Monday, August 31, 2009

Does Pat Robertson really believe?

Our old buddy Pat has just come out of heart surgery. He's 79. It happens. He's making a full recovery. Here's what the doctors did to save his life.

Robertson, founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network, underwent...a new approach to dealing with atrial fibrillation, called convergence procedure. It involves cauterizing the continually beating heart muscle with heat generated by a radio frequency. It rewires a portion of the heart, in a sense, to correct the irregular beat.

...The technique is less invasive than traditional surgery and more effective long-term than drugs and their many side effects.

In a separate but related procedure, doctors also removed an abnormally enlarged left appendage on Robertson's heart. They believe the growth contributed to Robertson's atrial fibrillation.

And here's who gets the credit.

"Only the prayers of thousands of believing people kept me on this earth," Robertson said in a statement.

Yeah, I know, typical. Medical science that didn't exist 20 years ago keeps some old superstitious codger breathing, and he only has thanks for his imaginary friend in the sky and the prayers that presumably winged their way skyward to him. Right. But that isn't what this post is about. It's about something else very revealing in Robertson's statement.

At 79, Pat Robertson, perhaps the leading evangelist in all of American Christendom, is afraid to die.

I mean, think of it. If you really, truly believed in Christianity's promise of Heaven — a perfect paradise free of woe, strife, pain, fear, sadness, queers and liberals — wouldn't the prospect of finally getting to go there be the happiest news you could possibly receive? Really, I cannot imagine anything happier. That is, if you really, in your heart of hearts, believed in its existence and in your guarantee of a place there. Not to get into a "No True Christian" discussion here, but it seems to me that, whatever your stripe of Christianity — conservative or liberal, Baptist or Lutheran, Methodist or Presbyterian, Pentacostal or snake-handling wacko — if you genuinely believed in Heaven, then the prospect of death should not only not be fearful, but cause for celebration. A diagnosis of terminal illness should be occasion for a blowout "I'm Goin' To Heaven" party, a big sendoff to your great reward! All Christian funerals should be like New Orleans funerals, with marching bands and dancing revelers, not tears.

But listen to Pat. He isn't saying, "Dammit! Here I was, all ready to go to Heaven and be by my Lord's side for all eternity at last...and you bozos had to go and start praying your little fingers off, and now I'm stuck here! Thanks for nothing."

No, Pat's grateful for the medical science prayers that kept him hanging onto this vale of tears just a little bit longer.

Why? Does he really believe in Heaven after all? Really believe, deep down inside...?

Matt Dillahunty has often argued on the show, and I agree, that most Christians, when backed against the wall, are more agnostic than they're willing to admit. That, in all likelihood, they do not truly believe that which they profess to believe about God and Christianity's promises. It's not a new argument. David Hume made it. But it's moments like these, interesting little moments when a Christian leader of Pat Robertson's stature reveals in a public statement that death frightens him, that make the point far more effectively and eloquently than we atheists can.

I know many of you have heard of the Kübler-Ross model of the "five stages of grief": denial, anger, negotiation, despair and acceptance. Look, none of us really wants to die. It's part of our evolutionary hardwiring, that innate instinct for self-preservation. But when you don't have the deceptive promises of religion hampering you, as an atheist, you find that you tend to get through these stages rather quickly when contemplating your own mortality. I have not really met any atheists wracked with existential despair over the fact that one day they too shall pass. Not to say there are none, but there are fewer than you'd think for a group of people who are skeptical of an afterlife. This fact often flummoxes Christian apologists, who are often overconfident in thinking that exploiting fear of death will make witnessing to atheists a cakewalk.

The problem with religion is that clinging to a belief in a heavenly afterlife effectively stymies the process at the "bargaining" phase. You spend your entire life in a desperate, daily attempt to please a God, in the hopes that, while he certainly won't stave off physical death, he will keep you "spiritually" immortal.

I don't think that the fear of death is necessarily the #1 selling point for religion. But the desire to avoid death, to believe that when you die you don't, and that you'll see all your departed loved ones once again on that rainbow bridge, is most assuredly something that religion puts in heavy rotation on its playlist of promises. And for some believers, I guess it can work. Until that moment that death is no longer abstract, but looming.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Because it's all just so depressing, that's why

I have, as many of you have doubtless noticed, been absent from the blog for most of August, preferring to concentrate on some other things and take a bit of a break from the whole atheist-activism thing. Mainly, this has been due to a real need to decompress. I am frankly in a state of despair regarding America as a whole. The right wing — duplicitous, self-serving and dishonest at the best of times — have simply descended into bugfuck insanity and psychosis. I mean, for Set's sake, we've actually got Republican politicians openly "joking" about killing Obama. What the blue blazing phuque is wrong with these maniacs?

