act, telling CBS affiliate THV11 that the discount “has nothing to do with excluding anybody.”

“It’s not specific to any church. It’s another way to bring people in and make them feel welcome,” said Rose.

“I offer discounts to others too — like college students, teachers, military, police and senior citizens.”

Now, technically, the FFRF is correct in that both of these policies violate the Civil Rights Act which includes religion as one of the criteria that public businesses cannot discriminate on and offering discounts for public displays of religiosity or church bulletins is a form of discrimination. Steven Rose disagrees and is vowing to fight the FFRF if they sue saying that if atheists really want the discount they can just download a church bulletin off of a website and bring it in and no one would question them on it. Which, yeah, you could do if you don’t mind dishonestly misrepresenting yourself to knock a few bucks off your pizza. I don’t think atheists should be forced into essentially lying to a business just to net a discount.

So, yes, I think the FFRF is right that this is a violation of the law, but I’m not sure it’s worth the effort to pick a fight over it. I don’t really care if religious folks get slightly cheaper food from a particular restaurant. If anything, it just makes me want to avoid that restaurant.  If they don’t mind alienating part of their potential clientele then so be it. Atheists in general, and the FFRF in particular, already take a lot of shit for fighting battles over displays of the Decalog and crosses on government property and I think those are worthy fights to be had. I’m not sure the extra ill-will we get from forcing a restaurant to cease offering preferential treatment to religious people is worth it.

That said, I would be sure to make it known to the owner of any restaurants that I did visit that had such a policy that I find it disappointing and wouldn’t recommend folks eat there as a result. Maybe that would make them rethink it and maybe it wouldn’t, but there’s plenty of places to eat that don’t discriminate to choose from. If their goal was to make people feel welcome and I don’t feel welcome, well, they failed in their goal.

One of the neat things about having had a blog for 13 years is that you can figuratively go back in time and see the person you once were simply by browsing through the archives. I was 34 when I first started blogging and back then I probably would’ve been right there with the FFRF decrying this as something that should not be! It’s an injustice against my people and will not stand!

fuckloadingfailI don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older and just don’t have the energy I did 13 years ago, but these days my reaction to hearing about eateries like these was “meh.” It seems like you hear about this sort of thing every week now and it seems like a huge waste of resources trying to fight each one.

There’s also the fact that religious belief in America has been on a downward trend for some time now so it’s a problem that’s likely to take care of itself by the end of the century:

Every piece of social data suggests that those who favor faith and superstition over fact-based evidence will become the minority in this country by or before the end of this century. In fact, the number of Americans who do not believe in a deity doubled in the last decade of the previous century according to both the census of 2004 and the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) of 2008, with religious non-belief in the U.S. rising from 8.2 percent in 1990 to 14.2 percent in 2001. In 2013, that number is now above 16 percent.

If current trends continue, the crossing point, whereby atheists, agnostics, and “nones” equals the number of Christians in this country, will be in the year 2062. If that gives you reason to celebrate, consider this: by the year 2130, the percentage of Americans who identify themselves as Christian will equal a little more than 1 percent. To put that into perspective, today roughly 1 percent of the population is Muslim.

The fastest growing religious faith in the United States is the group collectively labeled “Nones,” who spurn organized religion in favor of non-defined skepticism about faith. About two-thirds of Nones say they are former believers. This is hugely significant. The trend is very much that Americans raised in Christian households are shunning the religion of their parents for any number of reasons: the advancement of human understanding; greater access to information; the scandals of the Catholic Church; and the over-zealousness of the Christian Right.

So let them have their little discounts if they want them and save those resources for the bigger fights. Consider it a consolation prize as they’re headed out the door. Hell, if anything, this sort of thing does more harm to their cause than good. This sort of subtle discrimination only contributes to their downfall because it reveals them for the bigots they are.

Feel the Christian Love: Rick Wiles says Ebola “could solve America’s problems” with gays and atheists.

Rick Wiles, for those of you who have blissfully never heard of him, is an end-times preacher who is always on the lookout for signs that the apocalypse is about to start. He is so full of Christian love for his fellow humans that he recently expressed on his “Trunews” program that if Ebola were to break out and become a pandemic in the United States, why, that might be the best thing ever to happen.

No, really:

“Now this Ebola epidemic can become a global pandemic and that’s another name for plague. It may be the great attitude adjustment that I believe is coming,” he said. “Ebola could solve America’s problems with atheism, homosexuality, sexual promiscuity, pornography and abortion.”

“If Ebola becomes a global plague, you better make sure the blood of Jesus is upon you, you better make sure you have been marked by the angels so that you are protected by God. If not, you may be a candidate to meet the Grim Reaper.”

via Rick Wiles: ‘Ebola Could Solve America’s Problems With Atheism And Homosexuality’ | Right Wing Watch.

jesussavesApparently being a believer in Jesus Christ is all you need to protect yourself from Ebola. Nevermind the fact that the two Americans — Dr. Kent Brantley and Nancy Writebol — who were trying to help deal with the outbreak in Liberia only to end up contracting the disease are, themselves, Christians. Perhaps they just didn’t believe in Jesus hard enough. 

Wiles is so scared of atheists and gays and people who fuck more than one person and people who film themselves fucking more than one person and people who, for whatever reason, decide not to go through with a pregnancy that he gleefully imagines them being wiped out by one of the more horrible viruses you can die from while his flock of True Believers™ are protected by the magic sky fairy.

This shouldn’t be surprising considering that he’s also pushing a conspiracy theory that President Obama might use this an excuse to give people an ineffective vaccine and then force them into FEMA CAMPS!

Wiles was speaking with evangelist Augusto Perez about how the spread of Ebola in West Africa has implications for the End Times. The two speculated that the American government may exploit the outbreak in order to grow the size of government and require people receive a vaccine.

