Saturday, November 29, 2008

Peace and Goodwill?

Ah, the Christmas season! The time of peace, goodwill, and love! And it's so nice to open the newspaper and see the headlines, how people really take this message to heart...
  • Mumbai terror rage ends after 60 hours, 195 dead
  • Bases brace for surge in stress-related disorders
  • Death toll over 300 in Nigerian sectarian violence
  • US Jewish, meditation groups' members die in India
  • Witnesses: Fatal shooting followed toy store brawl
  • Iran court upholds stoning death sentence
  • Death sentences for men who bombed Iranian mosque
  • Iranian court sentences man to be blinded by acid
It's so nice to know that religion helps us all get along!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Look Who's Irrational Now: It's the Wall Street Journal

One of my persistent critics left a link to a Wall Street Journal opinion piece, by columnist Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, hoping to show me the error of my ways. Alas for my critic, Hemingway's article is so deeply flawed that I can't let it pass. Someone has to refute this illogical article.

Hemingway tries to claim that Christianity makes people more rational, and less susceptible to superstition, such as belief in ghosts, spirits, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, communicating with the dead, and other superstitions. And indeed, the WSJ cites studies that "prove" this: The more conservative or evangelical a person is, the less likely they are to believe in these superstitions.

Have you spotted the flaw in this logic yet?

The problem is that Hemingway divides the world into three camps: Christian (presumably the "true" belief system), supersition, and Atheist. But that's wrong. The factual foundation for belief in Yahweh is just as weak as belief in ghosts, astrology, communicating with the dead, reincarnation, and thousands of other acts of pure faith.

In other words, there are only two camps, not three: People who rely on faith, and people who derive their understanding from observable facts and rational deductions based on those facts. Thus, where the Christian sees evangelical beliefs as a way to push out false religions, the Atheist merely sees a large number of undistinguished faiths that compete with each other for believers. There is no fundamental difference between Christianity and other supersitions. This is very hard for most Christians to accept, and it frequently leads authors like Hemingway into this same logical fallacy.

From a memetic point of view, there is a large collection of faith-memeplexes that are competing for survival, competing for believers. Christianity is one of the most successful of these memeplexes, because among other things, it developed a strong Intolerance Meme that requires exclusivity from its adherents. Thus, it's no surprise that Christianity and "superstitions" are incompatible.

So all WSJ article really has to say is that the Christian Intolerance Meme is pretty successful. If a person buys into the Christian memeplex, they're less likely to accept any of the other faith-memeplexes.

From an Atheist point of view, the author of the WSJ article hasn't said anything interesting about Atheism at all. All the auther did is show that faith-based systems compete with each other. No surprise there.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Do Ghosts Compete with God?

Interesting ... superstitions make you less likely to believe in God? It hardly seems possible, yet apparently it's true, according to several semi-scientific studies.

Apparently, there's only room for one set of superstitions in the average person's mind. If a person believes in the paranormal, or in ghosts, they are considerably less likely to believe in Yahweh, the traditional Judeao-Christian god.

This could be because the three traditional Abrahamic religions strongly discourage all superstition except their own brands; Yahweh is jealous and demands that His followers stick to just His version of the supernatural.

But whatever the cause, I find it fascinating that belief in ghosts and the paranormal is inversely related to belief in Yahweh. I would have guessed the opposite: That if you can find it in yourself to accept one faith-based system of beliefs, other supernatural beliefs would make sense too.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Roadside Religion: Find GOD in Las Vegas

I found GOD in Las Vegas! Now I'm confused – what happens in Las Vegas, stays in Las Vegas?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

How Many Died from Religion's Opposition to Stem Cell Research?

European news is carrying a wonderful story about the first woman to receive a new organ made from her own stem cells. The woman's bronchus (part of her windpipe/trachea) was destroyed by tuberculosis, and without the transplant, doctors would have had to remove her lung entirely.

Our scientist colleagues in the UK deserve our congratulations for this wonderful achievement &ndash Well done! – but it also reminds us Americans of yet another sad example of religion impeding scientific progress.

Anti-abortionists brought stem-cell research in the United States to a virtual halt. Who knows what lifesaving discoveries might have been made in the last decade? Who knows what crippling diseases, painful disabilities, disfiguring conditions, and dementia that robs us of our loved ones, might have been cured?