I've never seen anything like the mass insanity surrounding the health-care reform "debate," which hasn't been so much a debate as a mindless, frothing mob going absolutely apeshit over the most preposterous lies that such bobblehead demagogues as Limbaugh and Beck can cook up. Apparently, Obama is going to send the SS to kick down your door, gun down grandma, and hold you down while they forcibly administer HPV vaccines whether you're a girl or not. That so many of these people just believe the shit they're being spoonfed without so much as a pause for thought (a skill they evidently don't possess) makes it dismayingly clear just how far this country has sunk into near-savagery. The neocon Christian right are no longer even recognizably human; they are simply wild animals driven into a Pavlovian rage at the mere sight of a sliver of red meat, even when (especially when) it's a wholly imaginary sliver. (After all, as Matt Taibbi has pointed on in Rolling Stone, what kind of fucking morons must these people be to decry as "socialism" a health-care reform proposal designed to preserve as much of the private sector as it can?)

I just don't want to be in the same dimension with these, um, "people." I'd rather read lots of sci-fi or hang out with my dogs. Unreason, fear, hate, anger, racism, and literalist Christianity are sending America down the toilet fast, and I think we're already too far down the U-bend to be drawn back up with even the heartiest application of a plunger.

So. How's your day?

Monday, August 24, 2009

On keeping your cool

An email friend, whom I'll call "Carl," (he can identify himself in the comments if he feels like it) sent me a message with the subject "Could you help?" It contained a few letters exchanged with a pastor named Jesse. It seems that some of Carl's well-meaning friends don't care for his atheism, and therefore sent Jesse after him to change his mind.

I won't quote the entire exchange. Carl started off well but then after a couple of rounds said this:

Jesse, anyone that believes in any "Man Made" religion is not only superstitious, but harmful to society and has a serious moral dilemma to deal with. All religions are hurtful to the progress of all science and mankind in general, the sooner people learn this and think for themselves the better off everyone will be.

It's a shame what you do for a living really. Taking advantage of innocent people with lies and false promises of eternal punishment and damnation if they fail to believe as you do.

Are you truly happy in your chosen line of work? I don't know how you sleep at night knowing that you preying on people's insecurities and lack of knowledge.

Jesse got extremely huffy and basically accused Carl of being an intellectual lightweight, concluding:

Unfortunately, further discussions will take viable witnessing time away from those who are seeking our Savior rather than those who have clearly rejected Him after 25 years of holding the title "Christian".

Again, that the burden of proof that God does not exist falls solely on you.

Carl came away from this exchange feeling annoyed and wondering how he could have gotten across to the Christian about how burden of proof works. I have a lot more thoughts about the way this conversation went though, so here's what I wrote back.

I hate to say it, but in a small way I agree with Jesse. It was kind of rude of you come at him with a personal attack, accusing him of taking advantage of people and deliberately lying. It may have been cathartic for you to be able to tell him what you really feel, but it's no way to start a mutually respectful debate where he might be willing to listen to your opinions.

It sounds to me as if he contacted you unsolicited, but I imagine that you WANT something from this guy. If all you wanted was to be left alone, then hey -- mission accomplished. He just essentially told you that he's moving on to fresher targets, and shan't pester you again. Great! But the fact that you wrote to me indicates that you are bothered by this response and wish the exchange had gone differently.

What do you want out of the discussion? I can't answer that. Do you want to justify yourself to the pastor? Do you want to beat him soundly and then show whichever friend sicced him on you that he has no leg to stand on? Or do you just want to have a practice discussion so that you can hone your own arguments?

Whichever one it is, keep this in mind: People are more inclined to give you what you want if you're not mean to them. On the internet, conversations only happen between two consenting parties. You have the right not to talk to him, and he has the right not to talk to you. Be honest: if somebody tried to open a dialogue with you by saying "You're an atheist? I despise you and everything you stand for, and think you are luring innocent people to hell every day." Would you want to continue a discussion with this person, or would you tell them to take a hike?

I'm in that situation all the time, receiving email directed at the TV show, and I'll tell you what I do with those kinds of messages. Either I ignore them intentionally, or I keep them on the line for a few rounds just to return their scorn and abuse with even higher levels of sarcasm and mockery. Just for fun. Eventually I drop it.

