Saturday, May 28, 2011

Jesus F*cking Christ Contest

The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a camp group in San Francisco had a contest this last Easter for the best Jesus Fucking Christ. Let you imagination roam a bit. Who would you choose? What image does that phrase bring to mind?

The winner and runner up are in the photo. The runner up was the built guy, presumably good for fucking. The winner is funnier, in my opinion. That Jesus is the guy on the right in the red robe. Christ, of course, is the one bent over.

I think I'll always smile from now on when I hear that phrase with that visual locked into my mind.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Oakland Rapture RAM report - part 3

I've already covered the entire event, but I skipped over my favorite part because it deserved a post of its own: the people.

From the moment I walked in the door on Saturday, I was met by friendly faces who were happy to be there and happy that I was able to show up. Over the next 30 hours or so, I met a bunch of new friends, posed for lots of pictures, signed a few books and, most importantly, heard numerous stories from people who wanted to express just how much The Atheist Experience has meant to them.

"I was a Christian...until..."
"I was a pagan...until..."
"I was afraid of hell...until..."
"I was apathetic...until..."
"I love what you guys are doing..."
"You've helped make my arguments better..."
"I'm just glad that you guys are doing this - it's important!"

I can't begin to express how much comments like that mean to me and every time I hear them I wish everyone involved with the show was right there to hear them with me.

There's a major event coming in 2012 (the Reason Rally) and while there's nothing official, I'm hoping to get as many of The Atheist Experience folks (including those who work behind the scenes) out to that event - so start making plans now!

I've always said that I'd be happy if the show made people think and happier if it helped someone. There's no doubt that both are true and there are few feelings as satisfying as the combination of accomplishment and appreciation.

To all the fans of the show...thank you. We'll keep doing what we're doing.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Notes on episode 710

Yes, we know the video link isn't working. We're working on it. Specifically, Don says we're shifting to a new server. So I'll add an addendum to this post when there's a workable video to view.

A couple of notes on some things that a few viewers have emailed us about, regarding how a couple of the calls went.

Mark "from Stone Church": Some folks have admonished us for being a bit curt and dismissive of Mark this time, considering how he seems to have made such progress in shifting from mindless follower to free thinker. Yes, about that. While I'm not as inclined to think there are as many Poes calling us as a lot of our viewers like to think, there is something about Mark that sets my skeptical Spidey-sense a-tingling with every call we get. I'm not the first person to make this observation. That his IP address originates from Canada has raised some eyebrows as to whether he really attends Austin Stone Church at all (though that's not proof of anything, as a person could use any ISP they chose, I suppose). But there was just something about Sunday's call that made a little blinking red light labeled Bogus! go off in my head, though I really could not put my finger on any one definite thing. Is he someone who's been jerking our chain all this time? I cannot point to any smoking-gun evidence. Call it a hunch, which I know is about as unscientific as it gets.

There are little things — notice how Mark always claims to be present in a room full of people when he calls ("I'm with my congregation..." "I've got all my friends watching..."), yet you never hear any background chatter? You'd think a room full of Christians calling an atheist show would be full of "Hey, ask them this!" and "Let me, let me!" And then there's the abrupt shift from "You're going to hell!" to "Let's get together on this investigation that shows every time you question religion it's proven false!" Most of us who came from a religious background will tell you, you don't go from a devout believer to hardline, investigation-minded skeptic in the span of a couple of weeks. Deconversion happens all the time, but it's a long and gradual process and it often takes years to shake off the more insidious and psychologically oppressive aspects of religious indoctrination, such as the fear of even the remotest, 1% possibility that disbelief will lead to eternity in hell. (Pascal's Wager is intellectually risible, but to a non-critical mind, it's an emotional sledgehammer.)

But the strange thing is, if Mark is a Poe, he hasn't been asking us anything overtly obnoxious or trollish. (His hellfire admonitions in his "believer" phase were standard Christian stuff.) So while I'm not sure I believe he is who or what he says he is, he hasn't given us much reason to be rude or contemptuous of him, and that wasn't the intent on Sunday. But by the time his call was over we were 25 minutes into a one-hour show and it was time to move on.

Charlie the "atheist homophobe": Unfortunately, we had to move on to this assclown.