Religion has, once again, shown that it is the enemy of science, knowledge, and progress. The religious zealots (a minority, by the way) whose disproportionate political power forced this policy on America, directly caused thousands of deaths, and many times that many people to live in misery, of people who might have been cured, if stem-cell research hadn't been stopped.

Why does it have to be this way? Why is religion so consistently the enemy of knowledge and progress?

The answer is plain when you view religion from an evolutionary, memetic viewpoint. Education and science are not the friends of religion, especially dogmatic religions that cling to ancient ideas. Science has a way of undermining religious scriptures, of proving that biblical "facts" are in fact wrong.

Religion memeplexes always evolve toward survivors, the "fittest" ideas, and the memes that encapsulate anti-science and anti-rationalism ideas are very beneficial to the religious memeplexes. They keep believers from learning the facts and logic that would undermine the foundations of these dogmatic religions.

So, while we can lament the unconscionable setbacks that religion has caused, in this case by delaying medical progress, we shouldn't be surprised. A memetic point of view actually predicts that this will always be the way religious memeplexes – and the people who believe them – will respond to science and rational thought.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

An Atheist in the Land of Mormons, part 3: Becoming God

Did you know that Mormons believe – this is no joke – that if you're married in the Temple, you follow certain laws, YOU BECOME A GOD when you die. Not just an angel or a magician, a real god, with your OWN PLANET. You get to create all the creatures and people, plants, rocks, mountains, whatever you like. And when all is said and done, your creation, your people, will worship you, just like good Mormons worship Yahweh from this planet.

As we finish our stories of Utah and the Red Rock Film Festival, some of my readers might be very surprised to learn that my wife, who is Jewish, was a Mormon for several years. Of all the things I learned about her when we were dating, this probably surprised me the most. She even attended Brigham Young University for a semester.

The way she joined the church is pretty ordinary: a fiance' who converted her to Mormonism (much to her parents' dismay, I'm sure).

The Mormon missionaries have a very carefully crafted bag of tricks they use to attract and keep new converts, stories that are selected with two criteria: First, the introductory preaching resonates with "mainstream" Christianity and Judaism. The initial messages make Mormonism sound very pleasant and ordinary, much like just another branch of the mainstream religions, one with a special place for family and community.

Second, potential converts are told of the promise of the Mormon heaven, where peace, love, forgiveness, and happiness, reign, a paradise even more appealing than the typical Christain heaven.

But certain parts of Mormonism are carefully concealed from potential converts. They sound so outrageous to Christians, Jews, and Muslims that most people would reject them immediately. They're only revealed in bits and pieces, slowly so as not to scare the convert away, and only when the convert has become committed and integrated into the Mormon community and way of life.

(Check out The Mormon Curtain if you want to learn more about Mormon excesses, absurdities and abuses.)

Unfortunately for the Mormons, and fortunately for my wife, their indoctrination didn't succeed. Brigham Young University requires all students to take one religion class every semester, and for her introduction, my wife selected "Mormonism and Modern Science," which is essentially Creationism, somewhat repackaged. She now says, "I didn't know enough about science at that time to be alarmed by what they were teaching. But when they got to the part about polytheism – that when a good person dies, he becomes a god and gets his own planet &ndash my limited Jewish upbringing set off an alarm. Jews believe there is just one God. This was very important Jews, and Rabbit Ott, who was a powerful speaker and very well known [with the Sephardic Temple in Los Angeles], would read from the Torah, 'I am your God, the one God, and there are no other gods before me.'"

The idea that every good Mormon would become a god is polytheism, plain and simple. It is probably the single most important difference between Mormonism and the other three Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Judaism and Islam), and most people raised in an Abrahamic religion would never convert to Mormonism if they knew the truth about the Mormon's polytheism beforehand.

My wife goes on to say that when the class got to the part about becoming a god when you die, she was astounded, not by this teaching, but by her fellow classmates. Looking around the room, she realized not a single other person objected. They were all fully indoctrinated.

She completed the semester, but never returned to BYU. Although she'd become skeptical about Mormonism, she continued to attend the LDS Church for a few years, but finally a friend gave her a copy of "The Godmakers" by David Hunt and Ed Becker. The book totally broke the spell, and she never went back to the LDS church again.