“Obama would claim executive powers to mandate that every human being in the United States be vaccinated,” Wiles said. “They could use the panic to stampede hundreds of millions of people in this country to be vaccinated, in fact billions worldwide, they could stampede the world to receive to a vaccine against a deadly virus and nobody knows what is in the vaccine.”

- See more at: Rick Wiles Links Obama To Ebola Outbreak

Alas, Ebola isn’t the plague Rick Wiles hopes it will be. While the virus is definitely dangerous and often fatal, it’s not easily transmitted from person to person. It requires direct contact with the blood or bodily fluids of an infected person which is why healthcare providers have to wear those fully enclosed hazmat suits you see on TV.

Yes, it’s killing a lot of people in West Africa, but that has more to do with how poor the healthcare system there is combined with superstitions of the people who live there and the rituals they have for handling dead bodies. Much like Rick Wiles, a lot of people there are buying into conspiracy theories that Ebola isn’t real and that their loved ones are being kidnapped for various reasons including cannibalism. So they’re hiding sick individuals and, in some cases, breaking them out of hospitals putting themselves and everyone they come into contact with at risk:

In recent days crowds gathered outside clinics and hospitals to protest against what they see as a conspiracy, in some cases clashing with police as they threatened to burn down the buildings and remove the patients.

Amadu Sisi, a senior doctor at King Harman hospital in the capital Freetown, from which the patient was taken, said on Saturday that police found her in the house of a healer.

Her family refused to hand her over and a struggle ensued with police, who finally retrieved her and sent her to hospital, he said.

“She died in the ambulance on the way to another hospital,” Sisi said.

not_driving_behind_youThis is what ignorance and fear does to people. Rick Wiles is guilty of his own brand of ignorance and fear and he’s foisting it onto his audience. He’s really no different than the “backward” people in West Africa who do stupid things like the above. Instead of cannibalistic doctors it’s the U.S. Government using “chemtrails” to weaken us and a dangerous vaccine to intentionally infect us with a horrible disease so they can round us all up in FEMA camps. He doesn’t say what happens to us then. The FEMA folks probably eat us. It wouldn’t any stupider than anything else he’s said.

This is the sort of brain damage buying into Gods and demons causes to otherwise rational human beings. If you’ll accept the outlandish things the Bible says happened as being true then there’s nothing anyone could tell you that would be so egregious that you’d have any reason to doubt the validity of it. Believing Obama is out to intentionally infect people with Ebola is easy when you buy into the idea of a talking snake causing the downfall of mankind.

If it’s too much to ask these idiots to throw off the shackles of these ridiculous beliefs can we at least ask that they try not to be too happy about the horrors they expect the rest of us to suffer at the hands of their “loving” God?

Rep. Louie Gohmert proves the existence of God.

Well, we had a good run my fellow atheists, but there comes a point when you have to admit you’ve been beaten and that moment is now. You see, Republican Louie Gohmert has come up with the ultimate proof of the existence of God. What fools we’ve been!

Check it:

OK, so technically this isn’t really Louie’s argument, but something he heard from some dude named Bob Murphy out of Texas. In case you didn’t watch the video clip — you should, it’s short and stunning in its stupidity logic — here’s what old Bob had to say:

“Ya know, I feel so sorry for atheists. I do. You know, think about it. No matter how smart they think they are, an atheist has to admit that he believes the equation ‘nobody plus nothing equals everything.’ How embarrassing for an intellectual to have to say, ‘Ya, I believe that. Nobody plus nothing equals everything.’

“Well, you couldn’t get everything unless there was something that was the creator of everything, and that’s the Lord we know”

headdeskI think neither Mr. Murphy nor Rep. Gohmert have talked to very many atheists. Perhaps there’s a few out there who might make such a statement, but I can’t think of any off top of my head. It’s certainly not what I believe because it shows a fundamental lack of understanding of some of the better known theories on how the Universe came to be.

How many times does it have to be said that the Big Bang theory does not say there was nothing prior to the big bang? Everything that is in the universe now was there at the beginning all scrunched up into a very tiny point called a singularity. There is no need to assume that everything came from nothing because, according to the theory, there wasn’t nothing. We still don’t know everything there is to know about the start of the universe because the closer you get to the moment of expansion the more general relativity and quantum mechanics start to fall apart in their ability to describe what things were like, but the theory overall has a lot of evidence backing it up such that accepting the idea of everything has always been there all smooshed up until it exploded into the universe we see today isn’t any more far-fetched than accepting the idea some all-powerful being willed it into existence.

If you’re going to insist on the idea that there was “nothing” prior to the universe then we can turn to theoretical physicist and cosmologist Lawrence Krauss who has argued that it’s quite possible to get something from nothing and wrote a whole book about it called A Universe From Nothing. In it he explains exactly how such a thing is not only possible, but probably inevitable. I’ve written about Krauss and his lecture about this several times in the past and if you want to watch a video of his lecture you’ll find it in this previous entry.

There’s also the option to just admit that we don’t know how the universe came to be and that the evidence it was willed into being by a creator is unconvincing. Just because we don’t know the answer to the question that isn’t a good reason to presume that God(s) had a hand in it.

But the thing I really want to point out about Rep. Gohmert’s little anecdote is how shallow the thinking he’s using is. Some blowhard puts forth a strawman argument that doesn’t actually represent anything I’ve ever heard any atheist say and Gohmert acts like it’s wisdom carved on stone tablets from on high. It doesn’t make an argument in support of the idea of a creator God, it just tries to paint atheists as illogical hypocrites. It ignores all of the other possible explanations for the existence of the universe for a cheap shot at a despised group of people. Of course, he’s preaching to the choir who don’t need any convincing that a God popped everything into existence because reasons we’re too puny to comprehend. Ha ha! Those dumb atheists think they’re so smart when really they’re super stoopid! Ha ha!

Guess how convinced I am by that argument.

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

Atheist-Church

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:

McCreightonCarrier

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?

My appearance on the West X Midwest podcast.

