Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Intelligent Design Proponent Says God Must Be Stupid

Our friends over at the "Discovery Institute" (a misnomer if ever there was one) have in essence told us that God is just plain stupid. What's even funnier is that their boneheaded leader, Dr. Cornelius Hunter, doesn't even seem to realize what a gaffe he just pulled.
We do not know evolution to be an obvious, compelling explanation of the data—beyond any shadow of a doubt. Yet this is precisely what evolutionists claim. ... Here, for example, is what one professor recently wrote to me:
"An omnipotent god could do anything (we guess), but one who is omnipotent, serious, and thoughtful (at least as serious and thoughtful as an exemplary human) would not route wiring from giraffe’s larynx around its aorta."
How does the professor know that an omnipotent, serious, and thoughtful god would not route wiring from the giraffe’s larynx around its aorta? What does the professor know about omnipotent, serious, and thoughtful gods? And what does the professor know about creating giraffes? Precious little, I’m afraid, in both cases."
Wrong, wrong, wrong!

OK, Dr. Hunter, let me explain it in plain simple terms.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Will Religion Go Out of Business When Science Gives Us Eternal Life?

A couple decades ago when the first digital cameras hit the market, the head of the Eastman Kodak company declared that in a decade their film business would be closed. One of the most profitable products in history ("make it by the mile, sell it by the inch"), was going to be completely obsolete in a virtual eye blink. And he was right: by the end of 2009, Eastman Kodak made its last roll of film, and in 2010 the company was removed from the S&P 500 index.

What would happen if religion's best product, "eternal life," went the way of Kodachrome? If we can get eternal life from a scientist instead of from God, will religion shut its doors too?

Every marketing guru on Madison Avenue knows that sex, food, and fear are what sell. Find a product that fills one of these needs (or make it seem like it does), and you'll be rich. And in the end, religion is nothing more than a big business with a product – eternal life – to ease your fear of death. Death is at the very foundation of

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Immoral Heart of Christmas

If I robbed a bank and you forgave me, would the court let me off the hook? If my father was a child abuser and my uncle forgave him for it, would that make me feel better? If your wife cheated on you and her sister took the blame, would you feel better?

On Christmas Day it seems appropriate to contemplate the meaning of Christianity. Not Christmas, all the cheer and sharing and such – that's all good stuff. I'm talking about Christianity itself.

Even though most Christians are very moral people, and even though Christianity has many redeeming features, ultimately we can't ignore the fact that the message at the very heart of the story of Christmas is ... well, just plain wrong. Flawed. Immoral.

What is that idea? That we humans are deeply and incurably immoral. That we're depraved and sinful. And that we are born in that depraved state. Christianity teaches that from the very first breath we take, we already are in need of forgiveness and redemption. Christmas is about a savior who supposedly fixes all that. (Isn't that a wonderful meme? "You're in bad shape, but we have the cure!")

This is such a twisted, sick way to look at life and love that it's no wonder we have so many problems in the world. But it gets worse. On top of the idea of "original sin" you add the fact that someone besides your victim can forgive you. Who on Earth decided that one person could take the blame for another person's sins, and that would make it OK? That's just a plainly wrong philosophy. The only person who can take the blame for your sins is you. (Actually we know who invented this idea, and it wasn't Jesus.)

Hey, maybe that's why the

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Co-opted Pagan Winter Celebration!

First, I'd like to thank all of the people who purchased the Kindle edition of The Religion Virus on Christmas day! There is a certain delicious irony to this, and the day isn't over yet. (I love Kindle – I get up-to-the-minute reports on my sales!)

I was contemplating a complaint about how the pagan Winter Harvest/Solstice celebration has been co-opted by Christmas and Hanukkah. But wait ... I'm not even a pagan. How can I whine about that? So I guess there's not much to do but to go along with the spirit of it! And in spite of my frequent criticisms of the bad that comes from blind religious faith, I do admire the spirit of Christmas.

My favorite Christmas movie is It's a Wonderful Life. But it's ironic: even though it's supposedly about Christmas, there is almost no religion in it. It does have one religious icon, the hapless, somewhat comedic angel named Clarence who escorts the young suicidal banker George Bailey (Jimmie Stewart) into a bleak George-less future. But the core message of Wonderful Life, the part I love the most, is that it shows how each person's life here on this Earth does matter. It shows us that being good and kind to one another is the highest ethic of all.

It doesn't matter whether you are Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Jain or anything else, we can all appreciate this message. We may feel that the world is too huge, and each of us is too insignificant to make any meaningful difference. Recessions, wars, crime, natural disasters ... sometimes it seems like no matter how hard we try, it will all be for nothing. Why bother?

But we do bother, because it does matter.

A million years from today nobody will know who we were. Our existence will have been

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Bill Maher on Christmas and Global Citizenship

Other duties call today, so I'll just leave you faithful readers with this. It's Bill Maher from ten years ago, yet it's a perfect message for today. Whatever you celebrate, be it Christmas, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, the new year or nothing at all, I hope you'll take this message to heart.

Like it or not, we're all global citizens first.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Pope Blows Another Apology, Needs to Return to Kindergarten

Will Pope Benedict XVI ever get it right? Apparently not. His latest attempt to apologize for the priest sex and pedophilia scandal is agonizingly bad. The man either doesn't know how to apologize, or is genuinely not sorry.

I don't know about the Pope's childhood, but way back in kindergarten I learned that there are three parts to a good apology:
  1. You have to acknowledge a fault or offense without reservation.
  2. You have to say you're sorry and mean it.
  3. You must take responsibility for the consequences and try to put it right.
Simple, right? Everyone knows this.

Except maybe His Holiness. His latest failed apology was given during his traditional meeting with the cardinals:

Monday, December 20, 2010

Ft. Worth Pastor: First Amendment is not for Atheists

It seems that at least one prominent Christian pastor in Fort Worth, Texas doesn't believe the First Amendment applies to atheists. It came to light because Fort Worth banned all ads with religious or atheist content.

We've all been having fun watching the back-and-forth "battle of the ads" on Fort Worth buses. For years, various Christian organizations bought ad space with no controversy. Then those darned atheists messed it all up. They decided to show their "Good Without God" and similar atheist ads, sponsored by the Coalition of Reason, on those same buses.

Well, those ads upset the deeply religious people of Texas – we're talkin' about Baptist country! So they started chasing the buses around with their own god-mobile. It was a truck with a big billboard on it saying "I still love you – God," and "2.1 Billion People are Good With God." A couple of bus drivers even refused to drive the atheist-ad buses and took sick days.

Up to that point, it was all good fun.

Friday, December 17, 2010

God Gets D- on Bible Project

Poorly written and confusing. Repetitive and contradictory - get to the point!
Some good stuff, but you're not getting through.
Please see me - you need to repeat this class.
(This is philosophy not mythology!)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Phoenix Catholic Bishop Confirms: Hospital Should Have Let Mom AND Baby Die

Remember the nun who was excommunicated by her bishop for participating an emergency abortion to save a woman's life? The patient, a mother of four, developed life-threatening pulmonary hypertension while pregnant, and would probably have died along with her baby without the life-saving procedure.

Today we find the truly disgusting disregard the Roman Catholic Church has for human life and morals. Thomas J. Olmsted, the Bishop of Phoenix, has reiterated his position: the mother should have been left to die.

But even worse, he is now "pulling rank" on all of the doctors and insisting that they never again defy his authority.

He refuses to even consider anyone else's opinion. In a letter to the hospital's president, Olmsted wrote:

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Killing Babies: Why Spanish Conquistadors are like Male Chimpanzees

I received a fascinating email from R.H., a professor at a university in Texas. R.H. drew a clever parallel between infanticide in animals and the history of the Spanish Conquistadors in America.

