Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Some quick good news: da Feds have captured Warren Jeffs, the fugitive leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints, a polygamist offshoot of the mainstream Mormon church. Jeffs is, naturally, playing the "religious persecution" card. Of course it's persecution to object to the idea of 50+ year old men swapping around barely pubescent girls as sex toys. Check the comprehensive listing of articles about the activities of Jeffs and his disciples over at Rick Ross's cult-watchdog site.

Monday, August 28, 2006

God-given morality

Let's face it, nobody needs God to tell them "thou shalt not kill." Every culture that ever bothered to jot down a set of laws included some lip service to the fact that it would be a really good idea to take seriously the lives of your fellow citizens.

Of course, there has always been some disagreement about what is meant by "your fellow citizens," and under what circumstances it becomes okay to kill them after all. Plenty of cultures, including Christian ones, make exceptions for war, capital punishment, heresy, etc. The point, however, is that having a generally applied "no killing" rule is beneficial to everyone. If killing is okay, then you might as easily be the target as the perpetrator.

I'm in a prolonged email exchange with a theist, moving at roughly the rate of one enormous letter every two weeks. I told him that we don't need a god to establish "no duh" laws such as "don't kill," "don't steal," "don't practice slavery," and so on.

Finally the theist agreed with me, but by using a fairly common backpedal. "Fine," he says. "I acknowledge that you already know, without referring to God, that you shouldn't kill. But there's a catch. The Bible teaches that God has built into us a sense of right and wrong, and the ability to reason. So it seems inevitable that humans will be able to construct a system that is more or less moral and just, without any reference or even knowledge of the Bible."

This seems to imply that if there were no God, we wouldn't know that killing is wrong. There is no evidence for this point, of course. It is no different from the common argument from design: "If there were no God, there wouldn't be all these pretty trees!" Take an object that is known to exist, then assert that the object owes its existence to God. Works especially well with abstract concepts that people don't fully understand, such as "love" or "logic."

Here's the problem: I can't get anywhere by arguing "My moral intuition does NOT come from God!" Because the theist believes that God exists, and that God created everything. So if we both agree that you have a moral intuition, then of course he believes it's from God. The only way he will stop thinking this is if I convince him to stop believing in God -- which I really don't expect to do.

So since I know that I will never get anywhere arguing against the divine moral sense, I'm embracing it for the sake of argument. We both believe that there we all have a mental concept of right and wrong, and it serves as a fairly good moral compass... most of the time. So we're in agreement.

Now, MY built-in intuition about right and wrong tells me several general things which I hope you (I'm addressing the theist now) can more or less agree with. I'll name a few. Let's assume that whenever I say "person", I mean "any sufficiently sentient, intelligent, self-aware being." That should cover the future possibility of meeting intelligent aliens, self-aware robots, etc.

  1. Every person has their own feelings and desires.
  2. Like me, most people desire to pursue happiness and avoid pain and suffering.
  3. Except for the case of self-preservation, with all else being equal, it is best to avoid killing other people.
  4. It is wrong to needlessly inflict suffering on people.
  5. It is wrong to needlessly impose your will on other people -- for example, through actions such as slavery and rape.

Does your own God-given intuition about morality agree with most of those? I'll proceed on the assumption that the answer is yes.

What, then, am I to do with a Biblical passage that STRONGLY contradicts this moral intuition that you say is given to me by God? Suppose, for example, I come across a passage that tells me that God once ordered a group of soldiers to pillage a city, kill all the men (even noncombatants) and the non-virgin women, but enslave the children and marry the virgin women, whether or not they consent?

Seriously, what do I do with that passage? I really don't believe that it can be resolved by adding context. And my moral intuition, which (as you tell me) was bestowed upon me by God, simply SCREAMS that this would be wrong today and it couldn't have been right then either.

So I've got two choices:

  1. Ignore my moral intuition and accept the fact that pillage, slavery, and rape are sometimes good things.
  2. Trust my moral intuition, and recognize that some passages in the Bible completely SUCK for telling us right and wrong.

Which one do I pick?

You can say that those passages aren't meant to be taken literally as advice for modern people, but once you've established that the Bible is a moral guide, you don't have a leg to stand on when dealing with people who take the Bible more seriously than you do.