Again, some folks have opined that Tracie and I handled this one all wrong, and in fact I'd agree. What I should have done — with 20/20 hindsight — was point out that as an African-American, Charlie ought to know a thing or two about how hurtful and damaging ignorance, hate and bigotry are, and that for him to hold such views was simply disgraceful. Click, you're done.

What I do not think we had any obligation to do was grant Charlie his point that the term homophobia ought to refer to "disgust" towards gays rather than hate and fear. First off, even if this were true, what difference would it make? Sure, homophobia can (and does) include "disgust," but it's the most asinine hair-splitting to try to claim that this emotion is somehow independent or entirely unrelated to fear or hate, when in fact "disgust" in this case is simply an emotional by-product of said fear and hate.

And even if it weren't a by-product of those things, what exactly was Charlie thinking? That our attitude towards homophobia might change — that we'd revise our opinion that it's sheer contemptible idiocy — if hate and fear were removed from the definition? And try as we might, we simply couldn't stop Charlie from spinning in circles on the definition and pin him down on one salient question: if he thinks the definition of homophobia is an inaccurate description of his attitude, then why add to the confusion by using the term to classify himself?

Homophobia's definition, I agree, is more complex than the strict dictionary definition ("irrational fear and antipathy towards homosexuals") may reveal. Regular commenter GeorgeFromNY pointed out on Facebook last night that the term has its origins in clinical psych, and originally referred to men whose aversion to the gay was so intense as to be pathological. Furthermore, it's often noted that what these homophobes fear is not gay men per se, but the possibility that they themselves might respond positively to a potential gay sexual advance, due to some latent unexplored homoerotic attraction they haven't (and cannot) come to terms with. In short, it was projection gone wild. Now, I'll admit that many homophobes may in fact not be closet cases, though the sheer number of anti-gay conservative politicians and clergymen who have eventually been caught in flagrante delicto with their young swains does tend to lend some legitimacy to the stereotype.

But really, I think what Charlie was trying to do was perform a semantic Mexican Hat Dance around the real matter at hand, which is, if you call us up and the first words out of your mouth are "I'm a homophobe," we are not going to respect you. It's no different than calling up and saying "I'm a misogynist!" or "I'm a racist!" It all translates to "I'm a bigoted douche!" And whether your bigotry is based on fear or disgust, it's all the same in the end, and equally beneath contempt. Trying to play some game with definitions in order to defend something indefensible is about as absurd as it gets.

"Oh, I see, you don't fear gays, you're simply disgusted by them. Well, that's okay then." Really, Charlie? Really?

So yeah, we handled Charlie poorly and could have shut him down sooner. But you learn a little something with every episode you do, and we always appreciate the feedback, pro and con, from viewers, because it helps us think about how to do better every time.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Oakland Rapture RAM report...part the second

The billboard, like the people who paid for it, were still there on Sunday...

Continuing on with Saturday's speakers...

Ashley Paramore from the Secular Student Alliance did a great job educating us on how to better connect with campus groups. As it turns out, not only do they enjoy pizza (preferably free) they might also be a bit tired of lectures (who knew?) and there are other events that might be more to their liking. In all seriousness, the ACA has worked with campus groups at UT, Austin and many of the things that Ashley said (which should almost be common sense but, sadly, are not) will be helpful to our group and to many others that want to help support campus secular groups. I won't be advocating the exact model that Campus Crusade for Christ uses, but there are good lessons to be learned there.

Lewis Marshall, President of the Atheists, Humanists and Agnostics at Stanford University spoke about freethought activism and working with interfaith groups. (There were some unfortunate audio problems during his talk and I missed part of it.)

Keith Lowell Jensen offered highlights from his stand-up comedy routine. Legitimately entertaining and funny, he's been doing atheist-themed comedy for a while. He was kind enough to give me one of his CD's and I planned to listen to it on the flight home, but I couldn't find the CD-drawer on my iPod, so I'm going to rip the audio off later and listen to it tomorrow...or at least before the next scheduled rapture.

David Eller, Assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Colorado, Denver gave the first of two talks (I want his agent...or maybe any agent) for the weekend. He's the author of several books and the latest is Cruel Creeds, Virtuous Violence: Religious Violence Across Culture and History.

The first talk covered some of the content of the book, focusing on religious violence and cultural perceptions of violence. It's not a talk I can fairly summarize, but I definitely enjoyed it and I'm looking forward to spending more time talking to David in the future. He said a number of things that made me reconsider the way I look at things and that's something that I really appreciate.