For those of you who didn’t watch it live, which is probably the vast majority of you, here’s the YouTube video of my appearance on the West X Midwest podcast:

If you prefer to listen instead of watch you can do so either at Libsyn or on iTunes. However you go about it, I make my appearance about half-way through. Don’t skip ahead, though, as the whole thing is worth a listen. In fact, if you’ve spent much time around SEB you’ve probably heard (read) most of what I say anyway. Still, for those of you in love with the melodious sound of my voice, this should fit the bill.

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?

“The Four Miracles of Atheism” aren’t miracles.

thinklikemeIn a blog post last December (which I just stumbled across on Twitter) by Clay Kraby over at Reasonable Theology the argument is made that atheists take some things on faith. While that’s almost certainly true, the four things they cite as prime examples aren’t very good ones. They refer to these examples as The Four Miracles of Atheism:

For the purposes of this discussion, we will define a miracle as an event which occurs outside of the natural order and cannot be repeated or explained by the scientific process.

OK, we can work with that definition.

Consider the following four miracles which must be accepted by the atheist in spite of scientific evidence to the contrary:

1. Getting Something from Nothing. There has never been an observed example where something was created from nothing. No person would attempt to build something without materials, and there is no theory outside Big Bang cosmology which reaches this conclusion without ridicule from the scientific community

It’s a common misunderstanding of the Big Bang cosmology to claim that prior to that event there was “nothing” and that “something” came from it. The theory makes no such claims. If you trace time backwards to the Big Bang you end up with a singularity. That’s not nothing, but something. In fact, it’s everything. All scrunched up into one mind bogglingly small point of energy. The law of energy conservation tells us that energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only change form. Which is pretty much what the Big Bang was. Now it’s true we’re not entirely sure why it expanded and became the Universe and that’s in part because a lot of the math involved starts to break down the closer you get to the singularity, but the theory doesn’t say the Universe came from nothing.

As for there never having been “an observed example where something was created from nothing”, well, that’s not entirely true either. One experiment that made use of the the Casimir effect resulted in photons spontaneously appearing in empty space:

Quantum physics explains that there are limits to how precisely one can know the properties of the most basic units of matter—for instance, one can never absolutely know a particle’s position and momentum at the same time. One bizarre consequence of this uncertainty is that a vacuum is never completely empty, but instead buzzes with so-called “virtual particles” that constantly wink into and out of existence.

These virtual particles often appear in pairs that near-instantaneously cancel themselves out. Still, before they vanish, they can have very real effects on their surroundings. For instance, photons—packets of light—can pop in and out of a vacuum. When two mirrors are placed facing each other in a vacuum, more virtual photons can exist around the outside of the mirrors than between them, generating a seemingly mysterious force that pushes the mirrors together.

This effect was predicted back in 1948 and the experiment has been repeated numerous times. There’s some debate on whether it’s truly something from nothing, but it’s certainly a good candidate.

These are both very high-level simplifications of the science. If you’re interested in a more involved explanation then Lawrence Krauss’ book A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing is worthwhile reading. Or you can check out this lengthy talk he gave about the subject on YouTube:

The upshot is, given the law of conservation of energy, there’s really no need for faith that something came from nothing because that’s most likely not what happened. Even if it was what happened there are already aspects of Quantum Mechanics that would allow for it.

neilongodinlabYou’ll note that Kraby doesn’t bother to provide any of the “scientific evidence to the contrary” that something from nothing is impossible, he just says it’s a problem and assumes you agree with him. He makes the clever remark that no person would attempt to build something without materials and yet that’s precisely what his god must have done by sheer will alone if it is the creator of the universe and everything within it. That apparently isn’t a problem for Kraby in spite of the fact that it would be infinitely more magical than a universe just popping into existence on its own. Certainly we don’t have the full picture nailed down just yet and it’s possible we may never be able to fully explain how the universe came to be, but that doesn’t mean “goddidit” is the correct answer by default.

2. Getting Life from Non-Life. Even if naturalistic causes could have created the universe, it would still be necessary for non-living material to become living. This is also an unproven (and impossible) feat which must be accepted when denying the existence of God.

There’s really no need for faith in this either because it’s pretty self-evident that life had to arise at some point or we wouldn’t be here to discuss the issue, but let’s carry on and show the flaws in this argument.

The first problem with this argument is that it assumes there are only two possibilities: Either something is alive or it isn’t. Reality isn’t black and white. Things aren’t just alive or not-alive. Rather it’s more of a continuum from non-life to life. The more simple an organic form is the more blurry the line between life and non-life becomes.

For example, most folks consider viruses to be living things, but they really straddle the line between living and non-living things. One of the traits of life is the ability to reproduce and viruses can’t do that on their own. They have to invade living cells and hijack their systems to reproduce. Nor do viruses have any metabolic systems. Yet they do have genes and can evolve. They blur the line between living and non-living and support the theory that life could have started as self-assembling organic molecules.

Then there are Prions. These are small bits of misfolded proteins that aren’t alive in any sense of the word. They don’t contain any nucleic acids, they don’t have a metabolic system, nor genes, or a cell membrane, yet they have the ability to infect you and kill you. They are the cause of Mad Cow Disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) in cows (natch) and Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease in humans. They do this similarly to viruses by hijacking the functions of living cells to reproduce. As they reproduce they form a plaque known as amyloid which literally drills holes in your brain (making it spongy, hence the name) destroying you slowly over the course of decades. The odd thing is, these proteins are already in you, though not in the misfolded manner that causes disease. You’ll find the normal form in the membranes of your cells. They are a part of your cellular system, but they are not alive in themselves.