But she has some good stories to tell!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

An Atheist in the Land of Mormons, part 2

Breakfast today was a really bad dream come to life!

In the nine film festivals where we've shown our film, we had the pleasure of discovering that filmmakers are, as a group, one of the most congenial, open-minded group of people you'll ever meet. We became friends with filmmakers who made documentaries about Autism, Zen meditation, travel, war, about our veterans, about the environment, films showing the virtues of religions, exposing the abuses of religion, silly films, fun films, serious films, masterpieces, and awful films. But the common thread is that these are people who care, and even more important, people who are open minded and love to hear one another's ideas.

That's why I was really looking forward to the filmmaker's breakfast and awards ceremony this morning. We piled into our little RV, headed west from the beautiful Zion National Park, and enjoyed a lovely drive in the morning sun down to Virgin, Utah, where breakfast was to be served at the Buffalo Trails Trading Company. As we walked into the restaurant, I saw a table with an older couple, both dressed very nicely in their Sunday best. He looked like a man with some stories to tell, not the usual fire-breathing young filmmaker. So we sat down, introduced ourselves, and started asking questions.

What a mistake. First, his main claim to fame was that he produce a documentary about the Shroud of Turin. Not an objective documentary, but rather, the worst sort of pseudo-scientific religious BS. And even worse, the man was completely oblivious to his audience – he didn't even bother to ask us about our religious beliefs, but like a typical religious zealot, just assumed that his point of view is self-evident and shared by all. He was oblivious to the fact that I know a bit about the shroud's sordid history, that it has been thoroughly discredited, that no major church accepts its authenticity, and on and on. Once he got started, the man couldn't shut up, and started spewing the faux science that plagues real scientific progress. He went on and on about how many different ways they'd proved the shroud's authenticity, how its miraculous nature was irrefutable, how hundreds and hundreds of the worlds best scientists had confirmed its authenticity.

Within two minutes of him launching into this, my wife was squeezing my knee under the table with a clear message: Keep your mouth shut! But it wasn't necessary – arguing with this guy would have been a hopeless waste of time, and would have embarassed everyone. His claims were so outrageous I couldn't even look the guy in the eye, I had to stare at his hands, the wall, other people in the room, and deliberately ignore him. He went on – I kid you not – for forty five minutes nonstop, without even once asking us about our film.

But it gets worse! One of the finest films at the Red Rock Film Festival, which in fact won "Best Documentary," was David Lebrun's amazing film, Breaking the Maya Code, inspired by the book of the same name. Eleven years in the making, it documents the two hundred year battle to rediscover the meaning of the Mayan hieroglyphs, knowledge that was lost when the Catholic priest Landa (later Bishop Landa) carried out a one-man Inquisition in the Yucatan and destroyed all knowledge of Mayan writing (the subject of an upcoming blog).

Finally, to my great relief, the man's wife saw my discomfort, very abruptly interrupted her husband, and asked about our film. The man, having talked about his film for forty five minutes, gave my wife a full thirty seconds before he lost interest and changed the subject again to one of his other films. Then, another catastrophe: We asked if they'd seen Lebrun's Breaking the Maya Code. Alas, the man was a Mormon. We should have guessed, since we'd learned he was raised in Utah.

For those of you who don't know, the Book of the Mormon has a huge section describing how Jesus, after his resurrection, came to the New World and preached, and asserts that the Mayan hieroglyphic language is derived from Egyptian hieroglyphs, and many other outrageous claims about the Americas.

Unfortunately, like all religious beliefs, the Book of the Mormon is believed by Mormons to be infallable, so rather than looking at all the scientific evidence objectively, the Mormons' only goal is to find scientific "proof" that confirm their preconceived notion of truth. It's anti-science.

We had to listen to another ten minutes of anti-science, all about how the archeologists and other scientists are proving that the Book of the Mormon's account of the New World is correct. Mercifully, the awards ceremony began, and put an end to the man's unpleasant and embarassing conversation. We didn't win an award at this festival, but I almost didn't care, just getting the man silenced was reward enough for me.

After we thanked the festival organizers and headed west across the beautiful Utah desert, my wife and I both agreed: One of the worst aspects of religion is that it forces its believers to reject rational thinking and accept as truth things that are plainly false. It requires believers to put faith over logic, to accept what they're taught rather than what they can see with their own eyes.