There was a dinner break at this point and I did a few interviews with local news stations. As it turns out, I was on one station for about 3 seconds and...they pretty much gave me the last word. That's great and fairly unheard of! It's almost enough to make me move to California. I had spent a few moments during my talk mentioning how religious figures always seem to get the last word on every atheist news story and no one had ever given me the last word on a religious story. I'll have to change my talk, but I'm glad to do so!

As dinner was wrapping up, Brian Dalton (Mr. Deity) appeared, as if by magic and almost precisely timed with the countdown to the rapture (SPOILER: nothing happened). Some of the speakers got together to pose for various rapture photos:

Brian and I had traded a couple of e-mails about possibly getting him on one or both of the shows, but we'd never actually met. After a quick introduction and a renewed commitment to keep the conversations going, he set up his laptop and proceeded to entertain us so that we wouldn't have time to be depressed about the fact that people weren't actually being raptured.

The previous night, I'd mentioned to Donna that I'd been to California many times, but I'd never experienced an earthquake and that I'd love, just once, to get a taste of a tiny earthquake. Nothing terribly damaging, just a little shake.

Well Mr. Deity sure knows how to deliver. A little over halfway through his talk, the earth moved. The Bay area experienced a minor earthquake (3.6) and after I turned and gave Donna a thumbs-up, I just couldn't resist shouting "Is that all you've got!?"

After watching several clips from Mr. Deity and hearing him talk about the absurdity of claiming a Christian basis for the United States while the values we hold sacred are usually the antithesis of the values proclaimed in the Bible, it was time to party like it was the end of the world.

I donned a thick, polyester robe, which covered my stylish, yet polyester, bowling shirt...and managed to sweat my way through an improvised de-baptism ceremony with Greta Christina faithlessly using a blow-dryer to counter the effects of any previous baptisms that the guests wish to be relieved from. (Fun Fact: This silly, fun-filled exercise is exactly as effective as the actual baptisms!)

And Saturday came to an end...

Well, actually, it didn't. I managed to sneak out for drinks with some folks until Saturday came to an end.


My Sunday coverage is going to be pretty short (and there will be a third part to this entry)...

I got up at an absolutely ridiculous hour and Rebecca and Amy and I headed over to a fund-raising breakfast for CampQuest West. Breakfast was great and it was a good opportunity to raise money by visiting with some of the great people who were willing to shell out extra cash to see whether or not the speakers had good table manners - and to identify which of us clearly went out drinking the night before.

I got to hear David Eller's second talk, just before I had to leave. This one covered building an atheist culture and it prompted a lot of thought and discussion. I really wish I'd have been able to stay around longer and discuss the talk with him, but alas, my plane simply refused to wait.

That means that I missed Rebecca's talk, though I've heard it was great. I really hope someone recorded all of this and decides to post it. I was going to see how far I could impose on Rebecca by seeing if she'd be willing to do the entire talk again, over Skype, just for Beth and I...but instead I'm going to see about having the ACA bring her down to Austin so she can do the talk at our monthly lecture series. (To the ACA board: I swear I'm not just angling to bring my new friends to'll be worth it.)

Mark Boyd was up after Rebecca and I can't comment on his talk. I can, though, say that I'm sorry to have missed it and sorry that I didn't get to spend more time talking to him. We had a very brief chat on the first day and I was pulled every which way for the rest of my time there (though I'm not complaining).

Finally, Greta Christina closed down this event with her talk, "Why are atheists so angry?" While it's true that I wasn't there, I can virtually guarantee that it was the highlight of the meeting. I've heard her give this talk and it nearly brings me to tears. Do whatever you can do to hear it. If she hadn't already been one of my favorite people, she certainly would have been after hearing this.

I'm going to wait a while on posting the third part of this...because I don't want these posts to get lost in a flood of post.

The Oakland Rapture RAM report...

Let me start by saying that I was thrilled to be a part of this event and that I had a great time and look forward to more events like this one. Unfortunately, my plane left Oakland at around noon on Sunday, so I had to leave early and missed the last few talks on Sunday - but here's my rundown of the entire weekend...