In nature there are numerous examples of infanticide carried out by "step fathers." For example, when a new male joins a chimpanzee troop he will often kill infants. While this horrifies us, it makes evolutionary sense. When a female chimpanzee enters her fertile period she will typically mate with almost all of the males in her troop. This means that the males in the troop have no idea which male fathered which baby. If a male from the troop kills an infant, it could be his own.

But when a new male joins the troop, he can be certain that he's not the father of any of the babies. If he kills the babies it causes their mothers to become fertile again, and he has a higher probability of passing his genes on. So that's exactly what he does.

You see this in humans too. Sadly, human step fathers are roughly fifty times more likely to kill a step child than the natural father of a child – remarkably parallel to the statistics you find in chimpanzees and many other species. We'd like to think we're evolved, that we've moved past our animal instincts, but it just isn't so. You see this pattern throughout nature: a new mate (male or female) is far more likely to kill the "step children" than the natural parent.

So what on Earth does this have to do with Conquistadors? I thought you'd never ask...

Professor R.H. wrote, "The Spanish destroyed many temples, idols, and customs that connected the indigenous population to their ancient religion." That's an understatement. They also killed

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Second Most Famous Catholic: Gayness Denied

Did you know that the second-most famous Christian in history was gay? Probably not. And you're not alone. Almost nobody knows this, and it's no accident.

So first of all, who is this #2 Christian? I'd give the #1 spot to St. Paul, author of so many of the Biblical letters. But the #2 spot has to go to Leonardo da Vinci. There's hardly a Catholic alive, or any western Christian for that matter, who hasn't seen The Last Supper. And his painting of the Mona Lisa is called the "most famous painting in the world."

Everyone knows the name da Vinci. But very few people know that he was gay!

If you were writing a biography of someone famous man – say your history teacher wanted to know about Albert Einstein – wouldn't you include a bit about his life and family, his personal life? You'd write about his two marriages, and you'd surely want to mention Einstein's ten mistresses.

Any good historian would do this. Right?

Wrong. If the historian is working for the Roman Catholic Church

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Fake-Christians Easy Out Clause: Another Ray Comfort Gem

I've never written about Ray Comfort before because he's such a goofball. It's like shooting fish in a barrel. But the other day he wrote an essay that parroted one of my favorite arguments from Christian apologetics: the Fake Christians Argument. In a nutshell, it says that anyone who abandons Christianity wasn't a "real" Christian to start with! Here's Ray's version of Fake Christians:
After seven seasons as host of Canada's "most listened to spiritual talk show," Drew Marshall announced to his listeners that he is no longer convinced there's a God. ... We have millions of people within the contemporary Church who have been convinced intellectually of the existence of God, but they've never been converted experientially by the power of God. So when someone comes along with what they perceive to be a more convincing argument, they begin to doubt their salvation. And so they should--because they are not saved. They are false converts...
In other words, Christianity never loses membership because anyone who abandons it was a fake. Only real Christians count. How do you know they are real Christians?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Atheists Have No Morals ... and the parrot is just resting

Debating morals with theists sometimes makes me feel feel like John Cleese and the Dead Parrot.
"It's dead, that's what's wrong with it."
"No, no, it's resting!"
"I know a dead parrot when I see one and I'm looking at one right now!"
"No, no, it's not dead, it's resting."
... and so on, with the shopkeeper repeatedly saying something that everyone can see is plainly false. The parrot isn't alive, it's dead! Deceased!

It's like that when debating morals with a theist. They constantly harp back to their only argument, that without God there can be no morality. A case in point is Gary Hardaway's essay, CAN ATHEISTS BE GOOD CITIZENS? Hardaway starts with a few irrelevant quotes from the most religious of America's founding leaders such as James Madison in order to lend credibility to his case. But then he gets to the old dead-parrot argument:
The fatal, disqualifying flaw arises when the atheist encounters the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights and that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The atheist cannot agree with the Founders. In honesty he has to say, “Men do not have a Creator. Their unalienable rights do not come from a Creator. They come from another source.”
So far, so good: Hardaway is actually correct. Unalienable rights do not come from a creator! There is no God, just an idea of God that humans created. Human rights are unalienable because we have become a civilized species capable of rational thought. Using the same Rationalist reasoning that was created by the ancient Greeks and refined for two thousand years, we've figured out that human happiness and dignity are the foundation of all morals and ethics.

So we're good, right? Alas, no. Hardaway goes on:
What might this other source [of human rights] be? Government? But government can take away what it has bestowed. ... Atheists have an insoluble problem. If God doesn’t exist, human beings can have no special value.
Ah, there it is. The old dead-parrot claim. It's nothing more than "proof by repeated assertion." If you say something often and loudly, then it must be true!

Sorry, Mr. Hardaway. Atheists don't have an insoluble problem. God doesn't exist, and the universe doesn't give a damn about humans. If we manage to detonate all of our nuclear weapons and turn this planet into a sterile rock, that rock will keep orbiting the sun for another few billion years. The Earth won't care, the sun won't care, the universe won't care.

Human rights only matter to humans. Atheists and humanists know this. It makes human life even more precious. It's why atheist morality is fundamentally better than religious morality.

It is the theists, the Christians, Muslims and Jews who have the real problem.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Temper Atheist Optimism? Not This Blogger.

My blogging colleague vjack over at Atheist Revolution is challenging us to be a little less giddy about the rising optimism of Atheists. He writes:
"Religion has been declared dead in America many times before, and it has reemerged each time. ... I do not expect to see the end of Christian privilege in my life time, nor do I expect to live to see religion truly fade into the obscurity it deserves."
He makes a good case that religion will prove its resilience once again by fighting off the rising tide of atheism.

I have to disagree. I'm still retaining my optimism. I think we are at a true tipping point, where a series of changes in society are aligning in unprecedented ways that will cause the rapid demise of Christianity as we know it in America. Like the other "tipping points" in Malcolm Gladwell's book, the result will be cascading change, an accelerating societal upheaval that will move far faster than anyone expects.

What are those changes? What new social forces will converge to make this happen?

The Internet. Never before have young people been exposed to so many ideas from so many sources. In past generations, parents largely controlled their children's access to knowledge, either

Monday, December 6, 2010

Is Christianity Dying? American Christians Lie About Their Church Attendance

Here's another interesting tidbit in the ongoing saga of Christianity's decline in America. It turns out that American Christians stretch the truth rather badly when reporting how often they go to church. In fact, "stretching" the truth may be too kind ... I'd call it lying. American Christians exaggerate their church attendance by almost sixty percent.

And even stranger, European Christians don't. The "attendance gap" is nearly zero in Europe. Their claimed attendance matches their actual attendance.

According to a new University of Michigan study, American church attendance runs around 35% to 45% if you simply ask people. But

Which Soldiers Hate Gays the Most? The Chaplains!

Which military group is most vehemently opposed to repealing the Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell law? Maybe you heard that it's the Marines, the "manly men." Or maybe you thought it was the Army, the men in the trenches. Wrong!

It's the chaplains. The men of God.
"There is very clearly a concern out there by chaplains, that they would somehow be treated adversely if they held or espoused religious views that were contrary to the government's view if the law is repealed."
–General Carter Ham, Director of Operations, Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Big surprise. According to this CNN report, we once again find that the religious leaders, the ones who are supposed to be spreading God's word of infinite love, tolerance and acceptance, and spreading Jesus' message of forgiveness, are instead leading the charge in the battle against gay rights. They're at the forefront of intolerance and discrimination.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

McCain's True Colors: A Homophobic Jerk

There was a time some years ago when I admired Senator McCain of Arizona. His military service was above and beyond the call of duty and he seemed like an intelligent, thoughtful man. I've never been fond of Republican politics, but McCain seemed like an honest Republican, a man with principles.