So I don't blame Jesse for answering an attack with an attack. If I were you, I think at this point I'd either apologize if I wanted to keep talking, or drop the subject and learn a lesson for the next conversation.

When I say "apologize" I of course don't mean you have any need to apologize for not believing in God. As atheists, we already come into this dialogue at a disadvantage, because (1) Christianity is popular, so we're defending a minority position, and (2) Christians are told that atheists are immoral, so they already assume that they are descending into a pit of vipers by even talking to you. So basically, they are looking for any hint of bad behavior as an excuse to dismiss you entirely. If you don't want them to have that excuse, then don't give them an opportunity by deliberately insulting them.

As for the burden of proof: What we generally say is that the person who is making a positive claim is the one who has a burden of proof. Or to put it another way, if you want to convince somebody of something then you should be prepared to prove it.

This means that if the other guy is making the claim "There is definitely a God" and you are simply saying "I don't believe you have enough evidence for that" then yeah, he has to bring his proof or scram. But if you come at HIM and say "There is absolutely no God, and you are LYING to people!" then you've actively managed to transfer that burden to yourself.

My final point would be that even if he says things that are not true, he is probably not lying. "Lying" implies that he has an awareness of a truth that negates his claims. It implies that not only is he wrong, but he knows he's wrong. I don't see how you can assume that that's the case. If you had simply accused him of being incorrect, it might defuse a lot of that messy interpersonal stuff.

I wanted to share this because I think it's important that atheists learn how to communicate effectively. When I discuss evangelical atheism, I try to emphasize that every exchange you get into should have a clear goal. If at any time you do not know how to answer the question "Why am I still writing to this guy?" then you should stop writing. Goals can include:
  1. Convincing the other person.
  2. Convincing an audience.
  3. Entertaining an audience (if the opponent is too big a crackpot to be taken seriously).
  4. Practice.
That's part of the reason why if a theist who is a stranger writes to the TV list, my first instinct is to redirect it to a blog post or other venue where more people are listening. If there's little chance that either of us will be persuaded, there's not much point to arguing unless there's someone else paying attention. If it's a friend whose opinions I care about, I might have the discussion just out of a desire to be social or maybe try to soften their position.

Isn't all religious belief a form of acting?

For reasons I can't quite fathom, but which probably have to do with the fact that I was at one point listed (I didn't bother renewing when production in Texas essentially dried up) in the Texas Film Commission Production Directory, I've been added to the email list of Brad Wilson Acting. This means that I have intermittently been getting newsletters plugging his "Faith Based Acting" seminars.

Not that I couldn't find this out for myself if I cared to look into it (but as this would involve attending the seminar, my motivation is nil), but I find myself puzzled as to what Wilson, a former personal assistant to Robert Duvall who now produces microbudget direct-to-DVD Christian movies, exactly means by "faith based" acting. It seems Christians can attach the label "faith based" to nearly anything now, thereby making it better.

Here's the pitch:

Does your art collide with your faith?
Does your talent challenge your calling?

Hollywood film producer, Brad Wilson, wants to help you find direction from the Bible that has not only encouraged him to continue his work in film and televition, but to see it as a calling vs a job in his popular workshop, Faith Based Acting For the Camera.

As a Christian, Brad has felt the need to help guide others in the "business" by not only using invaluable techniques he has learned for acting for the camera, but most of all using ones faith and belief in God as the ultimate guidance. Brad will share many of his own experiences and obstacles he himself has faced in a business that does not generally put God first.

Well, you know, like any business (including religion) Hollywood puts money first. They have to, since they spend so goddamn much of it filling the multiplexes with shite like Transformers and G.I. Joe. It takes millions of publicity dollars to convince you that you haven't just been robbed of two hours of your life you'll never get back, after all. "You know," executives have been known to say in meetings over brandy and sneakily imported Havanas, "once audiences leave the theater after this headache-inducing abortion is over, those who aren't 6 years old and under or mentally retarded are going to converge on our offices with torches and heavy weapons. So we really need to make it seem like it's some kind of event going on here, or we're well and truly fucked!"

But that aside, I'm curious to know how acting work could conflict with one's religious faith. If you're offered a role you find objectionable, or that requires you to do something objectionable (like sex or nudity), in a script you find offensive, simply don't audition for those projects.