I arrived in Oakland around 4:20, which of course put me in mind of several jokes ("I'm in Oaksterdam at just the right time!" and "Where's that glaucoma prescription?"), but I was on a mission and there was very little time to squander. I was met at the airport by Donna Warnock, a long-time activist and new friend. We'd had a few conversations on Facebook and I was fortunate to get to spend a lot of time with her in DesMoines at the American Atheists National Convention. She lives in Oakland and graciously agreed to pick me up, treat me to a great dinner and ferry me around most of the weekend.

My first mission was to deliver a present to Greta Christina. Beth had knitted a Flying Spaghetti Monster for her and I didn't want it to get mauled (like the one on the show) before she saw it, so I fired off a text message, figuring I'd get a quick "Thanks! I'll see you in the morning", but instead I got a "Hey, come on over tonight!"...and that pretty much set the tone for the rest of the weekend: a bunch of friendly, fun-loving, godless heathens enjoying each other's company while shrugging off yet another failed rapture.

Donna and I were going to get a quick drink before dinner and as we were walking toward Heinold's First and Last Chance Saloon in Jack London Square, I looked over at one of the tables and immediately thought, "That looks like Rebecca Watson" (and, as it turns out, she was thinking "That looks like Matt Dillahunty"). A quick glance to her right confirmed my suspicions as I immediately recognized and smiled at Surly Amy and my long-overdue introduction to Rebecca was quickly made (technically we met briefly at the TAM7 Skepchick party...but if you were there, you'd understand why this kinda counts as the first proper introduction) and we were soon drinking and chatting on a crooked floor in a tiny bar while being lovingly mauled by a tiny little puppy.

"Wait a minute...", you're thinking, "We want to hear about the actual Rapture RAM. Why are we being dragged through this 'look at the fun stuff you didn't get to do and probably would have missed even if you had come' diatribe?"

Well, skip ahead if you like, but it's my story and I want to hit all of the highlights....but you'll miss out on the part where, oh nevermind..

So Donna and I ate a great dinner on the waterfront and then headed into San Francisco to visit Greta. I was finally able to meet her wife, Ingrid (who is similarly awesome) and several of their friends who I rudely, unintentionally and regrettably ignored... because it was also the first time I'd had a chance to meet and talk to Jen McCreight. (We've since added each other to our lists of awesome people. The weekend was full of a lot of mutual admiration introductions along wit many discussions clarifying fine points on which some of us had previously disagreed - and perhaps still do, though with greater clarity and appreciation of the subtleties and the confidence that we're definitely in this together.)

I really don't have the words to express how much I enjoyed getting to interact, in person, with people who quickly went from online allies to 'how many times do you have to interact before you're really "friends"...oh who cares...these are 'my' peeps'...but let's move on to the actual gathering.

David Bryars and I got to chat in the Speakers' room for a few minutes before the event started and he was thrilled that they'd left us copies of Harold Camping's previous books to mock study while we waited.

David spoke about previous failed rapture/apocalyptic predictions and really got the event started off correctly: a little bit of fun, mixed with some education.

Jen McCreight was up next and talked about being both edgy and friendly. I'd seen a recording of this talk online, but it was great to finally hear it in person as she is perfectly suited to this topic. She offered some great examples of good and bad ideas for activism and explained how good ideas can quickly lead to bad ones in a group environment. She also gave one of the most diplomatic dismissal of accommodationist nonsense that I've seen; noting that you're always going to offend people and that there's a place for diplomats and firebrands. Funny, insightful, and just a joy to be around...I hope we're at the same event many, many times.

She was asked where she was on the good cop/bad cop scale and while she acknowledged her bad cop leanings, she made a point that I expanded on in my talk when I noted that whether I'm a good cop or a bad cop seems to depend on who you ask, which clip of the show they've seen and what their preconceptions were before hearing me for the first time.

Jesus made an appearance after Jen's talk, as Troy Conrad continued the levity with the in-costume revelation that we're actually on a reality show called 'Last Planet Standing" followed by a bit of improv where the crowd got to ask Jesus all the questions they'd been hoping to have answered. In addition to rapture clarifications, there were questions about his love life and skin color. As it turns out, Jesus has to appear as a white guy in the U.S. in order to get anyone to listen. Who knew?

I was up next and offered my limerick (there was a contest, though I have no idea what the results were) while I waited for my laptop to power up so that I could kill off all the fun with a very serious talk. My rapture-themed limerick was:

These predictions of eminent doom
Tend to come from religious buffoons
"Any day now!", they say
"We'll be raptured away!"
And it can't come a moment too soon.