But l can't find any respect left in my heart for John McCain. McCain claims that he supports gay rights. He promised that when the military told him it was ready for the repeal of the Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell (DADT) law, he would support the repeal. But he simply lied! The majority of military leaders, as well as the overwhelming majority of servicemen and servicewomen in all branches, have spoken clearly: they support gay rights in the military, and they support the repeal of DADT.

So what does McCain do? He calls for more studies, committees and reports. When they arrive, he claims they didn't address the right question. He stalls.

And finally today, when the most definitive study was released by the military which concluded it is time to repeal DADT, what did McCain do? Did he take it to heart like he promised? No. He simply claimed that the report is "flawed" and that the senior military officers who put it together didn't do it right.

He's proving to be nothing more than a homophobic jerk. What's more, his actions today opposing the repeal of DADT are just the last in a long string of heartless, harsh conservative dogma that he's been reciting.

I respect people who care more than I respect people who merely happen to agree with me. I'd rather have friends who have thought about their morals and politics than friends who are knee-jerk liberals or conservatives. Well, I thought John McCain was someone I could respect, but either I misjudged him to begin with, or else McCain decided to become dishonest to his own principles for reasons I can't fathom.

Either way, I finally lost the last vestiges of respect I had left for Senator John McCain.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Oklahoma Needs a Civics Lesson: Sharia Law Ban Exposes Constitutional Ignorance

On Monday a federal judge blocked the Oklahoma "Save our State" constitutional amendment because it singled out Sharia law for special mention. The Court ruled that by banning Sharia law from Oklahoma courts but not mentioning other religions, the amendment was effectively endorsing Judeo-Christian laws. That is plainly illegal under the First Amendment (as extended to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment), and the judge ruled correctly.

But to hear the conservatives' howls, you'd think the judge had allowed Sharia law into the Oklahoma law books! Here's what one conservative news site had to say

Santa Cruz: My Home Town Displays "Reason Greetings" Banner in Parade!

My home town is making me proud! From the MercuryNews.com:
SANTA CRUZ -- When this year's holiday parade kicks off Saturday morning in downtown, one of the newest additions will be the Atheists of Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, whose members will march down Pacific Avenue with a banner bearing the words "Reason's Greetings."

Other groups sponsoring the banner include Santa Cruz Brights, UCSC Secular Student Alliance and Secular Humanists of Santa Cruz County, a coalition of like-minded individuals who have banded together to publicly express their "non-theist" ideology.
Santa Cruz, for those of you who don't know, is a beautiful little town on California's north coast, about 80 miles south of San Francisco. We've had our share of notariety – a couple mass murders, a mention in a Beach Boys song (Surfin' USA), the home of the University of California Santa Cruz, and as a town that banned nuclear weapons! The town was also severly damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

Santa Cruz is an odd mixture of far-right conservatives and far-left liberals. Back in the 1950s and 1960s,

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Want to be Scared? Try WorldNetDaily, the Ultra-Right Christian News

Here's a "resource" for you if you want a little comedy every day. Unfortunately, these guys are serious. The WorldNetDaily web site is one of the craziest there is. Worse, they have the appearance of legitimacy, and are widely cited by other Christian news sites. Mainstream Christians should be embarrassed to be associated with such nuttery, but sadly they're not.

Today's sample is a good illustration. They tell the story of how Karl Marx was once a good Christian, but was corrupted by the evils of higher education.
"Why did Marx became a God hater who invented not only one of the worst tools of oppression to Christianity, but also to all of humanity? Why did Engels become his accomplice? The turning point in both of their lives occurred at the universities they attended when they learned of a new 'Christian doctrine'' called 'liberal theology.'
And they go on to imply that the entire Soviet Empire, China, Korea, Vietnam, Cuba and so on are all the fault of the liberal theology that was – and still is! – taught in universities.

That's pretty amazing, that a few professors could alter world history so dramatically. Never mind that there

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Silly Christian Morals

In a blog last week I wrote that "modern adults realize that Christian 'morals' are a bit silly." Those are strong words. I should have realized that this would offend many people, and I started to think maybe I should retract it.

But on reflection, I can't retract it. I know it's offensive to Christians (and Jews and Muslims, because I'll add them to the mix), but I stand by this assertion. What I will do is amplify so that it's clear exactly what I mean.

Christians are for the most part a moral group. But their morals can be divided into two parts: The morals that all people share, and the morals that are uniquely Christian.

The morals that Christians share with all civilized people are not silly. Be faithful to your mate. Don't murder. Follow the golden rule. Don't steal. Protect children. Honor our parents. These are good morals that all civilized people share. But these are not Christian morals. They are human morals that arise from nature. Jewish, Christian and Muslim authors merely incorporated these into their holy scriptures thousands of years ago. This isn't unique; every civilization does this. Christians can't make some claim to exclusivity on these universal morals. (See Atheism IS Where Morality Originates.)

What about "Christian morals," the ones that are unique to the Christian faith?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Is Christianity Dying? Who is that guy hanging on the plus sign?

Is Christianity dying? Here is a nutshell summary from a Christian writer:
"A couple came into my office once with a yellow pad of their teenage son's questions. One of them was: 'What is that guy doing hanging up there on the plus sign?' "
The falling attendance of America's churches is getting to the point where even Christians are writing about it. According to Drew Dyke in Christianity Today, young people are leaving Christianity in droves. And unlike previous generations, this isn't just a folly-of-youth period in their lives. They're leaving for good.

Some Christian scholars claim the trend isn't worrisome. They point out that young people have always drifted away from church as they leave home, only to return later when they marry and have children. But according to Dyke, these are false reassurances for three reasons:
  • Today's young adults are dropping their religion at "five to six times" the historic rate.
  • The life-phase argument is no longer relevant. People now marry and have kids in their 30s instead of their 20s. After ten years away from a church they are much less likely to return.
  • Past generations lived in an overwhelmingly Judeo-Christian society with strong social pressure to stay "in the fold." Today there is little pressure to attend church, and TV, movies and media portray alternative lifestyles as acceptable. The "cultural gravity" toward religion is gone.
I like the "cultural gravity" argument the best. Religion memes are having more and more trouble propagating and reproducing themselves because of the changing memetic ecosphere. Kids today are exposed to scientific memes that directly conflict with religion memes. They're exposed to more accurate history that documents the horrors of the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, slavery and many other religion-sanctioned atrocities. Kids are taught that all beliefs deserve respect.

For the memeplex that comprises Christianity, this is a complete calamity, a virtual memetic ice age. The memetic ecosphere for religion is being invaded by science memes, tolerance memes, and think-for-yourself memes, and it's reflected in the attitudes of young people. From Dyke's article:

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Pope Reaffirms It: All you Gays are Immoral

Sadly, but not surprisingly, Pope Benedict XVI has just reconfirmed that homosexuality can never be "morally just."

All of you gays and lesbians, sorry, but your sexuality is "against the nature that God originally willed." It's still an abomination.

But wait, there's good news! Your God-given sexual preference is "a great trial." God has singled you out, sort of like Job. The Pope himself said so!

Remember Job? Job was your basic good guy: pious, kind and loyal. But God took a bet with Satan as to whether Job was just a fair-weather friend. To test Job's mettle, God let Satan kill all of Job's children, and when that didn't turn Job away from God, Satan tortured Job with boils all over his body that were so horrible that Job tried to scrape them with broken pottery. And after all that, Job still didn't turn away from God.

So don't think of yourselves as getting some sort of raw deal. God has given you a test! You get to go through life longing for love, but God demands that you deny yourself the consummation of your love, to never join body and soul and experience the wonders and beauty of human sexuality. Just think what an opportunity this is to show what a good Catholic you are!

Why, the rest of us should be jealous. We've got it easy. We get to fall in love, get married and have happy, healthy sex lives. What's the challenge in that? How are we supposed to show God that we're worthy?