Here's an article about Christian Reconstructionism. This is just a little taste of what these people believe:

Doctrinal leaders call for the death penalty for a wide range of crimes in addition to such contemporary capital crimes as rape, kidnapping, and murder. Death is also the punishment for apostasy (abandonment of the faith), heresy, blasphemy, witchcraft, astrology, adultery, sodomy or homosexuality, incest, striking a parent, incorrigible juvenile delinquency, and, in the case of women, unchastity before marriage.

The Biblically approved methods of execution include burning (at the stake for example), stoning, hanging, and the sword.

You're going to say that this is a fringe group, not representing the majority of mainstream Christians in America. And of course, you're right.

But these people are getting their moral laws straight out of the Bible. There are parts of the Bible that you don't recognize as still in effect, but they do. Both of you claim to be informed by the Bible, yet they believe more parts of the Bible than you do.

Now, you and I agree that burning at the stake is not a fitting punishment for the crime of reading your daily horoscope. But we can't arrive at that conclusion simply by reading the Bible and nothing else. We have to rely on this broader moral understanding that we both have, so we can say: "That shit that's in the Bible right there? It's EVIL. It has no business being in our laws, or the laws of any civilized nation."

So which is right? My "god-given" moral intuition, or the Bible?

Katherine Harris: I'm a fascist Christocrat!

Katherine Harris, the surgically enchanced Florida representative who benefited politically by overseeing the — ahem — recount that got Dubya handed the presidency under highly dubious circumstances, has completely gone off the rails. When your campaign is, in the words of one former worker, "imploding," there's no reason not to just throw sanity to the winds and go for broke. Here she shows her great respect for America's wonderful heritage of religious diversity:

....that lie we have been told, the separation of church and state, people have internalized, thinking that they needed to avoid politics and that is so wrong because God is the one who chooses our rulers. And if we are the ones not actively involved in electing those godly men and women and if people aren’t involved in helping godly men in getting elected than we’re going to have a nation of secular laws. That’s not what our founding fathers intended and that’s certainly isn’t what God intended....If you are not electing Christians, tried and true, under public scrutiny and pressure, if you’re not electing Christians then in essence you are going to legislate sin.

Harris is also sure of her pride of place in God's Rolodex.

Some day all of us have to give an account before God for what we have done. Are you certain in your own heart that when you come to that point of accounting that you’ll spend eternity with God in Heaven?
No question.

Boy! It's nice to have connections, isn't it!

One day when you stand before God, if He says to you, “Why should I let you into my Heaven?” What you would say in response?
That’s an interesting question. Because I loved Your Son and because I know He died for my sins. I know He was resurrected at Your right hand and I served Him. You know we’re covered with, our sins are covered with His blood and so we are blameless before Him. We are as white as snow.

"Oh, yes, and I took $32 thousand in illegal campaign contributions. But I can do anything, because I'm a Christian and rules don't apply to us because our sins are covered with His blood and so we are blameless before Him! By the way, how do you like my boob job?"

I love it when fundies lose their minds in public. It's better than Saturday morning cartoons.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Fundie sex police suffer another setback

Things aren't going well for right-wing Christian antisex movements these days, despite having a bought-and-paid-for president in the White House. Late last week, the FDA, as everyone now knows, approved the Plan B "morning after pill" for over-the-counter sales. This is one of the most sensible and socially responsible acts our government has carried out in recent memory, and it could drastically lower the number of unplanned pregnancies — many of which end, yes, in abortion — annually. Naturally, the same Christians who are against abortion are against this ideal abortion preventative. And their reasoning shows their minds haven't gotten any less calcified than they were in the dark days of Anthony Comstock.

Opponents contend that nonprescription availability could increase promiscuity and promote use of the pills by sexual predators.

I try to picture in my head the image of a rapist ravishing some poor helpless woman, then thoughtfully giving her a bottle of Plan B to prevent her unwanted pregnancy (because sexual predators are such considerate guys, you see), and the absurdity of it beggars description. Only a Christian fundamentalist, with their bizarre, surreal way of interpreting reality, could ever imagine this would be a factor.