I then gave the talk that I probably should have given at the National Convention. Fortunately I've learned a bit from that missed opportunity. I'll post some of the text from the talk later, but it was basically a huge call to action. We have to change minds, we have to get active, we have to change the world and these are all achievable goals. We not only need more blogs, podcasts, YouTube videos, etc. but I think it's also time we actually work toward a network. Yes, an actual cable network dedicated to honest education on issues relevant to and fairly representing secular positions. Programming to educate and to represent the real views, lives, difficulties and achievements of atheists now and throughout history. Programming to educate on civil rights issues, first amendment issues and everything related to a world built on reason and empathy.

It's a big dream, but if we can have 6 shows about pawn shops, anything is possible on cable.

I'll pause here, as there was a lunch break at this point.

Up Next: Ashley Paramore...

You can't reason a person out of a position...

...that they weren't reasoned into.


I'm so sick of this little nugget of nonsense. (This nugget of nonsense is, by the way, on par with the sort of arrogance and surrender we see from atheists who claim that, while they no longer need religion, the "little people" are simply incapable of behaving without it. But that's a different post...)

I saw it on a Facebook post this morning and it was mentioned by David Eller at the Rapture RAM in Oakland less than 24 hours after my talk which focused on, among other things, changing the minds of atheists who think that reasoned arguments simply aren't going to convince people. Evidently, I failed to achieve my goal...sort of.

David is an anthropologist and he said a number of things that really challenged the way I'll think about these issues in the future (I'm hoping to write a trip report soon). The talk was enlightening and educational in many areas but he also said a number of things that were, as far as I can tell, flatly wrong or dependent upon very different usages of words like "belief" than I'm used to.

To be fair, when Greta Christina challenged him on the fact that he seemed to be strongly advocating an end to reasoned debate, David immediately noted that this wasn't his intended message and that those who are skilled at doing so should absolutely continue. That was encouraging, but there were so many points in his talk that directly implied the opposite that it left us a little divided at the end. (There were other issues, but for today, I'm focusing on this one.)
[Edit: There's been an apology on that issue and I'm encouraged, because David had a lot of great things to say and I hate to only focus on sloppy sexist comments or fine-points where we disagree. He's someone I'd love to spend more time talking to.]

So, what's wrong with this particular saying?

Well, if we're being very literal, every position someone holds is the product of reasoning. Believing a proposition is the result of being convinced. You can be convinced for good reasons or bad reasons, but as long as the brain is involved (and how could it not be?), reason is involved. In that scope, the statement is wrong because the premise is false. They were, in fact, reasoned into their belief.

Also, in a more colloquial sense, it refers to people whose beliefs were spawned by indoctrination, emotional appeals, socialization/inculturation and other things that aren't normally in the realm of 'pure reason' - and in this scope, the statement becomes a claim that you're just not going to be able to convince them of their error by using strict logical reasoning.

This saying is, at best, a deepity, though I'm convinced it's just false.

As noted during my talk, I'm walking, talking proof that it's false. My religious beliefs were not the result of critical thinking and skepticism, but my freedom from those beliefs most definitely is. (If my data set of 1 is unimpressive, I've got about 6 years worth of e-mails from people with nearly identical stories...and I'm betting there will be several "me too"s in the comments to this post.)

The problem, though, isn't just that this statement is wrong, it's that it's a white flag. It implies that efforts to free people from religious thinking, via reason, are futile.

There may be some people who are forever beyond the reach of reason, but this isn't true of everyone and I haven't seen any data to support the idea that it's even true for most people.

In fact, I think we have evidence to the contrary. People, even if they don't realize it, value reason and evidence. We're thinking creatures and critical thinking represents the "best practices" of human thought.

The trick, if that's a fair word, is to get them to realize how much they value the principles of sound thought and get them to apply that to beliefs that have previously been protected from such scrutiny.

I'm not implying that it's always (or ever) easy to accomplish this, but the statement in question implies that it's simply impossible - and nothing could be farther from the truth.

Skepticism, critical thinking, logical reasoning, science - however you prefer to label the most consistently reliable tools we have for discerning reality - are ubiquitously recognized as valuable though not universally applied. We must continue to try to convince people of the value of applying these principles to every claim.