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Atheist Agenda: Make Christians Defend THEIR Claims

One of the biggest problems we atheists face is that we've let the theists define us. One of the odd things about human language and culture is that we create special words to define the exceptional things in our world. Historically something like 95% of America was Christian, so the Christians got to decide what "atheist" meant.

The Christian definition of "atheist" is this sort of vague "doesn't believe in God," or "claims there is no God." Notice how this puts the focus on God. It assures the theist that God really exists, but there are a few oddballs out there who for some crazy reason want to be different. It is an inherently theistic, Yahweh-centered definition.

I don't often engage in long debates in the comments section of this blog because I like people to feel free to say what they like without me interfering. But yesterday I made an exception. A reader name Isaac wrote, "i [sic] really don't like how your over all theme shows that there is no way God could exist, but whatever man, its your blog." Here's how I responded:

Friday, November 19, 2010

Alan Turing: Gay Man who Saved the World yet Died in Disgrace

What do you do to a homosexual mathematician whose code-breaking genius saved the world during World War II? Not figuratively, but actually saved the world from Nazi domination? You put him on trial, of course! You convict him of gross indecency. You force him to choose prison or chemical castration. You strip him of all dignity and hound him until in shame and despair he swallows a cyanide pill and dies.

The story of Alan Turing is one of the most disgraceful episodes of modern civilization. A man who should have been a hero of the free world and idolized next to Einstein and Newton in the history books was instead hounded to death because of religion-inspired homophobia.

In World War II, Alan Turing's genius at breaking Nazi secret codes was so successful that the Allies could have sunk almost every single U-boat and convoy that left Germany. Turing's work was so good it was like cheating at cards: if you win every hand, the other players will quickly figure out that the game is rigged. The Allies had to employ all sorts of tricks to hide their success; if you want a fascinating account, I highly recommend Neal Stephenson's semi-fictional Cryptonomicon, the story of the rise of modern cryptography.

Alan Turing literally saved the world from Nazi domination. Without his work, WWII would have ended very differently. The Nazi regime might have remained undefeated,

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Teenage Sex Sleepovers: Why American Religious Morals CAUSE Abortions

There's a way we could cut abortion rates in half in the United States, but the religious right is against it! Why? Because it requires us to be honest and open about sex with our children. It means we must be pragmatic and admit that teens have sex whether we tell them to or not.

A fascinating report by Advocates for Youth proves what many of us have known intuitively for a long time: America's religion-based "morality" doesn't work. In spite of the good intentions of Nancy Reagan and her followers, the "Just Say No" policy for sex education actually increases pregnancy, abortion, venereal disease and poverty.

Check out these disturbing facts from the Advocates for Youth report:

 United StatesNetherlands
Pregnancy per 100,00072.211.8
Births per 1,000 ages 15-1942.54.8
Abortion per 100,000 ages 15-19 19.87.8
HIV/STI Rates all adults 0.6% 0.1%
Syphilis cases per 100,000 adults 2.7 1.0
Gonorrhea cases per 100,000 ages 15-19 458.8 13.92
Chlamydia cases per 100,000 ages 15-19 2,862 150.4

If the United States could match the Netherlands' abortion rates, there would be almost 125,000 fewer abortions per year!

You'd think any anti-abortionist would take a look at these numbers and say, "Gosh, let's get on board with their program! It works!" But no, they can't. Why?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Change the Pledge: One nation under Allah?

Sadly, the Freedom from Religion Foundation lost another round in their effort to remove "Under God" from our Pledge of Allegiance. The Court wrote:
"It takes more than the presence of words with religious content to have the effect of advancing religion, let alone to do so as a primary effect," the judge wrote. "The Pledge and the phrase 'under God' are not themselves prayers, nor are they readings from or recitations of a sacred text of a religion. Here, the words 'under God' appear in a pledge to a flag – itself a secular exercise, accompanied by no other religious language or symbolism."
But for all of the Court's complex (and sometimes convoluted) reasoning, there's a simple and obvious test that shows that their decision is wrong. Even they should have seen it. Consider this:
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation without God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Doesn't this also meet the Court's definition of "secular"?

Or how about this:
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under Allah, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Surely that too meets the Court's definition of "secular."

Christian Beliefs Disqualify Congressman on Global Warming

Today we find yet another example of why scientists, moderate theists, humanists and atheists should all join together to fight the scourge of religious ignorance. It's good for us to respect the beliefs of others, but there are limits. When religion threatens our welfare, when it threatens to damage the entire Earth, it's time to put a stop to it.

United States Congressional Representative John Shimkus (R-IL) is trying to become the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce committee. Here's what Shimkus has to say about global warming:
"I believe [the Bible] is the infallible word of God, and that's the way it is going to be for his creation. ... The earth will end only when God declares its time to be over. Man will not destroy this earth. This earth will not be destroyed by a flood."
To make his point, Shimkus cites Genesis, the part where God promised Noah that once was enough:

Friday, November 12, 2010

Catholic Church is Looking for MORE Exorcists. Seriously.

Good grief! It's hard enough to take the Pope and the Catholic Church's politics seriously these days, given all their misguided priorities and scandals. But exorcism? For real? Do these people still believe in demonic possession?

Apparently they do. And it's not just something that the Roman Catholic church winks at. Exorcism is an official duty of Roman Catholic priests, one that requires special training. And worse, they seem to have a serious shortage of exorcists!

I'd like to think that this is just a funny joke. But there are real live victims at the bottom of this story.

These "demonically possessed" people are mentally ill and in need of serious professional medical help. To the church's (small) credit,

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Bad News: Atheist Palestinian Faces Death Penalty

Reports are coming in about an atheist blogger in the Palestinian West Bank who was caught in a sting via Facebook and now faces the death penalty. It seems the best he can hope for is life imprisonment. Even members of his family say so.

This should completely dispel any doubts anyone might have about the importance of America's strong separation of church and state. The fact that in the year 2010 there are still people being put to death for their religious beliefs should be repugnant to every civilized human, regardless of faith.

But that's what happens when you mix government and religion. History proves it. Down through the ages, whenever the two mix you'll find that the zealots eventually get into power and persecute everyone who doesn't agree with their views. Not just their religion, but their particular sect. Without strong legal limits on religious coercion (such as in the UK) or an outright separation (like our Constitution), it seems inevitable. Is there even one place in the world that has religious tolerance and religious leaders who are superior to the elected leaders?

I hope the civilized people of the world, whether Christian, Jewish,

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Why No Republican Compromise: Not mentally capable?

A CNN story this morning caught my eye. Actually it was more than that; I was almost shocked by the implications.
Willing to
Stick to
These numbers alone are pretty scary. According to CNN, "Forty one percent of Republicans questioned in the survey say it is more important for lawmakers to stick to their beliefs even if little gets done." Imagine if the Democrats adopted that same rigid unwillingness to compromise. Our government would come to a standstill.

Coincidentally I read a fantastic article yesterday called Neuroscience and Fundamentalism by Kenneth M. Heilman and Russell S. Donda (sent to me by reader cipher – thanks!).

According to Heilman and Donda, there may be genetic reasons for why some people have more flexible beliefs than others:
How is it that one person can find it utterly intolerable to believe anything other than a given interpretation of religious doctrine, while another appears comfortable with adding his or her own meaning to the same literature? It is conceivable that the mystery underlying these distinct approaches arises from a not often considered, yet key difference in brain function.
In other words, some of us may be biologically programmed to be inflexible! I encourage you to read the whole fascinating article; I can't do it justice with a few quotes.

But there's more. Heilman and Donda go on to say that the tendency towards fundamentalist thinking can be amplified

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Biblical and Constitutional Inerrancy: Why the Tea Party is so Crazy

A few days ago I wrote that the Tea Baggers seem to live in an alternate reality. And today, I'm pleased to announce that I figured out why.