But the more revealing reason is the first one. To put it bluntly, the whole anti-abortion movement isn't really about saving unborn babies, nor is there the least bit of concern for the health and welfare of women. What it's about is regulating "sin". Christians just don't like the fact that there are all these non-Christians in the world having so much fun "sinning" in their bedrooms, with all those devilish contraceptives allowing them to enjoy recreational sex while preventing pregnancy or the spread of disease. According to their dogmas, no one who isn't a married Christian doing the deed for the purpose of breeding little Christians has any business boinking at all. So not only must abortion be outlawed, but contraceptives must be suppressed as much as possible, too, if only to ensure that all us horrible sinners are suffering the worst possible consequences of our sin. It isn't about being "pro-life," it's about wishing the worst for people, at all times. How uncivil can you get? Apparently, if you're a fundamentalist, there's no bottom to scrape in how much hatred you can have for your fellow man — and woman.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Prepare for shameless pluggery!

Hi, Martin, Russell here. Thanks for starting this up.

I already have a blog (Kazim's Korner) but here's what I'll do: Any time I write about an especially atheisty topic, I'll post here and link it so that no one may miss the glory that is Me. ;)

Here are a few recent items:

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Affinity fraud shows the cost of lacking skepticism

An interesting article at The Secular Outpost titled "Religious fraud increasing" reveals that billions of dollars are still being lost in scams where religious people are targeted by con artists operating within churches or their specific religious community. This is nothing new, but it's a shame it's still so epidemic.

The issue is not so much whether it's Christians swindling Christians, or whether this sort of thing happens any more or less often in secular circles, or even whether or not this is great smoking-gun proof that despite their nonstop claims to the contrary, the religious are not paragons of moral superiority in all things. That Christianity does not make you morally superior to atheists and secularists ought to be patently obvious to those of us who find ourselves slack-jawed in awe of Christians' mendacity and dishonesty on a daily basis.

The problem here is the abdication of skepticism and critical thinking that comes as a necessary result of adopting faith-based worldviews, in which doubt itself is condemned as sinful and non-virtuous behavior.

Certainly, to an extent, even the most devout believer possesses some skepticism. Usually this is plain common sense, the kind of natural, untrained skepticism all people have that keeps us from leaning too far out of windows and looking twice before crossing the street, even if we don't hear a car. Tell even the most hardcore Christian that, say, drinking ten bottles of Big Red will make you glow in the dark, and he's liable to demand your proof just as sure as any skeptical inquirer.

Affinity fraud short circuits this easily, though, because many believers do not develop skilled critical thinking, and the approach to the swindle falls well within the believer's much wider tolerance range for claims not requiring hard evidence. In the authoritarian world of religion, if it's okay with your pastor, it's okay. So the clever affinity fraud conman targets the pastor first. From that point, the congregation lines up for its fleecing, thinking, "Well, if Pastor Bob thinks this guy's on the up-and-up, I have nothing to worry about."

Often the affinity fraud his been committed by the pastor himself. Bob Tilton, ol' Jim Bakker and the PTL, the endless pledge drives of Trinity Broadcasting (they have zillions but are forever telling their viewers they're in desperate need) — all these are simple swindles designed to take advantage of the pitiful, innate gullibility of believers. Believers who think these swindlers are really lovingly looking out for them. The cruelty is stupefying.

So again, if any further proof were needed that skepticism and rationalism were the only sensible approaches to life — particularly considering how fervently the alternative of "faith-based" everything is promoted as the height of righteousness, goodness, and apple-pie Americanism — here it is. When those smiling men behind their pulpits exhort you to "Believe! Believe! Believe!", you ought to ask yourself, "Why? What are you selling?"

"Questionable content" allowed, but only from Xian Right media whores

Did a double take the other night at my neighborhood HEB grocery store, when I saw this, ahem, interesting display for ol' Annthrax's latest dose of poison, Godless: The Church of Liberalism. (The skank says "godless" like it's a bad thing. Weird.) Click on the image to see a larger version, if that's what you need to read the sign.