People often become convinced of things for bad reasons and are remarkably good at protecting those beliefs from critical examination - especially if those beliefs have been long-held, publicly professed and are shared by many others in that person's social network. But that doesn't mean that they are forever incapable of recognizing that they've accepted something for bad reasons. People can, and do, understand the value of having good reasons for their beliefs - it's the reason why there are so many attempts to provide apologetic arguments for those beliefs.

Finally, this statement is often accompanied by claims that the failure of reason implies that we need to use other methods. I'm open to many different approaches, but too often the suggested alternatives really equate to saying, "If we can't convince them with good reasons, let's use bad ones!" (Ironically, this call to religious mimicry is often immediately preceded by a call to stop using religious language when addressing religious claims...)

This is, I think, an absolutely stupid idea.

The very reason we're able to change minds is because religious beliefs have such flawed foundations. Why would you want to build someone's atheistic house on that same unstable sand? This is the very reason I've railed against the bad arguments (Pi=3, astro-theology/zeitgeist) I've seen from atheists: it creates non-believers who, when they encounter a believer who can expose these bad reasons, are left confused, defenseless and prone to falling back into religious thinking.

Garbage in, garbage out.

You can, in fact, reason a person out of almost any belief - it just won't work if the person doesn't see the value of holding reasonable beliefs. The good news is that many, if not most, of the people who don't currently see that value can learn to see it and most already think they do, which is why the Socratic method is so darn useful.

It may sound insightful and it may accurately represent the frustrations of dealing with the most skeptically-challenged, fundamentalists - but it's simply not true in any useful sense and it's time for this sentiment to drift off into Bad Idea land...

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Now is the end, perish the world

To cheer you up for the end of times, have some Peter Cook and Dudley Moore.

Ciao! (Thanks, dad, for bringing it to my attention.)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"They're the crazy ones, not us!"

Harold Camping's May-21-Rapture nonsense is so ubiquitous that there's no point in doing anything other than rolling with it at this stage. American Atheists will be holding Rapture parties in several cities. Matt is attending one in Oakland, in fact. Meanwhile, Tracie and I will be on the show Sunday, holding down the post-apocalyptic fort and taking calls from our far-flung global correspondents (i.e. you) reporting on the Rapture's impact on your own towns and countries. How many Christians have vanished in your area? None? But since the 21st is absolutely and without question the day of the Rapture, won't that mean that Christians have been worshiping a false god all this time...?

"Boy, won't my face be red!"

Someone else isn't pleased about this little media circus, however, and that would be the folks at the Christian Worldview Network. The CWN is Brannon Howse's House of Paranoia, basically, and they're a funny bunch, because they disdain other "loons" on the right-wing fringe — they absolutely cannot stand the "deceptive" teachings of Glenn Beck and Rick Warren — while at the same time embracing no end of fringe lunacy themselves. I think at various points in time they have accused Obama of being a communist, a socialist (actually, Howse prefers the term "Fabian Socialist" because it makes his flock think he's really read up on the subject), a Marxist, a terrorist, and possibly even a reptilian space invader. They're birthers too, which, compared to all the rest of it, is fairly tame.

In an article in their most recent newsletter with the weary title "Will This Ship of Fools Sink May 22?", Jan Markell minces no words. Camping is totally cuckoo-for-cocoa-puffs, and she's upset that he's given us annoying atheists such fuel for mirth.

There's going to be a party given by "heathens and skeptics" and I hope you have no desire to attend it. They intend to get together to mock the rapture. After months of enduring the unnerving dogmatism of Harold Camping's billboards, signs, cars, radio commercials and bumper stickers heralding the end of the world as we know it on May 21, American Atheists have announced that they are planning "rapture parties" in Oakland, Houston, and Fort Lauderdale on May 21-22.

The atheists boast of their own billboards which state, "The Rapture: You KNOW it's Nonsense. Learn the Truth at our Party." The billboard is designed to knock two millennia of false predictions that the world was about to end. So, they are having a party to celebrate another rapture that wasn't. And the atheists will be more accurate than the Christians because they are going after the date-setters.

Catch that last bit? See, what's wrong with Camping is that he was incautious enough to set a date. And that's what makes Christians look stupid. Because you can only control people effectively through nonsensical, superstitious prophecies of future events if you leave them vague and nebulous. Even Vito Corleone knew the psychology involved in keeping people wondering: "Someday — and that day may never come — I may come to you for a favor."