The Tea Party's alternate reality arises from the Doctrine of Constitutional Inerrancy, the belief that the United States Constitution is perfect and its authors are practically saints.

My "Aha!" moment came when I realized that Constitutional Inerrancy is a side effect of a belief in Biblical Inerrancy, the idea that the Bible is God's literal word, perfect in every way. The Tea Party has apparently extended that hollow philosophy to our Constitution and its authors. It's a new quasi-religion.

It's no surprise that these two beliefs go together. Willingness to accept authority and take things on faith

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Truly Moral Preacher? Gay Megachurch Bishop Comes Out ... for a Good Reason

Now here's a story I like. Jim Swilley is gay, but few people knew it. He kept his sexuality a secret for decades because he was founder and bishop of Conyers’ Church in the Now, a "megachurch" in Rockdale County, Georgia.

Last week Bishop Swilley decided it was time to stop living a lie and come out as gay. But it wasn't because of a scandal, or because someone was threatening to "out" him. Bishop Swilley came out as openly gay to support the gay youth of America.
"I know a lot of straight people think it is a choice. It is not. ... As a father, thinking about your 16, 17 year old killing themselves, I thought somebody needed to say something.
What a wonderful, generous man.

Those of us in the atheist/agnostic/secular/humanist blogosphere are quick to point out the flaws of church leaders who are caught in scandals. We're fast to report on a megachurch leader caught with a prostitute,

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Scale of the Universe

I've written a couple times about how innumeracy, the inability to understand numbers, the scale of space and vastness of time, is one of the key factors behind creationism. People who argue against Evolution as a science just don't get how incredibly vast the ecosphere is and how long a billion years is.

Today I'll leave you with something cool:
The interactive Scale of the Universe
It starts in the middle, around our own scale, but I thought it was cool to slide the button clear to the right and then work my way left. It goes from 10-35 meters to 1024 meters, 59 orders of magnitude! That's starting from the Planck length and ending at the whole universe. It shows you what objects are relevant at each step. It's quite amazing.

How anyone can reconcile this with creationism is beyond me!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Iraqi Christian Massacre Shows Sickening Western Hypocrisy

A tragic story is illustrating the hypocritical and immoral nonchalance America has for the mass deaths of non-Christians.

All the news services are headlining the tragic murder of 58 Christians in Our Lady of Salvation Christian church of Baghdad. Al-Qaida-linked militants burst into the church during services and killed the priest and nearly everyone in the front row. They demanded that someone call the Pope to arrange for the release of Muslim women they claimed were being held captive by Coptic Christians in Egypt. Iraqi forces invaded the church, the militants blew themselves up, and 58 people ended up dead with 78 others wounded.

It was a terrible tragedy, and everyone from the Pope to presidents has been condemning it, as they should.

But where where the cries of outrage when America started our bombing campaign on Iraq? Over 150,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed by American bombs (even the U.S. Government admits this), mostly women and children. That's 2,586 times as many people as were killed this weekend in the Christian church.

You would have to blow up 58 people 365 days a year for the next seven years to equal the death toll that America has inflicted on Iraqi women, children and old men.

My fiancé and I had the pleasure of hearing Sam Harris talk last week. He described an interesting experiment.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Ted Nugent: Is He the Real Threat to America?

Ted Nugent is the poster child for why evangelical Christianity is the enemy of the American Constitution and why mainstream Christians, Jews and Muslims should join secularists and atheists to defend and honor the separation of church and state clause of our Constitution.

CNN was on the TV this weekend, and I happened to walk by as they were showing live coverage of Ted Nugent's rally for Republican Senate candidate John Raese in Charleston, West Virginia. Mostly it was the usual conservative Tea Bagger exhortations, but then he said this:
"It's not good versus bad ... it's good versus evil.
This sends a chill up my spine.

Any living, healthy, thriving society is full of strong opinions and dissent, and part of that dialog must include respect for those who disagree with you. I might argue vehemently that the Republican platform is wrong and will lead to catastrophe. They might counter that my politics will lead to socialism and a big-brother state. But as long as we keep arguing, we'll be OK. We'll rant and rail at each other, but somewhere in all the smoke and noise, we always manage to find a middle path that works.

But when Ted Nugent claims that God is on his side,

Friday, October 29, 2010

Jewish Rabbi: Goyim are Here to Server Jews!

Here's an amazing piece of news reported on Secular Daily News. It's one of those post-without-comments features ... you can't add much to this! Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, one of Israel's leading experts on Biblical law, says:
"Goyim non-Jews were born only to serve us. Without that, they have no place in the world – only to serve the People of Israel.

“Why are Gentiles needed? They will work, they will plow, they will reap. We will sit like an aristocrat and eat. That is why Gentiles were created.

“With Gentiles it will be like any person, they need to die but God will give them longevity. Why? Imagine that one’s donkey would die. They would lose profit. Their donkey is their servant. The Goyim is like a donkey to the Jews, they exist only to serve and are only allowed by God to live a long life because they are the beast of burden of the Jews. Were the Goyim to stop serving Jews, God would end their lives.”
What could I possibly add to these wise words? I finally understand my role in this strange world.

Update: I don't want anyone to think I'm serious about my comments about my "role." I was part of a Jewish family for almost ten years, and have great respect for most Jews, as I do for most Christians and Muslims. It's the radicals like Rabbi Yosef who we should all jointly ridicule. I hope that everyone, whether Jewish, Christian, Muslim or Atheist, can agree that Rabbi Yosef deserves no respect.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Sam Harris at UC San Diego

Sam Harris, author of The Moral Landscape: How Science can Determine Human Values made a stop at UC San Diego last night, and it was great. If you have a chance to see Sam Harris on his speaking tour promoting his new book, DON'T MISS IT.

Harris makes an excellent case that science does have a right, and even an obligation, to participate in the debate about the origins of morality.

Religious leaders have argued for thousands of years that morality can only originate from God. Harris starts his lecture by thoroughly debunking this notion. He begins by showing that there is no plausible justification for the claim. Then he completely devastates the argument on practical grounds: religion's abysmal failure to show moral leadership in any important period of history makes their claim to moral leadership a joke.

Harris then goes on to build a very clever series of logical steps that ends with the

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

New Hypocrites Club Nomination: Republican Joe Miller, Alaskan Senate Candidate

Congratulations to Alaskan senatorial candidate Joe Miller on his nomination to the Hypocrites Club.

Rachel Maddow of MSNBC managed to get a great interview. There's a lot of good stuff in the interview, but here's what jumped out at me:
  • Gay marriage is a states-rights issue that should be decided locally. "The fact of the matter is, it's a state issue."
  • But wait ... Miller also says, "There's the Defense of Marriage Act, which I support."
Got that? It's a states rights issue, but Miller will take away that right if he can.

Miller uses taxation, as his excuse. "As a consequence of the taxation structure [of] the federal government, there clearly is a role" for the federal government. This is quite amazing, double hypocrisy if you will, since taxes are like poison to Republicans and Tea Baggers.

So which is it Joe? Aren't Republicans all about limited government? Aren't states' rights part

Monday, October 25, 2010

Death Challenges Atheist Convictions

A remarkable woman passed away this weekend. Those of you who have read The Religion Virus will remember my personal story called "The Southern Baptists" about Ruth (not her real name).

Ruth was a strict member of the Church of Christ, born and raised in the heart of the "Bible Belt" of the southern states. She and her husband attended church every Sunday and often on Wednesday. For those of you not familiar with the minutia of America's evangelical churches, the Church of Christ is considered conservative by the mainstream Southern Baptists, who in turn are considered conservative by almost everyone else. The Church of Christ worships twice on Sunday and once on Wednesday, and they don't even allow musical instruments in church, just singing.