A couple of points by way of preamble. As a rationalist I think there are very few absolutes in life, but freedom of expression, thought, and of the press is one of them. While I weep for the trees, the Coultergeist has every right to haunt bookshelves with her pig-ignorant, hate-filled, fact-free screeds as anyone. I, and other people with brains, have the right to call her on her merde, and mercilessly ridicule her books (especially the hilariously lame Photoshopping done on her cleavage — clearly she felt the need to make up for deficiencies in the work of her intelligent designer).

But there's just one problem with the little disclaimer on the HEB display here. It's one of the most egregious exercises in hypocrisy I've ever seen, on a par with Fox News's farcical "fair and balanced" taunt. Indeed, its dishonesty is truly worthy of the Coultergeist herself.

The text on the sign begins by giving the reader the clear impression that this is a book about which a large number of HEB customers have complained to the management, enough to prompt the management to take at least one meeting. Now, in this particular store (I have not yet been to other HEB locations to see if this display has been duplicated), the book and magazine aisle is pretty well stocked for a supermarket. There are good displays of current releases and bestsellers in both hardcover and paperback, fiction and nonfiction.

Annthrax's little literary chancre is the only book tagged with the disclaimer sign. Not only that, it has been given the most prominent display on the aisle, running five rows deep (with, hooray for small mercies, only one copy per row, but the vertical layout gives the impression of heavy stock). You can't see it in the photo, but right above the book is a bigger sign screaming "Featured". Immediately the question arises, if the book's content is so "questionable," why feature it? Why the prime real estate, if HEB is truly respectful of the concerns of customers who have been insulted and disgusted by said questionable content (a nice harmless euphemism for "filthy lies," that, don't you think)?

Certainly, respect for free speech and the free press means that customer complaints alone should not result in a book's being removed from the racks. But why give Mindless — excuse me, Godless — any more prominent a display than anything else? A great many books have questionable content. That assrocket Kevin Trudeau, with his idiotic and possibly criminal books about "natural cures," didn't get this kind of display. I saw theocratic ex-judge Roy "Constitution? What Constitution?" Moore's book there as well. These books were just mixed in with others in the book aisle, getting no special treatment — as it should be.

The fact is that Annthrax's "questionable content" sells, another indication of America's inexorable downward spiral to the status of intellectual third world country. What HEB has concocted here is a masterstroke of meretriciousness brazen enough to give Karl Rove his first boner in 30 years. They pose as staunch champions of free speech (what are you, a buncha liberals?) and the consumer's right of choice. But if that's what they are, why not carry Hustler, Mein Kampf, and that wingnut favorite The Turner Diaries, and really put their stated "long-standing policy" of letting customers "determine what is acceptable, and what is not, by what [they] purchase or refuse to purchase" to the test?

If you answered, "Because the sign is as big a pack of lies as Godless's brain-dead anti-evolution ravings," go to the head of the class.

The Coultergeist is truly a gift to her like-minded fellow liars everywhere. By baiting people with reactionary falsehoods rather than engaging in anything like thoughtful, informed discourse, she creates books that court the kind of controversy that has become the most commercially viable publishing trend in Bush's anti-intellectual, anti-reason America. (Next to outright plagiarism, and she's even reportedly hopped a ride on that bandwagon, too.)

She allows her fellow know-nothings to flatter themselves that they possess knowledge and expertise. And she allows corporate entities to flatter themselves that they are being socially responsible by addressing the controversy she courts, while, thus having morally absolved themselves, going ahead and cashing in on her crap anyway. Easily the most dishonest part of the disclaimer sign is its last sentence, expressing respect for customers' refusal to buy "questionable" products, while the whole display of which the sign is a part is designed entirely to make the product more attractive to potential purchasers.

This is lying as performance art. I'm truly in awe. I suspect even Ann herself would be too. But I think her reasons would be...questionable.

Welcome to the Atheist Experience

The world — especially the theocratically-leaning, religious-strife-beset world of today — cannot have too many atheist blogs. This one's contributors will include current and former hosts and co-hosts of The Atheist Experience, a weekly live television call-in show hosted by the Atheist Community of Austin, a nonprofit educational organization promoting positive atheism and the separation of church and state. There is an audio-only podcast feed of the show available from iTunes and other services.

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