Markell wants Christians to be clear on one point: there totally is going to be a Rapture. We are in the "end times," and the clock is ticking. Naturally, she's just making this up no less than Camping is, but she's leaving herself endless wiggle room. "We cannot know!" But Jesus is coming. For realz. Just...whenever.

Markell sees a lot of negative fallout when May 22 rolls around, and the world (yay!) and all its Christians (sigh) are still here.

What can we know for sure will result from Camping's prediction?

  • He will be proven wrong.
  • He will put all who long for the Lord's return in a bad light.
  • This will push many more away from considering end-time issues as they will not want to be lumped into such a questionable category.
  • Church pulpits will grow even more silent on this topic right at a time when a countdown has truly begun and it is nearing midnight.
  • The mockers and scoffers will grow stronger and more vocal.

As to that last, of course we will, because all of this is pants-on-head, paste-eating stupidity, and when grown adults exhibit this sort of thing, mockery and scoffing is the absolute least it deserves. What Markell can't see is that she is sailing, if not on Camping's same "ship of fools," in the same fleet. What exactly gives her eschatology any more basis in reality than Camping's, apart from the fact that Camping's will be decisively proven to not have happened when there's no global earthquake this Saturday? The Bible is the Big Book of Multiple Choice, and while Camping can play with interpretations to work out that the end will come May 21, and Markell clings to Matthew 24:36, there is also Matthew 24:34, in which Jesus makes it clear he expected the end times to begin in the lifetimes of his disciples. (And I guess he was wrong, which would make the Son of God Himself one of the "false prophets" the rest of Matthew 24 warns against, eh?)

Markell worries that "Jesus is coming again! But thanks to Harold Camping and friends, on May 22, more may be laughing and scoffing than anticipating." The lesson Markell ought to take from this, but won't, is that as long as she devotes her hopes and wishes and goals towards a vague promise of future divine salvation, instead of breaking away from the shackles of such irrational nonsense and embracing reality, and real solutions to real-world problems, then her ship of fools will itself keep sailing on...right over the edge.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Non-Prophets episode 10.11

Two weeks ago there was a great disturbance in the atheist community, like a million voices crying out in unison, then suddenly silenced. They were reacting to the news that it would be an estimated four weeks before the next official Non-Prophets episode would air.

Luckily, the guerrilla gorillas have been hard at work to bring you a brand new tin-cans-and-string episode. If you're subscribed to the podcast, you may have already known this. If not, check it out at the Non-Prophets audio archive!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

On public arguments

Today's email comes from Mark in Colorado.

I work in a Defense firm where everybody is either a fundamentalist Christian or Mormon. I got into a discussion with a mormon guy who is always spouting some stupid shit. Anyway, I confronted him about his ideas and after a few minutes of discussion he realized I wasn't a pushover, so he switched tactics and started bringing up quantum physics (he feels that proves everything), psuedo science, non sequiturs, real science mixed with nonsense -- usually in the same sentence. Just for an example, he said he believed in evolution but described a cartoonish if not naive version. I tried to correct him and tell him he had it wrong, but he switched scripts and said loudly, "You don't believe in evolution"! It went on with a lot of stuff like that to muddy the waters and it seemed to have impressed people in my group.
My question is, have you ever run across anyone like that and how did you handle it?

In a situation like that, my first rule is that it's important to keep your cool. I understand that it's difficult in this situation, but you should calmly step back and assess what you are getting out of the argument. There are, in my mind, three reasons that you would want to argue with somebody:

  1. You think you can change that person's mind in some way.
  2. You think you can influence the opinion of people who are observing the discussion.
  3. You are genuinely interested in the other person's arguments, or would like practice responding to them for your own education. Or it's fun.

These three points boil down to a question of "Who's your audience?" The answers are, respectively, 1. the Mormon; 2. somebody else; 3. Yourself. How you answer the audience question will have a lot of influence on how you should approach the discussion.

If the Mormon is your audience, you've already decided that he is kind of an idiot, so obviously you're not going to make major gains with him. Your best bet is to find the areas where he's most badly misunderstanding mainstream science, point out what is wrong in a straightforward way, and steer him toward credible literature on how it actually works. In order to do this, you'll have to understand the real science well enough to break it down that way, so maybe some extra reading is in order.