Kraby says that life arising from non-life is unproven and impossible without providing anything to back that claim up. Life is just a chemical process and spontaneous chemical reactions happen all the time — not to mention molecular self-assembly. Not only is there evidence that life came from non-living molecules, but scientists have been getting closer to creating artificial life with each passing year. In November of 2011 Martin Hanczyc did a TED talk where he showed the results of his experiments with protocells. Bonus: He also talks about how life is a continuum:

For being non-living, those protocells sure do look alive. Which is pretty impressive when you consider how simplistic they are compared to your standard human cell or even your average bacteria. Just with these basic chemical molecules there’s already lots of life-like activity taking place. It’s not much of a stretch to imagine how this could be a possible beginning of all life.

3. Getting Order from Chaos. The Laws of Thermodynamics tell us that all things tend towards disorder, not order. Left to themselves buildings crumble, gardens are taken over by weeds, and living material decays. If unguided natural causes produced the universe (from nothing) and produced life (from non-life) these processes would necessarily go against observed scientific principles in order to produce the complexity, beauty, and order that we observe in the world around us.

Ah yes! The Second Law of Thermodynamics! Always a favorite of the apologist crowd though they never seem to make use of the First Law of Thermodynamics or the Zeroth Law of Thermodynamics (yes, there is a Zeroth Law). It always amuses me how readily theists will accept a scientific theory if it allows them to refute a different scientific theory they don’t like. It’s a shame so many of them don’t understand what it really says.

The first thing they don’t understand about the Second Law is that it isn’t about order or chaos, it’s about heat:

Second law of thermodynamicsHeat cannot spontaneously flow from a colder location to a hotter location.

The second law of thermodynamics is an expression of the universal principle of dissipation of kinetic and potential energy observable in nature. The second law is an observation of the fact that over time, differences in temperature, pressure, and chemical potential tend to even out in a physical system that is isolated from the outside world. Entropy is a measure of how much this process has progressed. The entropy of an isolated system that is not in equilibrium tends to increase over time, approaching a maximum value at equilibrium.

In classical thermodynamics, the second law is a basic postulate applicable to any system involving heat energy transfer; in statistical thermodynamics, the second law is a consequence of the assumed randomness of molecular chaos. There are many versions of the second law, but they all have the same effect, which is to explain the phenomenon of irreversibility in nature.

The second thing they don’t understand about the Second Law is that little bit I put in boldface up there: It only applies to isolated physical systems with no external source of energy. The Earth, where abiogenesis and evolution have taken place, is not an isolated physical system. It has an external source of energy. You may have heard of it. It’s called The Sun. All life is possible because of the sun inputting energy into earth’s natural systems allowing for local increases in order that allows things like people to exist.

But, you might say, the Universe is a closed system with no external source of energy and it started in a high entropy state, but went on to form galaxies and stars and DVD rental kiosks. All highly ordered (low entropy) things. Doesn’t that violate the second law? Thanks to inflation the answer is no:

The Big Bang seems, at first glance, to violate the second law. It starts off as a dense almost perfectly homogeneous gas (thus at almost maximum entropy) and then seems to separate into clumps that formed stars and galaxies. Hasn’t order increased and thus the entropy decreased, and since the universe is a closed system, hasn’t this violated the second law?

The solution here is that because the universe is expanding it keeps getting shifted out of equilibrium, and in the drive to reach a new equilibrium state, you can get pockets of order occurring without violating the second law, because the maximum allowable entropy also keeps increasing.

In more technical terms, if we consider the universe to be a sphere of radius R that is increasing, the maximum allowable entropy increases as the square of R, while the actual entropy of the universe increases less rapidly, only linearly with R. Thus even if the initial universe was at maximum entropy for its size, as the universe expands its entropy can increase while still being easily able to accommodate the increasing order we see. In fact, calculations done assuming that there exist ten planets per star, 100 billion stars for every galaxy and 100 billion galaxies (which are our best current estimates) show that the ordering of the planets produces changes in entropy of only one part in 1011 of the total current entropy. Victor Stenger (Has Science Found God?, 2003, p. 152) summarizes the situation:

No violation of the second law of thermodynamics was required to produce the universe.

It’s clear that Kraby, like most apologists who try to use the Second Law to disprove other theories they don’t like, doesn’t have a firm grasp of the subject. That’s not a criticism. Thermodynamics is a complex subject that involves some serious math and can be difficult to follow, but it helps if you actually read what scientists have to say about it and not other theists.

Finally we come to his last so-called atheist miracle:

4. Getting the Immaterial from Physical Matter. If nothing was able to produce everything, non-life was able to produce life, and chaos was able to produce order the atheistic worldview would still encounter an insurmountable obstacle. No matter how organized, it is impossible for physical material to produce the immaterial realities of human consciousness. Our morality, beliefs, desires and preferences all exist outside of mere physical matter.

Kraby is making a pretty big claim here without providing anything to support it and it’s just flat out wrong. Our morality, beliefs, desires and preferences certainly do not exist outside of mere physical matter. They’re all contained within the human brain along with the rest of your personality. This is easily provable by studying people who have had a traumatic brain injury. There are literally thousands of documented cases of people developing whole new personalities, beliefs, desires, and preferences after brain injuries. Sometimes the changes are minor and sometimes they result in what could be said to be an entirely different person depending on how much damage there is and where in occurred. Passive people become violently aggressive (and vice versa), chaste can become hypersexual, introvert can become extrovert. One of the most famous examples is Phineas Gage whose personality changed dramatically after a tamping rod was propelled through his brain in an explosion. Even your beliefs can be changed by a TBI.

“You” do not exist outside of the confines of your brain and you can even change your personality without a TBI. Drugs are a common way to modify your personality in major and minor ways. People drink alcohol because it lowers inhibitions which results in them taking risks they probably wouldn’t if they were sober. Drug abuse can permanently alter your brain chemistry and, thusly, who you are.

Kraby concludes his little essay with the following claim:

Each of these examples go against the natural order and could be labeled as miracles. Naturalistic worldviews such as atheism, evolution, and neo-Darwinism regard this evidence for God with what Dawkins would certainly consider an unscientific approach: each item must be taken on faith.