Once they're taught to ignore rational thinking, it seems to be impossible for them to distinguish real science from pseudo science. They're able to believe (contrary to all real science) that Jesus was wrapped in the Turin Shroud, and to believe that Jesus preached in the New World, and that (contrary to overwhelming evidence to the contrary) that the Mayan script is derived from Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

An Atheist in the Land of Mormons

The continuing saga of my trip to Utah...

We hadn't been in Utah for a half hour when Mormonism smacked me in the face. We stopped for dinner at the Chuck-A-Rama buffet (in spite of the name, the food was fabulous), and I swear, I've never seen so many kids in my life. The family in front of us in line: 5 little girls and a pregnant mother. After I paid, I heard the guy behind me say, "One adult and five kids." Kids everywhere.

As we drove through Saint George, my wife pointed out the Mormon Temple, one of the oldest, and told me that the city doesn't allow any taller buildings near it.

I know that Utah is a Mormon state, but seeing it in real life is something of a shock to my rationalist brain.

I have a certain degree of respect for most religions, but the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) baffles me. Unlike Judaism, Christianity, Islam, even Baha'i, the sordid history of the LDS church's founders is modern, extensively documented, and available for anyone to read. There are hundreds of books exposing the fraud, the abusive beliefs, the racism, sexism, the power struggles, and anything else you'd care to name. There are web sites by the thousands from disillusioned former members.

With the history of the LDS church such an open book, why are there any Mormons at all?

I'm reminded of an experiment that I read about years ago, I believe it was in one of James Randi's essays. A college class saw a demonstration by a man who claimed to have paranormal powers - ESP, spoon bending, and so forth. He demonstrated about a dozen tricks, and convinced many of the students that it was for real. Then someone else came in, and loudly proclaimed, "This man is a fraud!" He proceeded to demonstrate how half of the "paranormal" feats were nothing more than ordinary magician's sleight-of-hand.

Now to my way of thinking, if a man had even one genuine paranormal power, that would be truly amazing, and he'd have no reason to resort to fraud. What did these college students think? Many of them decided that even though half the tricks were fraudulent, they still believed that the man had paranormal powers!

To me, that's like discovering that your accountant embezzled from one of your accounts, yet you still trust him with the rest of your money. After all, he didn't steal from those other accounts, right? So he's only dishonest when it comes to that one account, and the rest of our money is safe.

Does that make sense to you? No, nor to me. And that's why Mormonism is so baffling to me.

Roadside Religion and Film Festivals

I'm on the way to the Red Rock Film Festival, a road trip that is taking us from San Diego north to Las Vegas, then over to the southwest corner of Utah, the Zion National Park area. As background, my wife wrote and produced a movie (I'll leave it to you internet sleuths to find it), a feature-length comedy/drama that has already won four awards at film festivals, including best story/writing, Director's Choice, and Best Narrative Feature. We also got best LGBT, which was a salute to one of our actors who did a fantastic job playing Lola/Lowell, a transvestite waitress. So that's four awards in eight film festivals, and we're hoping for another this weekend.

We just passed by Yermo, the run-down town where Lola is a waitress in our movie. Her employer, Milo the Cook, is being harassed by the town's health inspector, Ed, who doesn't like "people of his persuasion," i.e. gays.

Lo and behold, as we drove past Yermo today, what did I see? Some good Christian had placed a series of signs by the road, the Ten Commandments! They were nicely spaced to give you time to read each one. And probably illegal since the 1965 Highway Beautification Act limits signs near Interstate Freeways.

I'd always thought maybe my wife was a bit harsh on the town of Yermo when she wrote her movie script, but maybe not.

And this again raises the question that I asked in by blog The Jesus Truck: Did the person who went to all that trouble, printing the signs, driving posts into the ground, and bolting the signs on, really think it would ever make a difference to even one person passing by? Like, maybe some truck driver would see the sign and say, "Gosh! What was I thinking! I guess I won't visit that prostitute tonight after all!"

Get real. Those signs are, once again, more for the person who put them up, to bolster his ego.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Atheism's Toxic Effects in the Abortion Debate

Ok, I admit it, the headline is deliberately provocative to get your attention. Vjack over at Atheist Revolution wrote an excellent blog, Religion's Toxis Effects in the Abortion Controversy, in which he demonstrates that religion turns honest discourse about an important controversy into black-and-white good-versus-evil mudslinging.