On several occasions I joined Ruth and her husband at their tiny rural church in the middle of the cotton, bean and wheat fields from which their people made their living. Although I didn't share their faith, I enjoyed the enthusiasm, honesty, and especially the gospel music. You haven't heard true gospel until you've sat in the pews at a tiny concrete-block church in the heart of the South and listened to a bunch of farmers and their wives, children and grandparents all sing their hearts out. Now that is honest gospel.

Ruth was remarkable to me because she kept her faith and she was accepting of others. Unlike so many people in the evangelical churches,

Friday, October 22, 2010

Law Forces Atheist to have Christian Roommate?

I'm usually opposed to everything the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) does, but here's an interesting case where I find myself 100% on the side of the Christians.

How would an atheist feel if he or she was forced by law to accept an evangelical Christian roommate?

The actual case is the reverse, a Christian woman who advertised for a Christian roommate. But the law cuts both ways, so if this woman loses it would apply to theists and nontheists alike.

The woman posted a notice on her church bulletin board saying, "I am looking for a Christian roommate." Next thing you know, she was the target of a lawsuit by a private group called the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan. They claimed the Christian woman was violating the US Fair Housing Civil Rights Act of 1968, which prohibits discrimination based on race, gender and religion.

The most interesting cases in law are where two different rights collide. For example, you have a right to free speech and I have a right to privacy; what happens when you want to talk about my private life? The boundaries in these cases are always vague. There is no clear line, and it takes years of court decisions to clarify the balance of the conflicting rights.

Most people in America don't realize that discrimination is actually legal in most situations. I'm perfectly free to ban anyone from my home for any reason. I can be a racial, religious sexist bigot all at the same time and only allow white male atheists in my home, and that's my choice. The law has nothing to say about it. (My family might, though... in case there's any doubt, I am none of these things!)

Discrimination is only covered by the law in certain very specific activities: employment, government and business. If you are hiring, conducting business or running the government, you have to treat everyone equally. Beyond that, you can be a jerk.

But what happens when the two collide? When you rent out a room in your house,

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Women Pay Huge Price for Iraqi War

The Iraqis are paying a huge price in lost lives for the war, but there's a hidden cost that has largely been unnoticed. Its the price young Iraqi women are paying: there are no men to marry.

If this happened in America, it would be sad, but women could find fulfilling lives. Women in America aren't judged just by who they can marry or even whether they marry. Women in America can choose to marry or not. Either way, they have opportunities. They can become artists, work in the trades, become corporate executives, work in the service industry and many more. They lead productive, meaningful, happy lives, married or not.

Not Iraqi women. If a woman isn't married by her early twenties, she's considered a poor choice.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Christianity Dying Faster Than Expected?

America's churches seem to be under siege and losing ground faster than anyone expected. This week was particularly bad: Christian news web sites are full of economic disaster stories right alongside stories about young people leaving churches in droves.

Here is just a sample of the top headlines at one Christian news site this morning:These seem to be reflecting a theme that's getting stronger.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Science Victory: Supreme Court Rules Against Christian School

Here's some great news – a victory for education! The United States Supreme Court ruled against an association of Christian schools that were trying to force the University of California to dilute its entrance requirements to accommodate creationist views and historical revisionism.

The University of California didn't think that creationism is science. Imagine that. UC also rejected the Christian "literature" program, which was apparently designed to shield the students from anything that might cause them to think. And I'm guessing that their "history" program was equally biased by the typical evangelical "Christian nation" theory.

The Ignorance-Is-Bliss meme, something I wrote about extensively in The Religion Virus, is one of the most dangerous memes of all. It's the idea that knowledge is dangerous, that the Bible is the source of all truth, and that by shielding yourself from learning you'll avoid temptation and sin. When combined with the Anti-Rationalism meme ("Faith, not reason, is the source of truth"), we end up with a society where rational thought is despised and knee-jerk obedience and ignorance are praised.

Many argue that other Christian memes such as the Monotheism meme ("Your god is fiction") and the Intolerance meme ("It's OK to kill nonbelievers") are the most dangerous. I disagree.

It's certainly true that the Monotheism and Intolerance memes are directly responsible for a lot of the wars and terrorist acts that we see in the world today.

Monday, October 18, 2010

School: Church of Body Modification Isn't a Real Religion, disciplines girl with nose piercing

Why is it that pierced ears are acceptable but a pierced nose gets you thrown out of school? Why is it OK for a 14-year-old Catholic girl to come to school with a streak of ashes on her forehead on Ash Wednesday, but if that same girl shows up with a tattoo the proverbial smelly stuff hits the fan?

And what if that girl happens to be a member of the Church of Body Modification (WARNING: Graphic images!), and the ACLU gets involved?

Well, it has churned up a big pile of religious mud that Christians would rather leave undisturbed. It shows just how much special treatment religions get in this country. We're OK when Christians get their holidays and rituals, but when some unconventional ("weirdo") religion come along with oddball beliefs and tries to claim the same privileges, everyone cries foul. The mainstream religions don't like it one bit.

"The purpose of my nose ring is, it makes me kind of feel whole," said Arianna Iacono, the girl at the center of the fuss. [Note: news articles spell her name "Ariana" and "Arianna."] The Church of Body Modification "represents a collection of members practicing ancient and modern body modification rites." And these aren't like the sailor tattoos on Uncle Joe's forearm. Their web site makes it clear they endorse some pretty strong stuff, including suspension, where people stick huge hooks into themselves and are hoisted into the air by their own skin.

But the principal of Arianna's school was having none of it.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Churches Violate Tax Law, Then Yell Persecution!

I despise hypocrisy, and I really hate it when Christians shout "Persecution!" at the top of their lungs and stomp their feet like angry children, just because they don't get special treatment.

The latest circus act was orchestrated by the Alliance Defense Fund. They called it Pulpit Freedom Sunday, and their goal was to break the laws that prohibit non-profit organizations from engaging in politics.
"Pastors participating in the Alliance Defense Fund’s 'Pulpit Freedom Sunday' will preach from their pulpits Sept. 28 about the moral qualifications of candidates seeking political office. The pastors will exercise their First Amendment right to preach on the subject, despite federal tax regulations that prohibit intervening or participating in a political campaign."
In other words, they want all the benefits of a tax-exempt organization, but they don't want to follow the rules.

This isn't persecution. Nobody is censoring these preachers. All they have to do is

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

God Can't Exist: The Vastness Argument

I've heard a lot of arguments why the Abrahamic god Yahweh can't exist, but here's one I thought of the other day. I'll call it the Vastness Argument Refuting God. I'm sure this isn't original, so maybe my faithful readers can point me to some earlier discussions.

Here is the proof:
  • God made the universe, and then made humans to give it meaning.
  • The earth is one star in the Milky Way galaxy
  • Typical galaxies contain 1011 to 1012 stars
  • There are approximately 1011 to 1012 galaxies
  • There are thus about 1022 to 1024 stars in the universe.
  • Therefore, our sun represents 0.000000000000000000001% of the stars in the universe.
What an incredible waste! Imagine you hired an engineer and said, "Build me a bridge over this river," and you came back after a while and found that the engineer had built ten bridges. "You jerk, what the heck are you doing?" "I built a bridge, didn't I?" he'd reply. Well, yes, but you wouldn't say he was much of an engineer. But we're not talking about ten bridges ... if we found ten Earths around the universe that would only have reduced God's wastefulness down to 0.00000000000000000001%.

So if the Judeo-Christian-Muslim understanding of creation is correct, what are we to make of it? I can only find three possibilities:

Obama is a Communist Muslim Jewish Sympathizer Atheist!

A lot of my research for these blogs takes me into "enemy territory" – web sites of the ultra right, Tea Baggers, evangelical Christians, creationists and some stuff that just makes me say, "Huh?" Such was my day on Monday when I dug up this blog. The story was on CNSNews, "The Right News, Right Now," which is to say, "Right wing news".