I suppose many actors might find themselves under pressure to take on roles in films that offend them personally, simply for fear that "the big break" may not come again any time soon. But the good news there is that independent filmmaking is more accessible than ever, particularly in the vital niche market of Christian film. An actor or aspiring filmmaker can build a body of work and allow their talents to be seen in projects they have greater control over artistically, whether or not it's possible (and it typically isn't for indie movies) for those projects to actually get released. Most freshman actors and directors understand their DIY indie work is just about building their experience and putting together a nice reel. Get that work into the right hands, and offers for higher-profile work could well be in the offing. The old cliché of the "casting couch" is a relic of the old-school studio system, when there was, for all intents and purposes, no such thing as independent filmmaking. These days, it's not necessary for a budding young ingénue to shag some lard-assed producer in the back of a limo to get cast in something. I mean, she can if she wants, I suppose, but why?

So, yes, I'm not sure that any Christian actors are really at risk of compromising their values if they don't want to. And maybe, these classes are just Wilson's way to meet a pool of wide-eyed young talent to cast in his own DVD cheapies. That's all fine. As for "faith based acting," though, well, I must say, I'd think Christians would be naturals as actors without the extra coaching. After all, a lifetime of talking to invisible beings is a master class in acting all its own, eh?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Seriously - beware of popups....

My woo-detector is finely honed, as it turns out.

This guy (beware of popups) never met a theory he didn't like and never saw two items he couldn't link in a dozen meaningful ways. He sent me a long e-mail asking for a review of his research. As I'm busy with work, and my woo-dar overloaded rather quickly, I figured I'd let someone else waste, review this.

There's the famous quote from Feynman, "If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don't understand quantum mechanics." It's bad enough when real scientists get there, but when schizotypal folks get this stuff in their brains it's like giving a kaleidoscope to an acid-freak in a room full of disco lights. (I think I found next weekend's special activity!)

In the spirit of The Matrix, some of us opted for the red pill and this guy took an everlasting gobstopper dipped in some of Timothy Leary's 'quantum enlightener'.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Greatest Sin

On last Sunday's Atheist Experience, Matt and I were talking about "end times" theology as an example of one of the negative impacts of the Bible. I have had a difficult time putting into words my feelings on the subject. I've been trying to capture the deliciously sadistic glee that Christians must fantasize about when they think about being swept up to Heaven prior to watching the destruction of the rest of humanity--especially of those who were not as wise as they were to believe in Jesus.

One can be sure there is no empathy in Heaven. That would involve some amount of personal discomfort that a human being would feel when observing the pain of another. Instead, the believer will be in complete bliss while watching the spectacle unfold (as well as those being tortured in Hell).
"The happiness of the elect will consist in part of witnessing the torments of the damned in hell, among whom may be their own children, parents, husbands, wives and friends; ... but instead of taking the part of their miserable being, they will say 'Amen!', 'Hallelujah!', 'Praise the Lord!'." (Rev. Nathaniel Emmons / 1745-1840)
Twentieth-century apologist C. S. Lewis likened the experience of Heaven to "transsex." He made the analogy of an adult understanding the pleasures of heaven as like explaining the pleasures of sex to a child. The greatest pleasure the child knows is his love for chocolate, but he simply can't imagine the pleasure of sex. By analogy, if sex is the greatest pleasure an adult knows, heaven would have something so great as to make sex seem like the passing taste of a chocolate bar. Surely, C. S. Lewis's concept of heaven would make the would-be Muslim suicide bomber yearning for his 72 regenerating virgins seem rather quaint. (See Atheist Experience episode #413 for more.)

So imagine watching the destruction of all humanity while having a "transsex" orgy simultaneously with all the dead people who ever believed in Jesus. Even without the sex angle, the thought of this being a person's ultimate desire takes sociopathology to the extreme.

I've been at a serious loss for words to describe how I feel about this. I had previously use the term "Christian snuff porn" to describe my disgust, but on Sunday's show, I likened this rapturous desire to jacking off at a car wreck.

I expect there will be some fallout for that comment. I find it interesting that one of our producers decided to censor the comment on the version of the show that is to air here in Austin. (I do admit that I didn't take the opportunity to explain why I made it and it may have seemed out of place.) This two second silence got me thinking though: What does it say about our society that we are so shocked by an admittedly twisted sexual analogy, but that millions of Americans yearning for complete human destruction fails to even raise an eyebrow? Why do we give tax breaks to "charities" that promote these ideas, while the atheists who point out the treason to humanity are the least trusted group in the United States? Why is everyone so concerned about Ted Haggard's sexual proclivities, but the fact that he may have had a hand in influencing Bush to go to war in the Middle East is not newsworthy? Haggard, who was then head of the National Evangelical Association, was meeting with the White House weekly on Bible Prophecies related to the end times. Bush apparently was concerned enough about Gog and Magog to try to get then France's Prime Minister Chirac involved. Why is this not shocking to everyone? Why aren't we locking Bush and all of his fellow sociopaths up in padded cell? Keep them where they can't hurt themselves or anyone else.