But my provocative title is apropos to my thesis: There is a solution to the Abortion controversy, but we'll never reach it until we stop trying to debate the abortion issue. It's hopeless. Atheists tend to dismiss the legitimate and heartfelt beliefs of religious people in the abortion debate. These are not a bunch of nut cases with silly beliefs; they are our friends and neighbors, and they honestly believe that abortion is murder. As Atheists, we can see that life and the human "soul" are purely physical phenomena, and it's hard for us to take the religious position seriously. But if we aren't careful, we risk getting into a pointless debate that will distract us from real progress.

The only solution to the abortion controversy is to eliminate the need for abortion completely. Years ago, I heard Professor Carl Djerassi, inventor of the birth-control pill, interviewed on the radio, and he put it best: "Wouldn't it be better if we lived in a world where women have full access to birth control, where no woman ever needs to seek an abortion again?" (Paraphrased, it was probably 25 years ago!)

Almost everyone in the United States, Atheists, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Baha'i, you name it, agrees to a remarkable extent on one topic: Birth control is moral, and is a woman's right. Even the majority of Roman Catholics agree; they think the Pope and official Catholic ban on birth control is simply wrong, and that the Pope is out of touch with reality.

I propose that Atheists, and religious people of a more liberal nature who accept that abortion isn't murder, should stop engaging in the futile debate about when the human soul is created, and instead focus on birth control.

A tiny minority of ultra-conservative religious leaders have a monsterous influence on United States domestic and foreign policy. Their conservative views are preventing distribution of birth-control pills, condoms, medication, education and many other services that are desperately needed, here and abroad.

Right now, regions of Africa have stunnning and horrifying rates of AIDS infections, in some cases 25% of the population is infected and will die. These are poor countries to start with; the cost of caring for these people as they sicken and die, and the resulting explosion of orphans, will overwhelm all economic and social progress for decades. It is a tragedy greater than most of the greatest plagues in human history.

And it could have been prevented with an aggresive campaign that included sex education, condom distribution, and medical aid. Sociologists warned of this impending disaster years before it happened, but because the solution included birth control and abortion rights, the funds for birth control, condoms and education were withheld. This completely preventable plague was left to run wild, and will ultimately result in hundreds of millions of deaths worldwide.

So, let's start engaging our religious friends (and those we may not consider friends, too) in a debate about birth control and sex education. Let's break the stranglehold the ultraconservative churches, led by the Pope himself, have on American and world politics. Let's make it so that every woman in Africa has access to condoms, so that we can stop the AIDS epidemic. Let's give every teenager in the world a reality-based sex education (to use vjack's term), so that no girl ever has to have an abortion again. Let's teach young couples everywhere how to be responsible, and plan their families, so that every child born will be greeting by happy, excited parents who planned the event and look forward to raising a happy and healthy family.

The abortion debate is a dead end. We have to hold the line, keep abortion rights from being eroded, but that's it. But the birth-control debate can be meaningful, productive, and have a far greater impact on the health and well being of everyone in the world.

Monday, November 10, 2008

When Gay Marriage Was a Christian Rite

It turns out the Roman Catholic church has, once again, ignored the historical evidence and censored history, in order to support its current homophobic and hypocritical stance on gay marriage. A family member forwarded this fascinating article to me:
When Same-Sex Marriage Was a Christian Rite
The article describes how down through most of the history of the Roman Catholic Church, there were many instances of church-sanctioned homosexual marriages, including a marriage between two Roman saints, St Sergius and Saint Bacchus.

Contrary to the Church's revised version of history, the truth is that the Roman Catholic church has a long history of tolerance and even celebration of homosexual love and marriage. Records of same-sex marriages have been discovered throughout the Christian world, including in the records of the Vatican itself.

Unfortunately, the Roman Catholic Church, and Christian denominations in general, have a long history of revising the facts, and an amazing ability to get people to swallow their altered history as truth.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Donate food, schoolbooks, or a Christian education?