Check out the ad on the right. This is their main sponsor.

That's right. These people are equating Obama not to socialism, but to communism. Hammer and sickel. Red. And this is the most prominent advertisement supporting this "news" organization. And "GTFO"? I thought these conservatives supported family values! (For those of you not acquainted with the term, it means "Get the f--- out!" Nice.) Notice that it's a striking white girl wearing the shirt.

Obama must be a pretty amazing guy. First he's a socialist. No, actually he's a communist! And obviously he's a Muslim. But wait, he's an atheist too. And a Jew sympathizer! A communist Muslim Jew sympathizer atheist. He's raising our taxes! Unemployment is his fault! The wars are his fault!

What's weird is that these ultra conservatives seem to be able to actually believe

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Finally, a Kindle Edition of The Religion Virus!

Hey everyone, if you've been waiting for the Kindle edition of The Religion Virus it's finally here!

I'm excite – I sold a number of copies the very first day, before I even started serious advertising. If you've been thinking of buying, now is the time. Help me get my Amazon Kindle ranking up where it will start to cascade!

You can click here to go directly to the Kindle edition.

And if you're not a Kindle fan, here's a link to the good ol' paperback edition that feels nice in your hands as you turn the pages in the shade sipping your iced tea.

Thanks everyone, and enjoy!

Monday, October 11, 2010

African Missionaries Exorcise Schizophrenic - Doing Satan's work in God's name

The Mission News Network has a serious article about an exorcism in Africa. This idiocy might be funny except for two things. First, these ignoramuses are allowed to vote and carry guns, which is kind of scary. And second, it's 100% obvious that this is a tragic case of schizophrenia.

From the "news" report:
"South Asia is riddled with cases of people who are possessed by demons. Visible spiritual warfare is very much alive, and the only way to end it is with prayer.

"A 17-year-old boy in South Asia was recently taken over by demons and subsequently became extremely violent. Much like the possessed man coming from the tombs in the Gospel of Mark, this young man had to be chained down to bind his unnatural strength.

"When a Gospel for Asia-supported missionary met the boy and his family, he explained to the frightened family what was wrong with their son. He then went on to share the Gospel with the family, helping them to understand that the only way their son would be freed was through faith in Jesus and prayer."
The article goes on to claim that the boy is cured,

South Carolina: Prison Bans All Books ... Except Bible

OK, folks, this is 2010. Don't they know how to read in South Carolina? Haven't they seen a newspaper or magazine in the last hundred or two years?

The ACLU has been forced to sue the Berkeley County jail in Moncks Corner to end the prison's blatantly illegal policy that bans all reading material ... except for the Bible. Inmates are allowed to have softback Bibles, but only if they are sent directly from the publisher. They can't have Qur'ans, or even Prison Legal News, which carries articles about prisoner rights and legal news. And I'm sure you can imagine what the prison warden would say if a prisoner wanted a copy of something atheist or secular like my book!

I can sort of understand that the sheriff in a rural South Carolina town might have out-of-date Christian bigotry. It's a surprising anachronism, but this is a big country. What I don't understand is why they'd ban all reading material. It seems to me that a good Sheriff would encourage inmates to read self-help books, or read just to entertain themselves and become more literate.

Hats off to the ACLU, which once again has to fight a battle in a war that should have been over fifty years ago.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Doing What's Right Even When it's Hard

It's really easy to be moral, ethical, kind and generous when everything is going well. When life is good, it's easy to be charitable. When you have plenty of money and you make a mistake, it's easy to make it right.

The real test of character isn't how you handle yourself when times are good. It's whether you can keep up your principles when life sucks. When you make a promise in times of plenty, do you keep it later on when times have turned tough? If you make a mistake when you're broke, do you make it right even though it's not easy?

It seems like every time I turn around these days, yet another pastor, bishop or pope is making the wrong choices, showing that when the chips are down, their morality was a mere facade. Rather than having the deep, solid morality that we expected from these pillars of the religious community, they've shown that their morals are shallow. Rather than deeply held principles, they have situational ethics.

The Pope's cover-up of the pedophilia scandal, which CNN has exposed even more last week, showed us that when the Roman Catholic Church was faced with protecting its children or itself, it abandoned the children. The truly honest response would have been full disclosure, the very day the first pedophile priest was caught.

It seems that every time Congressmen, Senators or Presidents are caught with their pants down, instead of honestly admitting his mistake, their first response is to deny it happened. Rather than being honest, they rationalize and lie.

When BP's oil well blew up, their first response was to pretend it wasn't all that serious, that the leak was something like ten percent of the actual flow. A truly honest response would have been to say, "We don't know, but we'll find out. It looks bad," and then get to work to fix the problem and let their scientists speak without censorship.

Where do these people learn their morals? In church? I only went to church a few times in my youth,

Thursday, October 7, 2010

America's Conservatives Making Us a Nation of Idiots?

I was feeling glum about my fellow Americans and how some seem so incredibly ignorant. And like most of us, where do you turn for comfort? Why, YouTube, of course! The place where you can forget your troubles and go on an endless stroll through a landscape of funny and amazing videos.

I found a Bill Maher monologue from about a year ago, in which he hits the nail on the head. America IS full of ignorant people.

It's funny, but frightening too...

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Divorce: Why Christians don't care about YOU

There's a new Christian movement to "get tough on divorce," which sounds great. We all agree that divorce is bad. But when I read the details, I was surprised, almost horrified, at its anti-family tone. You'd think getting tough on divorce meant supporting families, but it turns out to be the opposite. As far as I can tell, it's a "Don't embarrass your Church" campaign.

Christians have a commendable respect for family, marriage and the importance of children. In fact, they often want to claim the high road, that those who embrace God and Jesus are inherently better parents and have happier, healthier families. Organizations like "Focus on Family" even make claims like this:
"The panel first suggested that newlyweds should establish and maintain a Christ-centered home. Everything rests on that foundation. If a young husband and wife are deeply committed to Jesus Christ, they enjoy enormous advantages over a family with no spiritual dimension."
Unfortunately, the facts don't bear this out. The most religious Christians are the most likely to get divorced! (For more information see Southern Baptist Convention's Resolution On The Scandal Of Southern Baptist Divorce, which lays it out in detail.)

Well, enough is enough. They've decided to Get Tough on Divorce.

On the surface this seems like a laudable mission. Divorce is a terrible time for a family. It's a time of broken dreams, a time when love turns to bitterness and often hate, and when children's idyllic vision of parental love and home stability is shattered.

But when you read Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Rev. Albert Mohler's key essay, none of that seems to matter. His writings, and all the others I could find, are strangely devoid of any concern for the actual families. Instead, you find stuff like this:

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

"Sovereign Citizens" think they're above our laws

I just have time for a short blog this morning, so I'll point you to a disturbing new trend:
'Screw with Their Faith and They Will Kill You': The Strange, Obsessively Anti-Government Sovereign Citizen Movement Makes a Comeback
It seems there's been an underground movement called "sovereign citizens" who reject the authority of our government. With the election of a Black man who is also a Democrat, these people are gaining adherents.

They don't believe in taxes, social security numbers, or even that our laws apply to them. They're "sovereign" in their own eyes. Scary stuff.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Good News! Druids are Officially Recognized by Britain

Well, it's about time! Druidism (sometimes inaccurately called "tree worshipers") finally became an officially recognized religion in its own homeland. Britain's Charity Commission for England and Wales gave them charity status. Why did it take so long?

Or maybe the more sensible question we should be ask is whether any religion should be given charity status (here in the United States, we call it non-profit status). Why is religion given any special treatment at all?

Here in the USA our Constitution has a special rule

Friday, October 1, 2010

One Nation Under God Stays ... For Now

Our friends over at the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) have lost another small battle in their long war to free us from government intrusion into our religious beliefs.