I suspect we're all still too influenced by this sick little religion of Christianity, its torture device logo, glorification of suffering, and its wide path of inhuman destruction. I make no apologies for my comment, however. It's time our silence stops.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Teh emailz, we gets dem

Ordinarily I don't post the full names of emailers. However, in this case, John Berbatis from Perth seems to be busy enough posting his own name everywhere that he probably won't mind.

Dear Producer,

The following references will provide positve information to what I have stated below; 'The Holographic Universe - it's an illusion' (You Tube), 'Biege the Colour of the Universe' (*) and Scientific America (August, 2003).

Kind regards
John Berbatis 10th August, 2009

Logical proof of Monotheism & Pantheism.

Syllogisms that I submitted in 1998, which were recognized by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights - Dr Mary Robinson and the Hon. Justice Michael D. Kirby AC CMG of the High Court of Australia.

Time must exist before matter can be created, and only an animate entity can conceive of space-time. Time must be a stabilized and uniform condition before matter can form, thus Monotheism is a Truth.

The Universe consists of space-time; which is functionally active and growing but remains stable. These combined characteristics are indicative of an animate entity only, thus Pantheism is a fact.
As a consequence, all mortals' behaviour and attitudes become conspicuous by our Creator.

Reality is the dream of a Universal sentient being. Sensations of all mortals are merely light flashes within elongated fractal crystals, flowing in a white mist which is time itself; ensconced within a beige coloured and velvet textured Pearl, that is, a holographic Universe.

If all electrical particles were in different time zones - matter would not form, thus time is a controlled electromagnetic radiation (energy) E = mc2.

To be perfect - one must know the past, present and future, there is only one, the one that created Time.

John Berbatis Perth, Australia
[phone number and email address removed, since I'm not completely heartless]

Wow, that certainly was... a bunch of sentences. Which appeared to be written in English. Or something resembling it.

By the way, when I googled this guy, I also discovered that he predicted multiple times that humanity would go extinct last year. Crikey, John, those are some bloody spooky powers you have there! I think this is why most prophets predict major events occurring a lot more than a year in advance.

* The URL provided is broken, but this story might explain some of what he is talking about with regard to the color beige.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

A Blasphemy Against Humanity

The Austin American-Statesman yesterday ran a New York Times editorial by Nicholas D. Kristof. It began:

"Karachi, Pakistan--Afterward, they comforted each other with the blasphemy: 'It was God's will.'"

So, how could I not be intrigued, especially because most Christians I know have a vague notion of god as all-powerful, all-knowing, and the creator of all things, that would make the phrase "it was god's will" a logically inescapable conclusion and necessary description of any event occurring in this universe. I had the feeling that whatever Kristof would describe would be absolutely within the realm of this "god's will"--according to the model of god most believers seem to put forward. But I wanted to see for myself, so I read on.

Not surprisingly, I was correct. The story is about the family politics of a pregnant woman's husband--and the politics of many women's families in this region. The $3.75 ride to a hospital was considered far too extravagant when the time came for the baby to arrive. Lest your sympathies get the better of you, one aunt said that if the family had known the child was going to be a boy (which it was), they'd have paid far more for the cab fare. It was less a question of poverty than one of concern. No the family is not well off, but their logic was that it was silly to waste money on a hospital.

While the article was more about a misogynistic society (which I feel sure a fundamentalist religion based on the great "He" doesn't help), I kept looking for the "blasphemy" in the statement about god's will. After the child dies (the mother lives), the mother is devastated, and the father says, "It is God's will. There is nothing we can do."

I agree with Kristof's call of "bullshit" on this one. But where is the blasphemy if I were to call myself a believer? As a nonbeliever, I want to call this one blasphemy against humanity, if there can be such a thing. Certainly it was our will for this child to die--humanity's will. It could have been avoided by human intervention. It was not necessary in a purely human world without gods. But the child died. And humans are responsible. To say that what humans do and allow--whether good or bad--has anything to do with gods is a blasphemy against our own species. But it's no blasphemy against god. If god is what people claim god is in many cases, it's a reality--a truth--to call any event "god's will."