As I’ve demonstrated, none of these goes against the natural order in any way nor do they require any faith to accept. We don’t have all the pieces to all the puzzles just yet, but what we do have points to very real and very natural processes that can be understood without invoking the supernatural. Again, even if it turns out that these theories are incorrect that doesn’t mean the only other explanation is “God”. It would be nice if Kraby could provide some reasons why a god is the explanation for these “miracles” beyond the implication of well what else would it be?

Kraby has demonstrated some startling ignorance of the topics he puts forth and provides nothing to back up the claims he makes. This could be avoided with just a little study outside the realm of Creationist websites. There are a number of good books from well respected scientists covering these topics in-depth that are still quite readable by the layman. All in all this was a pretty piss-poor argument. Hopefully the next apologist will do a better job.

SEB Mailbag: JESUS LOVES YOU ALL CAPS EDITION!

FUCK YEAH CAPSLOCKIt’s been awhile since I’ve gotten an email from a True Believer™, but that drought has come to an end in a most spectacular fashion.

I received an email earlier today from a Janet Wittek who had an urgent message for me. So urgent that it required full use of caps lock.

Warning, this is going to be lengthy:

From: Janet Wittek
Subject: Letter from Janet
Time: 7:18 AM

JESUS LOVES YOU.  I AM A GIRL FROM THE FARM WHO HAS VISIONS OF MAJOR DISASTERS BEFORE THEY HAPPEN.  LIKE 911.  EARTHQUAKES. TSUNAMIS. FLOODS. FIRES. AND OTHER THINGS WHEN PEOPLES LIVES R IN DANGER.  I AM COMMANDED BY GOD TO PRAY OVER THESE MATTERS AND TO SAVE THEM FROM DISTRUCTION.  MY REV GORDON WILLIAMS IS A PRINCETON THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY GRADUATE. HE IS WELL KNOWN BY CANADA AM TV SHOW.  HE IS ON ONE HUNDRED HUNTLEY CHRISTIAN TV SHOW. HE HAS A MIRACLE HEALING SERVICES WHERE PEOPLE GET HEALED OF ALCOHOLISM. AND OTHER ADDICTIONS AND OTHER PROBLEMS LIKE ATHIESM. SEX ADDICTIONS. FINANCIAL PROBLEMS. BACK PROBLEMS. ETC.   I THINK THAT U SHOULD GIVE HIM A CALL AT [number redacted]. OR [number redacted].  MY BACK AND STOMACK AND BLEEDING PROBLEMS AND OTHER NUMEROUS PROBLEMS LIKE BAD KNEES SORE LIVER.  DIABETES AND SORE LEGS AND ENTIRE BODY SICK AND CHEMICAL IMBALANCE IN BRAIN AND SKIN DISEASE AND BROKEN HEART HEALED CAUSE MEN ABUSED ME CAUSE THEY IN LOVE WITH MY ROOMATE SIZE THREE BLOND HOOKER AND I TOLD THEM NOT TO HURT HER CAUSE THEY GANG RAPE HER AND BEAT HER UP.  AND I YELLED AT ALL OF THEM TO STOP HURTING HER.  UNIMAGINABLE BASTARDS.  REPENT OF YOUR SIN OF BEING ATHIEST.  I AM A CHRISTIAN AND I WENT THRU HELL BECAUSE OF PEOPLE LIKE YOU WHO DO NOT BELIEVE IN GOD AND DON’T FOLLOW HIS COMMANDEMENTS.  YOU R A SINNER.  THE FOOL SAYS IN HIS HEART THAT THERE IS NO GOD.  B U T.  T H E R E.  IS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! YOU CANNOT DENY IT NOR CAN ANYONE ELSE.  HOW COME WHEN 911 HAPPENNED EVERYONE WAS SCREAMING OH MY GOD!!!!!!!!!!! AND RUNNING FOR THEIR LIVES.  THE ATHIESTS SURE DO FIND GOD QUICKLY AND CRY OUT WHEN MAJOR DISASTERS HAPPEN AND THEIR LIVES ARE IN DANGER.  HOW COME THEY REMEMBER HIM THEN.  YOURS IN JESUS.  JANET.  GO AND GET YOURSELF A BIBLE AND START READING IT.  AND START EXAMINING YOURSELF NOT ONLY EXAMINING OTHERS FAULTS AND FRAILITIES.  DO YOU KNOW WHAT LOVE AND MERCY MEANS. AND STOP SWEARING.  ITS KIND OF OBNOXIOUS BEHAVIOR AND SHOWS THAT YOU ARE A JERK.

What’s odd about this message is that it was one of two that came in around that time and not the one I saw first. The first one I saw omitted the use of all caps and was relatively brief:

Time: 7:28 AM

The woman who did that to her child obviously had something wrong with her.  Any fool can see that.  Yours in Jesus. Janet.

Being that I saw this second missive first and that it was somewhat vague (I assumed she was talking about something I’d written on SEB, but wasn’t sure what) I replied asking her to clarify what she was referencing. Being the jerk that I am I made a somewhat sarcastic statement that I’m not a psychic because, like God, they don’t exist.