A bizarre, but cool, catalog arrived in the mail yesterday: The World Vision Gift Catalog ("Meaningful gifts that change tow world"). Instead of ordering stuff for yourself, you buy stuff for people around the world who need our help. It's really a pretty good idea: Charity, packaged for modern consumers.

Among the items you can buy are:
  • $100 – 8 chickens for a hungry family (or 4 for $50)
  • $100 – A goat + 2 chickens
  • $2000 &ndash 28 farm animals, including 2 cows, 2 sheep, 2 pigs, 2 goats, 20 chickens
  • $70 – One llama ("a godsend for a family in South America")
  • $150 – Stock a school with books ("Matching corporate grants multiply your gift x14, $2100 total value")
  • $575 – 2 Oxen and a plow
  • $60 – 10 fruit trees ("sweet smiles on kids' faces")
  • $20 – Mosquito nets for one family
  • $96 – Education for 3 children (tuition, supplies)
  • $240 – feed a child for a year
  • $18,000 ‐ drill a deep well for clean water
  • $64 – Christian education for 2 children ("in former communist countries")

WTF? A "Christian education" is on the same list as food, water, and malaria-fighting mosquito nets??

I can't think of anything less useful to a developing country than Christianity. It doesn't feed anyone, it doesn't cure or prevent disease, it and doesn't improve nutrition. In fact, Christianity, especially the Roman Catholic church, is to a large degree responsible for much of the overpopulation, failure to control the AIDS epidemic, and the resulting famine and death that are currently decimating parts of Africa.

I applaud the motivation behind the The World Vision Gift Catalog, and hope their unique marketing technique is a big success. And I'd like to think that inclusion of a "Christian" education is simply a way to appeal to even more contributors. But I have to wonder: Is there any true Christian who might not contribute to this good cause, but upon seeing "Christian education," decided to contribute? I surely hope not – that would be a very un-Christian attitude, wouldn't it?

In fact, I find it fairly detestable that any Christian would put proselytizing over the food and health of children around the world. I hope this "gift" is one of their least-popular items.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Crazy Christian Logic: Circular Hermeneutics

If only we could build buildings the way Christians have built their religion! We could hang a beam in the sky, then attach another one to it, and then hook the first beam to the second one, and voila! The two beams would hold each other up in the sky, and we could skip that whole nasty business of building a foundation!

A Christian left a fabulous comment on one of Sisyphus Fragment's blogs, with this irrefutable logic:
Actually, you interpreted Romans 2:15 incorrectly. (I find it amusing when atheists try to interpret the Bible, because the Bible itself says that you cannot know the mind of God if you do not have his Spirit, 1 Cor. 2:14-16.)
This is absolutely marvelous – if we disagree with a Christian about his/her religion, we're inherently wrong, because only Christains can interpret the Bible correctly!

It's amazing to me how pervasive circularity is in the Christian religion (and others – I just happen to be picking on this one guy today). We see it everywhere, it pervades all aspects of the religion. Any time you try to have a serious discussion with a Christian, you quickly get dizzy trying to follow the logic.

Circular hermeneutics. I love it. To understand, you have to believe. Once you believe, you can understand.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Jesus in the Toilet?

I drive to Northern California regularly to visit my Mom, a long, tedious 450-mile drive. Last week while making this trip, I discovered Jesus in the Toilets.

The first rest stop along the way, I noticed a little religious pamphlet sitting in the toilet stall floor, with a drawing of Jesus on the cover. I figured someone had dropped it. The next stop, there was a different one, this time on the sink. When I saw yet a third pamphlet in the restroom of a gas station, I thought, "Wait a second, this isn't a coincidence!" So I collected the pamphlets from the last two stops that I made, to document this new phenomenon.

This first one is pretty horrifying. It is the worst sort of Christian mythology and fear-mongering, a cartoon that explains, in language and images aimed at semi-literate readers, how Satan aready owns our souls, and the only way to escape (next to an image of how God lets Satan inflict horrifying torture by burning us alive for eternity) is to believe in the Christian Gods, Yahweh and Jesus.

The second one is in Spanish, and although I can barely read the simplest Spanish, it's pretty clear that it's a traditional "The Kingdom of God is coming" tract. It's more upbeat than the first one, that's for sure.