Did god create everything--a universe where we cannot escape cause and effect? If so, this child's death was written into the "stars" (if you will) the moment the singularity popped, or the moment he spoke it all here 6,000 years ago. If he didn't create it, he's off the hook. If he did, he killed this child as surely as the child's own family.

Does god know everything? Did he know what he was doing? Does he understand the universe or not? If he built it and had so little understanding of what he was doing, he's off the hook in much the same way a mentally challenged person might be off the hook for a double-homocide. He still caused the harm; he's just too irresponsible to be held accountable for what he caused. If god built it and understood it--this god has no excuse. He actually produced the universe in such a way that this child would die, and either did not care, or meant it to be so.

Does god have the power to alter anything in this universe or impact human events? If god was aware of this child's plight, and was able to intervene, but did not, then he's just as guilty as the family members (ironically it was the men in the family) who felt the hospital was the best place for this mother, but did nothing to enforce their preference. If there is a god who is aware, cares at all, and can help, who does not, then this child's death was as much that god's choice as the family's.

Is it blasphemy to say god is not the creator? God is retarded--as gods go? Or that god lacks the power (is too castrated) to intervene in our lives?

Does our society truly embrace a god that keeps players safe at sporting events, but can't be expected to help a woman in difficult labor to be healthy and well and have a live baby in the end? It sure looks that way.

When I say "god did not create the universe," or "there is no god that is all powerful and gives a care," or "there is no god that knows everything"--or "there is no god," I'm sure to be lambasted by Christians everywhere for my arrogance and, well, blasphemy. They may not call it "blasphemy" much in these times, but that's what it is and why it offends so many believers to say such things.

Who gets to say what is blasphemy in the world of believers? To many, It's blasphemy to claim god doesn't have his finger on the pulse of the whole universe, as Kristof implies. But to Kristof, when one injustice occurs, it's blasphemy to say god had any knowledge or power to alter events. What sort of ineffectual god does Kristof imagine, I wonder? I have to think he imagines something, because he brought up the "god's will" phrase twice in a small article, and called it a blasphemy both times; and the story itself had precious little to do with gods, and everything to do with humans and human society.

I wish he would have clarified it was only a blasphemy to humanity, and could not possible be a blasphemy for any god model that would matter in this universe. I wish Kristof would have explained what he means by "god." But he did neither, unfortunately. But I think, disappointed as it makes me, he meant it in the same ludicrous apologetic way we hear it used all the time: With god all things are possible, but, somehow, helping an infant, unable to help itself, was way too much to ask--way beyond god's scope.

It's called having your cake and eating it, too. And it's logically impossible. But try telling that to someone who's been sufficiently indoctrinated. If that is really what Kristof meant, he's as guilty as holding to irrational, unhelpful beliefs as the culture he's writing to criticize. Like many Christians, he would be promoting that it's OK to devote some part of one's worldview to a logically inconsistent, impossible god who helps us not at all--and credit that god with all things good while blaming humans for all things evil. And that sort of hosed up religious belief is a part of the foundation that ultimately killed this child of a Muslim world, isn't it?

Perhaps instead of writing about gods and blasphemies, he should have "kept it real" and just said, "People could have helped this child. People did not. Dragging god into this as a 'will' or a victim of 'blasphemy,' helps us not at all. It adds nothing to this equation that can only possibly examine what people can do, what they did/did not do, and what other people could have/might have done to impact the reasons for these poor choices and tragic outcomes." And if I can add, reasons like holding to irrational beliefs about women and gods that led to this child's death.

I'm not sure how much impact a writer like Kristof can have in cutting the rope of irrationality that holds these people to unhealthy decisions, while he's involved in actually braiding more of that same rope. It's not reasonable to condemn real-world injustices that are the result of a god model I personally support.

I can't know that Kristof doesn't have some minority deistic ideology. But I can know that many people reading what he wrote--and he would know this as well--are interpreting it as, "That's right, my loving creator-of-all-things, all knowing, all powerful god would never allow something like this; how dare anyone blame this evil on god." It would escape them that the fact that this event actually occurred should be evidence that, if their god model exists, it would and did allow such an event--and therefore becomes logically inconsistent and, tah-dah, nonexistent. But I will almost guarantee you that hundreds of thousands read his column, held this model of god, and condemned this "blasphemy" in like manner. They want their cake, but they want to eat it, too. And that's impossible. And the scariest part is that no matter how much you try to explain that eating the cake will result in the cake being gone, they will insist that you are the one who simply does not get it.

To some, unfortunately not so small degree, it truly is a mad world.