Hours passed and I thought that was the end of it. She had said what she needed to say and had gotten on with her life. Boy, was I ever wrong about that:

Time: 2:26 PM

THE WOMAN WHO ABUSED HER CHILD FOR NOT SAYING AMEN AND WAS NOT GIVEN ANY MEALS AND STARVED THE 2 YEAR OLD TO DEATH.  I HAD A VISION OF A SIMILAR OCCURANCE TO 2 CHILDREN WHO WERRE ABUSED IN TORONTO WHO WERE IN THE CARE OF CATHOLIC CHILDRENS AID SOCIETY AND A TORONTO POLICEMAN SAID THAT IN ALL OF HIS LIFE HE DID NOT SEE ANYBODY TREATED THAT BADLY ABUSED CHILDREN.  IT WAS A BOY AND A GIRL WHO WERE SEVERLY ABUSED. THE BOY DIED BUT THE GIRL ESCAPED.  I HAD VISIONS OF THEM DAYS BEFORE THE LITTLE BOY DIED IN A HOUSE IN TORONTO. THE HOUSE WAS AN OLD VICTORIAN HOUSE LIKE MINE RED BRICK WITH UGLY GREEN PORCH.  THEN DAYS LATER I SAW THE CHILDREN ON TV ON W FIVE TV SHOW AND W FIVE TV PRODUCERS WERE EXTREMELY MAD AT CATHOLIC CHILDREN’S AID SOCIETY FOR NOT TAKING CARE OF THESE CHILDREN. THE LITTLE GIRL WAS SAVED AND PUT IN ANOTHER HOME.  THE LITTLE BOY DIED A HORRIBLE DEATH.  POOR THING. I SHOULD OF ASKED GOD EXACTLY WHAT STREET HE WAS ON AND WENT THERE AND TAKEN HIM OUT OF THERE WITH THAT NICE POLICEMAN WHO WAS HORRIFIED WITH THAT CASE.  IT WAS ON CANADIAN TV SHOW ON W5.  REV GORD WILLIAMS KNOW THE PEOPLE ON W5 AND HE IS WELL KNOWN BY CANADA AM AND CTV NEWS AND ONCHRISTIAN RADIO TV STATIONS AND ALL OVER THE WORLD.  HE IS FROM PRINCETON THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY.  HE IS ON ONE HUNDRED HUNTLEY STREET TELEVISION CHRISTIAN SHOW.  YOURS IN JESUS. JANET. HOW CAN YOU NOT BELIEVE IN GOD. I SEE THAT YOU HAVE SOME BRAINS AND FEEL BAD FOR THE LITTLE BOY CHILD WHO WAS ABUSED BY HIS MOTHER BECAUSE HE DIDN’T SAY AMEN AFTER PRAYERS AND WAS THOUGHT TO BE DEMON POSSESSED AND SHE STARVED HIM TO DEATH.  AND THEN THE CHURCH PEOPLE SAID THAT THEY WOULD RESURRECTED HIM FROM THE DEAD.  HE WAS 2 YEARS OLD.  POOR LITTLE BOY. GOD HAVE MERCY ON THESE LITTLE CHILDREN AND SEND ANGELS TO SAVE THEM FROM THE CRAZY PEOPLE!!!!!!!!! YOURS IN JESUS. JANET.  THE PSYCHIC GIFT THAT I HAVE IS CALLED THE GIFT OF PROPHECY.  IT IS EXPLAINED IN FULL DETAIL IN REV GORDON WILLIAMS BOOK. LIKE A MIGHTY RUSHING WIND.  AND ALSO IN THE BIBLE.  IST CORINTHIANS 12 AND 14.

Then a half hour later I got this:

Time: 3:05 PM

IN THE OLD TESTAMENT PEOPLE DID BAD THINGS TOO.  IF EVIL EXISTS THEN SO DOES GOOD.  YOU KNOW THAT BAD THINGS HAPPEN WELL SO DOES GOOD THINGS HAPPEN .  YOU KNOW THAT WHAT HAD HAPPENNED TO THE LITTLE 2 YEAR OLD WAS BAD AND EVIL.  DO YOU NOT.  SATAN EXISTS BUT SO DOES GOD.GET A COPY OF THE BIBLE AND START READING IT.  DO NOT SAY THAT GOD DOES NOT EXIST IF YOU DO NOT HAVE A GOOD KNOWLEDGE OF THE BIBLE. I BELIEVE IN GOD AND BEING GOOD LIKE HE TELLS US TOO.  I BELIEVE IN WHAT HE WRITES AND SAYS IS TRUE.  I HAVE LAID HANDS ON THE SICK AND THEY HAVE RECOVERED. MY FRIENDS BACK WAS COMPLETELY HEALED WHEN I PRAYED FOR HER AND SHE WAS SHOCKED THAT HER PAIN WENT IMMEDIATELY AWAY.  SHE IS A HOUSECLEANER AT THE CHURCH.  ANOTHER WOMAN GOT HER BACK HEALED AT THE CHURCH ON CHISTMAS EVE SERVICES WHEN I HUGGED HER.  MY DEAR MAN. GOD DOES EXIST JESUS DOES EXIST.  HE WILL PROVE IT TO YOU.  MIRACLES DO HAPPEN EVERYDAY THROUGHT THE WHOLE WORLD.  I BELIEVE THAT YOU EXIST THATS WHY I AM TALKING TO YOU.  GET IT.  YOU BELIEVE THAT I EXIST. THAT’S WHY YOU ARE TALKING TO ME.  DO YOU UNDERSTAND.  I KNOW THAT YOU ARE NOT PSYCHIC. MAN.  I AM TRYING TO HAVE A CONVERSATION WITH SOMEONE WHO EXISTS JUST LIKE GOD AND JESUS EXISTS.  YOU EXIST !!!!!!!!THEN WHY DO YOU THINK THAT GOD DOES NOT EXIST!!!! IF YOU EXIST.  R U REALLY SERIOUS ABOUT THE FACT THAT GOD DOES NOT EXIST.!!!!!!!!! A LOT OF PEOPLE LIKE YOU. EXIST IN THE WORLD. ATHIESTS. I MEAN. A LOT OF THEM.  MANY MILLIONS OF PEOPLE HAVE NO KNOWLEDGE OF GOD AND THE BIBLE.  THEY HAVE NO ACCESS TO THE BIBLE IN THEIR OWN LANGUAGE IN NUMEROUS COUNTRIES.  ALL OVER THE WORLD AND ARE NOT HOLY SPIRIT FILLED.  I BELIEVE YOU EXIST EVEN THOUGH YOU DO NOT BELIEVE IN GOD. CALL REV GORDON WILLIAMS AND HE WILL PROVE TO YOU THAT GOD EXISTS.  [number redacted] OR [number redacted].   GO AND GET A COPY OF THE BIBLE AND READ IT SEVERAL TIMES.  AND YOU ARE NOT STUPID. BY THE WAY.  STOP TELLING YOURSELF THAT.  GOD GAVE YOU BRAINS FOR A REASON!!!!!!!  YOURS IN JESUS. JANET.