If a third party is your audience, you can start out winning big just by keeping your cool. If the other guy is visibly upset, and you are not, then it's hard to side with him. You said that his rant seemed to impress people in your group, so it's possible that they were swayed by it. Maybe you're having your discussion with the wrong person. If you think there is somebody a bit more reasonable who is on the fence and simply doesn't understand the issues involved, I'd look for an opportunity to talk privately with that person (or people). By expanding your influence to other people and getting them on your side, you're less likely to find yourself alone in future discussions.

If you are your own audience, then go ahead and argue to a frustrating standstill, then evaluate the specifics of the conversation later. Toss out the points which sounded like a stupid waste of time to you, but remember the points that left you struggling. Maybe the claims about quantum physics sounded like bunk to you, but you couldn't express why they're bunk. In that case, it's time to educate yourself. Go find some real information about science, preferably from a good, well-spoken popular science writer. It won't help in the current discussion, but it will improve your broad base of knowledge the next time the discussion comes up.

If none of the above are a good audience in this situation, maybe you should check your motives again and see if it's really worth your time to be talking to this lunkhead. I wouldn't pick an argument with a homeless guy in the street shouting at people, and you shouldn't waste time in a situation where nobody has anything to learn.

Whatever the case, remember that a casual debate is a skirmish, not the war. You can lose a battle and it doesn't ruin you as a human being. Just try to bear in mind your long term goals: becoming a knowledgeable and well-rounded individual; and helping good and correct memes to spread through the general population.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Open thread on episode #708: The sublime and the ridiculous

On yesterday's show, Don and I spoke for 40 minutes with Gregory S. Paul, an author who recently published an excellent op-ed in the Washington Post about our place in society as atheists.

We followed that up with a wacky call from a Canadian young earther.

Have at it!

Sunday, May 08, 2011

I'm joining team beat PZ...unofficially.

I'm not even sure what the rules are, or how folks get invited to team "Beat PZ"...

I was tempted to side with PZ on this, but my other friends need some support - and PZ needs to keep the beard... so donate to support Camp Quest, help PZ keep his beard and let's see if I add any weight to this competition. I've posted this on both FB pages and here at the blog. Give, if you're able!

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

About Last Weekend

The rumor is true.

I got married on May 1st. Wedded, actually. Texas doesn't yet allow same-sex couples to be married, but it won't be too long before that changes, I think.

I married my partner of almost 12 years, Elton. We are lucky to be together as we complement each-other well. I'm the practical techie guy. He has more of a people person with a big heart. He's a believer, so we've had to work through some tension with my being such an atheist advocate. We are doing well, though, otherwise we wouldn't be making a lifetime commitment.

We had a grand (mostly secular) wedding ceremony with vows, exchanging of rings, and an old African tradition of jumping the broom. We have so many friends that we had to make very painful cuts to the invitee list, so only a few AE and ACA folks were invited. I apologize to anyone that feels slighted. If I could, I would have invited the whole gang. Tracie Harris was one of my grooms maids and she looked stunning. More than a dozen people have told me it was the most beautiful wedding they've seen. Elton organized most of it, so it has been a real labor of love.

We did not have a show last weekend because I had a critical number of people at my wedding. Thank you for sharing them with me.

Some pictures have been posted on Facebook and we have received an amazing number of well-wishes. It's humbling and very flattering to have so many people cheer us on as a couple. The gang of us that put on The Atheist Experience are very fortunate to have such loyal and devoted fans. Thank YOU!

I haven't been particularly open about being gay or opening up my personal life on the show. It's not that I'm closeted or anything. I used to run a gay and lesbian student group back in the '80s. I'm so "out", I don't even think about it anymore. I don't bring it up on the show because so much of it isn't relevant to the content of the show. It can too easily be a distraction. With the wedding, it's out in the open for all our fans. Let's keep the show focused on atheism, though.

When things quiet down a little bit and the red lights stop going off every time I make a credit card purchase, we'll take a vacation/honeymoon to Massachusetts and get legally married there. The marriage won't be recognized in Texas until the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) falls. It's just a matter of time, though, as challenges have already been made at the federal level.

Again, thanks for the warm wishes. Please don't send gifts. Donations to the ACA would be very welcome, however, but don't feel obliged.

I'm just happy to have so much support and love in my life.