Is this some new fad, leaving Jesus literature in restrooms all across California and the USA? The weird thing is that these were all different. If it had been a single tract ... ok, maybe some guy is on a campaign. But four different ones, in two languages? Is there some new secret Christian plot that's using restrooms to start a Christian revival?

Rape victim, age 13, stoned to death for having sex

I could not have picked a more horrifying, tragic example to prove the point of my last three blogs (part 1, part 2, conclusion). WARNING: The details that follow are very disturbing.

Aisha, a 13 year old girl in Somalia, reported being raped to the Shabab Milita (sometimes called the "Somali Taliban") who control her town. Instead of receiving their sympathy and support, the girl was convicted of having sex outside of marriage, and sentenced to death by stoning.

Thousands of people crowded into the local stadium to witness the execution. A hole was dug in the ground, and the girl was buried up to her neck. Then about fifty men started stoning her, throwing rocks at her head, to kill her. After a while, she was dug up, and nurses were called in to verify that she was dead. When they discovered that she was not, the girl was buried again, and the stoning continued.

At some point, it was too much for the crowd, and they stormed down from the stadium bleachers to try to stop the horrifying execution. The military opened fire on the mob, and a young boy was killed by their gunfire. The 50 men finally completed their task; the young girl was dead.

As for the three rapists, they have nothing to fear. No arrests have been made, and apparently there is no expectation that they ever will be brought to justice.

Violence is part of our genetic makeup, our animal heritage, but as my three-part blog series tries to show, we have the ability to be ethically advanced. As rational, thinking beings, we can recognize the good parts of our instincts, such as love, marriage, children, and family. We can also recognize that some instincts, such as violence, murder and war, are no longer useful nor moral, and we can leave these things behind us in history.

But as long as outdated and immoral religious laws are followed and revered, young girls like the poor, dead Somoli, just barely a teenager, will face the horrors of rape, only to be murdered when they seek help.

Those of you, Christians, Jews, or Muslims, who think you are exempt, and try to say, "That's not MY religion," need to go back and reread your holy books. It IS your religion. YOU are the problem, because YOU don't see that your holy writings are nothing more than outdated stories, that should have been left behind long ago.

Most Atheists are RIGHT: Religion really does cause violence

Having spent two blogs (part 1, part 2) explaining why religion doesn't cause violence, it's time to refute that statement.

More exactly, I'm going to refine it: Religion isn't at the root of violence (evolution is), but religion greatly amplifies violence.

A huge portion of the "laws" laid down in the Bible are, by today's standards, barbaric and primitive. If a priest's daughter becomes a prostitute, the Bible says she should be burned at the stake (Leviticus 21:9). The penalty for blasphemy is death (Leviticus 23:10-24). Adultery, incest, and homosexuality, any of these and more call for the death penalty, often by stoning.

Even people who claim to follow the Bible's laws, and believe the Bible's inerrancy, can't stomach these laws today. We've evolved, we now know better, but the Bible is frozen in time.

Should we accept these millenia-old rules as our laws, just because two thousand years ago, a group of Jewish scholars declared that these were God's own words?

My primary thesis is not wrong, quite the contrary: Violence is part of our genetic makeup (our instincts), and religious memes that support violence are just an example of memetic evolution at work, shaping the religious memeplex to fit well into its environment (our brains).

But we're supposed to be civilized. We're supposed to move beyond our primitive animal instincts that make us fight and kill one another. We've evolved brains that are powerful enough to understand good and evil. We've evolved culture, and empathy, and the concepts of right and wrong. We understand that sometimes the individual has to subjugate his/her own raw desires for the good of the family, the village, or the world.

Unfortunately, some religions are holding us back from these achievements.

Somewhere along the way, a bunch of parables, historical "tall tales," and good advice, got converted into the inerrant Word of God, purportedly correct in every respect and for all time. The Inerrancy Meme, one of the evolved tricks that religion uses to defend itself from criticism, arose in the Jewish culture a few hundred years before the time of Christ. Since then, it's become a huge barrier to progress in human ethics: If we left it to religions that follow the Inerrance Meme, human ethical advancement would be frozen in time forever.

Religion is not the root of violence and war; that distinction goes to evolution, keeping us in keen competition with one another for survival of the fittest. But religion is holding us back, exacerbating and amplifying the worst parts of our animal nature, and preventing us from evolving to the next level of ethical achievement.