Then 20 minutes later:

IF YOU DO NOT BELIEVE THAT I EXIST THEN WHY DO YOU BOTHER TO TALK TO ME AND OTHER PEOPLE . AM I A FIGMENT OF YOUR IMAGINATION.  ARE OTHER PEOPLE?  I DON’T EXIST OR GOD DOESN’T EXIST. HE SURE DOES JUST LIKE YOU KNOE THAT I EXIST THAT’S WHY YOU ARE BOTHERING TO TALK TO ME.  MY DEAR MAN. YOU MADE MY DAY. I KNOW THAT YOU EXIST. YOU MADE ME LAUGH ALL DAY EVEN THOUGH YOU AR. AN ATHIEST. I CANNOT BELIEVE YOU THINK THAT YOU ARE AMAZING.  ONE MINUTE YOU THINK THAT YOU ARE AMAZING AND THE NEXT MINUTE YOU CALL YOURSELF STUPID.  YOU KNOW THAT YOU EXIST.  YOU KNOW THAT YOU ARE AMAZING AND THEN SOMETIMES YOU R STUPID.  IF YOU EXIST AND OTHER PEOPLE EXIST THEN WHY DON’T YOU BELIEVE THAT GOD EXISTS.  WHY. YOU TELL ME ONE GOOD REASON THAT TELLS ME THAT GOD DOES NOT EXIST THAT MSKED SENSE TO ME..  IT IS TRUE THAT IN MANY PEOPLES MIND GOD DOES NOT EXIST BECAUSE THEY HAVE NO KNOWLEDGE OF HIM.  IGNORANCE IS NOT BLISS.  YOURS IN JESUS. JANET

Then 33 minutes after that:

Time: 4:58 PM

I BELIEVE IN GOD AND YOU ARE TALKING TO ME AND YOU BELIEVE IN ME. YOU BELIEVE THAT I EXIST THAT’S WHY YOU ARE TALKING TO ME AND I BELIEVE IN GOD.  SO THEREFORE YOU AN ATHIEST REALLY DOES BELIEVE IN GOD BECAUSE YOU BELIEVE IN ME AND YOU ARE.  TALKING TO ME BECAUSE I EXIST

And, finally, 22 minutes ago:

Time: 5:16 PM

I BELIEVE IN GOD. YOU BELIEVE YOU ARE TALKING TO ME BECAUSE YOU BELIEVE THAT I EXIST.  AND I BELIEVE THAT GOD EXISTS AND I AM CONNECTED TO HIM SO THEREFORE YOU AN ATHIEST BELIEVES THAT I EXIST BECAUSE YOU ARE TALKING TO ME A BELIEVER IN GOD AND YOU ARE AN UNBELIEVER IN GOD AND I KNOW THAT YOU ATHIESTS EXISTS THAT IS WHY I AM TALKING TO TO YOU.  TO PROVE TO YOU THAT HE DOES EXIST. BECAUSE IF HE DOESN’T EXIST THEN WHY ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT HIS NON EXISTENCE?     YOU ARE RIGHT. IN YOUR MIND AND MANY OTHERS GOD DOES NOT EXIST EVEN THOUGH YOU ATHIESTS ARE TALKING ABOUT HIS NON EXISTENCE.  WHY R U TALKING ABOUT HIS NON EXISTENCE. IF HE EXISTS AT ALL YOU SHOULDN’T BE TALKING ABOUT HIM.  YOU ARE RIGHT. YOU ARE AMAZINGLY STUPID BUT GOD STILL LOVES YOU EVEN THOUGH YOU ATHIESTS DON’T EXIST.  YOU ARE NON EXISTANT JUST LIJE GOD.  YOU HAVE NO SIGNIFICANCE AND YOU DON’T EXIST EVEN THOUGH YOU KNIW THAT YOU DO EXIST.  DON’T YOU. YOURS IN JESUS. JANET.

About three emails back I had started in on a reply to answer a couple of her questions and make a point or two about the assumptions she was making about me (which is an odd thing for someone gifted with Divine Visions to do), but as I typed away these additional responses came in and I was no longer sure there was much point in bothering. It’s really hard to argue against the logic she’s using because there’s no logic to it. It’s just a bunch of wild claims and silly circular arguments.

Now for all I know this is just someone trying to pull a Poe in hopes I’ll write about it. If so, mission accomplished. It could also be someone who’s not entirely playing with a full deck through no fault of their own due to illness or injury in which case it would be bad form to make fun of them. Then there’s always the chance that this is someone who has so much faith that it’s made them just a little bit crazy. As too much faith is often wont to do.

Being as it’s difficult to distinguish which of the three this is, or if there’s much of a point in the messages to discuss, I’ll just leave it here without my usual snarky comments. If nothing else, it’s an interesting example of the sorts of emails I get from time to time.

andthentheresthisasshole

SEB Mailbag: The Grinch that stoled Christmas Edition.

Got the following email from “Kathy & Steve Ripka” yesterday — apparently written by the male half of that duo — and thought I’d share my response to it here. It opens with the following:

Subject: Just saw your website

Unfortunately, you are exactly what this movie portrays atheists to be.

A quick note before moving into the reply proper: I wasn’t sure which movie our learned writer was speaking of — though I had my suspicions — so I sent a reply asking for clarification. Apparently he had stumbled upon this entry I had written back in September of 2010 (way to be current, Steve) about the movie Christmas with a Capital C.

Unfortunately, you are exactly what this movie portrays atheists to be. You want any mention of Christmas removed from wherever you walk. Your kind is “The Grinch that stoled Christmas.”

Evidence of my hatred for Christmas.

Evidence of my hatred for Christmas.

OK Steve, right off the bat I have to wonder if you read the entire entry I wrote.  Nowhere in my writing did I call for all mentions of Christmas to be removed from wherever I walk. I generally don’t have a problem with Christmas and if you were to visit my home you would find it decorated with lots of Christmas lights and a proper Christmas tree.

Do I think nativity scenes belong on courthouse lawns or in front of city hall? No, I do not. It gives an improper impression of government favoritism, but so long as the government allows anyone who wants to put up a display alongside it to offset that impression then I have no problem with it. I also don’t have a problem if there’s a nativity scene on the front lawn of every private residence, church, and business if that’s what people want to do. Hell, I’ll go so far as to help you set up your nativity scene on the front lawn of your home/church/business if you need the assistance. I also don’t have a problem with people saying Merry Christmas to me — or for that matter Happy Holidays, Season’s Greetings, Happy Hanukkah, or Merry Festivus.

Your website says it all.

Yes, but apparently you can’t be bothered to read it.

I get so tired of watching the news just to see atheists ruining everyone else’s Christmas, traditions, etc.

Well, you could always stop watching the news. Better yet, you could work to ensure that the separation of church and state is respected by your local government and then there wouldn’t be any need for anyone — atheists or otherwise — to ruin Christmas. It’s not like there aren’t tons of other places you can stick one where everyone will see it, but if you’re going to insist on it being on public property then you have to be prepared to share the space with others who may not agree with your beliefs.

Hey, if you don’t believe in God, that’s fine, but why do you have to get into everyone’s face about it? I don’t believe in ghosts, but you wouldn’t see me up in anyone’s face that does.

When did I get up in anyone’s face about it? I wrote a blog entry. You came here and read it. I didn’t go to your house and force you to come to my blog and read my opinions. If you were to meet me in person and ask my beliefs I’d tell you I’m an atheist. If you didn’t ask any more questions that’d be all you’d get out of me on the topic.

As for getting into the face of ghost believers, as far as I know there aren’t any ghost believers who demand the government place displays representing sacredly held ghost beliefs on public property. Apples to oranges, Steve. When was the last time you saw Halloween display in front of City Hall that represented a sincerely held belief of ghost believers?

I don’t believe that life comes from non-living matter, but if you do, hey, more power to you. I promise I will never get on a rampage, and confront every atheist and take them to court on it.

That hasn’t stopped plenty of your fellow believers from doing just that, though. Admittedly, they confused the Theory of Evolution with the Theory of Abiogenesis, but the point still stands.

If you are not happy with your life, and belief system, why don’t you find something that will take away the anxiety from being an atheist that causes you to go on mindless crusades about how Christians are infringing on your rights,  you might just like the diversion. But don’t use your bitterness to ruin every one else’s Christmas season.

Who said I’m unhappy with my life and belief system? There are aspects of my life that I’m not thrilled about — I could use to earn a bit more money — but overall I’m fairly content. Being an atheist doesn’t cause me any anxiety and none of my “crusades” are mindless. If you took the time to read what I write you’ll find I’ve given them plenty of thought, but it’s apparent that you’re not willing to do much more than skim a single entry and then try to proclaim you know exactly the sort of asshole I happen to be.

As for being bitter, you can ask anyone who has met me how bitter I happen to be and how much I ruin Christmas for everyone. They’ll probably laugh at the suggestion. When little kids stop me because they think I’m Santa Claus, something that has happened more than once as I’ve gotten older and more rotund, I’ve never once taken the opportunity to smash their belief in the jolly old elf. Nor have I ever told them it wasn’t the birthday of Christ even though I know it wasn’t. They don’t care about that anyway. They’re excited cause they think they caught Santa going incognito.

I know, you have fun trying to shock others with your endless driveling about atheism, and four letter expletives, but maybe it is because you like drawing attention to yourself.

And now it’s clear you’ve not bothered to read more than the one entry. Endless driveling about atheism? How about my endless driveling about video games or movies or Doctor Who or politics or the dozens of other topics I’ve written about over the past 11 years. If you look at the tag cloud in the sidebar you’ll note that atheism isn’t the thing I’ve written the most about. Video games and computing both outweigh it among many others.

And of course I like drawing attention to myself. You have to be a bit of an attention whore to be a blogger in the first place. My swearing doesn’t have anything to do with that, though. It’s just my one vice. I don’t drink, smoke, or do drugs so eating too much and swearing is my thing. Even as such it’s not like my entries are just sentences with the word FUCK as every other word. That would make this blogging thing entirely too easy.

Why do you suppose that most atheists love all the four letter words that offend others?

For the same reason that most Christians love all the four letter words that offend others. For better or worse, that’s how people talk. It’s not limited to “most” atheists. I know plenty of atheists who rarely swear and I know many Christians who would make a sailor blush with the way they talk.

Maybe you didn’t stay in school long enough to get an education that would teach you how to communicate properly with others.

andthentheresthisassholeI graduated from high school and I’ve attended a number of years of college, though I admit that I have never bothered to finish college. Is high school not enough education to communicate clearly? I suppose it depends on who you ask, but most folks don’t seem to have any trouble understanding me.

Perhaps you’d understand me better too if you took the time to actually read what I write and spent a little time browsing the archives. It’s clear you don’t have a clue about me based on what little research you’ve done so far, but that doesn’t appear to stop you from expressing your preconceived biases about me based on one aspect of who I am. You know one little fact — that I’m an atheist — and you used it to draw all manner of false conclusions.

I wonder what Jesus would think of that approach?

Merry Christmas,
Steve

And a Happy Holidays to you, Steve.

All my love, Les.