The FFRF sued the Architect of the Capitol, the government architect responsible for designing the new Capitol Visitor Center in Washington D.C. because the Architect had put "In God We Trust" in the center along with an engraving of the Pledge of Allegiance which contains the words "under God." The case was thrown out on a technicality – FFRF failed to show that it had been financially injured as a taxpayer.

I think the real problem is that no judge wants to be the one to throw out the Pledge. Any judge who had the courage to enforce the plain language of our Constitution

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Sexual Revolution: How One Pedophile Destroyed America

I know most of my readers are strong advocates of the wall of separation between church and state, but if you ever had even the slightest doubt, read this article on World Net Daily. It's scary stuff.

They start with the laughable claim that Alfred Kinsey, the sex researcher who pulled us out of the dark ages of sexual repression, was a pedophile. From there, they build a case against every advance we've made about sex and sexuality since 1950, and conclude that our legal system should return to Bible-based laws!

Here is what these ultra-conservative religious nutcases would do:

"Pre-Kinsey, sex laws were based on biblical authority and considered an area of 'public rights,' meaning we recognized sex had civil consequences on society," Reisman said. "Post-Kinsey sex laws are based on 'scientific authority' and are considered 'private rights,' which claims sex has no social consequences."

In other words, if they were in charge, the government would have the right to peek into your bedroom and decide what's legal and what's not.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

City of Angels: Why is Christian Philosophy so Negative?

We watched an old Meg Ryan / Nicolas Cage movie last night called City of Angels. It was a decent romantic tragedy, though a bit slow moving. But it got me to wondering: why is Christian philosophy so profoundly negative? Why does happiness always come at a terrible price? Why is love a zero-sum game where if someone wins, someone else has to lose?

(Spoiler alert!) In City of Angels, Nicolas Cage plays Seth, an angel who watches over the good citizens of Los Angeles. Meg Ryan plays a heart surgeon (Dr. Maggie Rice) who is having a personal crisis over the fact that some of her patients die. Since Seth is an angel, he doesn't have human senses like touch, taste or smell. To make a long (literally) movie short, Seth falls in love with Maggie, discovers that angels can "fall to Earth" and become human, and so he gives up his immortality for love. After a good dose of reality (cuts, bruises, rain and getting robbed), he gets to spend one blissful night with Meg Ryan before she is hit by a truck and killed.

I totally don't get this. This is one of the weirdest things about Christianity: whenever something good happens, it has to be balanced by something tragic.

Seth the angel is immortal and he loves saving people from danger and comforting them when they die. He gets to hear the choir of Angels in the sunrise every morning. But God has given humans the greatest gift of all. Seth is denied the pleasures of touch, taste and smell. He can't feel a caress,

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Christians Beaten by Atheists, Jews and Mormons on Biblical Knowledge

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life just published an interesting new survey about how much Americans really know about religions. Much to everyone's surprise, the atheists and agnostics came out on top!

The headlines are filled with stuff like Atheists Outdo Some Believers (NY Times) or Atheists and Agnostics Know More About the Bible than Religious (National Public Radio).

But not so fast! It turns out that Atheists didn't really win, it was more like Christians lost. The atheist/agnostic category got the best score at 20.9 out of 32 questions. But look at how it really went down:

Thursday, September 23, 2010

IHOP vs IHOP, Pancake House has No Sense of Humor!

It's IHOP versus IHOP in a battle of trademarks!

It seems the International House of Pancakes (IHOP-pancakes) is out to get the International House of Prayer (IHOP-prayer) for trademark infringement! A religious group in Kansas City made the foolish decision to use a long-established trademark as its own logo.

What the heck were they thinking? Did IHOP-prayer think maybe Jesus would intervene and convince IHOP-pancake to ignore this deliberated infringement? That maybe IHOP-pancake would just love to have their pancake house associated with a Christian prayer group?

Or maybe they didn't even bother to check the law books about trademark rights, brand-name dilution and so forth.

Whatever their reasons, it was a dumb move. The law is crystal clear: IHOP-prayer is going to get hammered on this one.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Tea Party: Living in an Alternate Reality

I finally figured the Tea Baggers out. The problem isn't that Tea Baggers are wrong or stupid. They're not an evil mob hell-bent on returning us to the dark ages, even though that's exactly what their agenda would achieve.

No, the problem is the internet and cable TV, which have allowed them to build a new reality, a different reality than the one in which the rest of us reside. They live in one world, we live in another. Unfortunately, our two worlds occupy the same physical space.

We used to interact with our neighbors. We went to a few churches and schools, shopped at our local stores, and maybe joined a club or took dancing lessons. We had to rub shoulders with our neighbors, many of whom had political views quite different from our own. We were immersed in the diverse mainstream political culture. It was unavoidable.

On top of that, our TV and radio stations numbered just a few, and they were required by law to provide access to all viewpoints. Our newspapers might be liberal or conservative, but they never were radical.

In other words, we couldn't avoid hearing our neighbors' viewpoints.

But in a weird twist of irony, the information age has spawned a new new cultural phenomenon: deliberate ignorance. Instead of two or three TV stations and one newspaper, now we can select from hundreds of sources for our information. Why is that bad? Because we can listen only to what we want to hear. We can choose to be ignorant of other views. We can find a news station, a web site, and an online group of friends who will do nothing but reinforce and even amplify our world views.

It doesn't matter how nutty, outrageous or even factually wrong our views are, we can find a dozen web sites of self-congratulatory friends who will supply us with "facts" to strengthen our position and with moral support to make us feel good about ourselves. Worse, we can avoid encountering anyone who might have a different view of the world.

The internet and information age were supposed to bring the world together,

Monday, September 20, 2010

Republican Hypocrisy: Christine O'Donnell's Witchcraft More Important than Politics!

Once again we're learning that Christianity is a virtual requirement for elected officials in the United States.

Christine O'Donnell, the Delaware candidate for United States Senate, is homophobic, she refuses to give interviews to anyone but Fox Noise, she recorded an anti-masturbation video that's downright creepy, and she was a media consultant to the sado-masochistic Mel Gibson movie The Passion of the Christ. She's never served as an elected official, and in fact has no relevant political experience.

But none of these glaring problems would disqualify her from serving in the upper house of Congress of the most powerful country in the world. She can be a crazy, inexperienced, air-headed Sarah Palin clone and still be a viable candidate.

But when an episode of Bill Maher surfaced where O'Donnell admitted to dabbling in witchcraft in her youth, the proverbial smelly stuff hit the fan. Now even the likes of Karl Rove are calling her to task and questioning her viability as a Republican candidate.

Why is it that religion is still a requirement for office in the year 2010? This is the home of religious tolerance, the country where government and religion are supposed to be separate, where no religious test is allowed for any public office.

I find it deliciously ironic that Christine O'Donnell's own party is turning against her

Friday, September 17, 2010

Kicking the Pope Around ... Again.

After losing the California governor's race in 1962, Richard Nixon gave his famous reply, "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore..." He blamed the media, rather than his own arrogance and poorly run campaign, for the loss.

When is Pope Benedict XVI going to give us the same pleasure? When is modern history's most unloved Pope going to do the right thing and resign his corrupt reign of indifference? Even Santa Claus wants Benedict to resign!

The Pope's remarks to a UK audience yesterday in which he compared modern atheists and secularists to Hitler are so pathetic it challenges my ability to make a witty remark. Doesn't he know about Godwin's Law? By mentioning Hitler, he automatically lost the debate and he doesn't even know it!

What seems to concern Benedict today? Could it be the safety of our children?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

New Zealand Earthquake: God Thanked ... for Building Codes!

Reader "JJJ" sends this little tidbit.

Most of Christchurch, New Zealand city officials were praising engineers and architects last week after the city was hit by a massive earthquake that shifted the ground by fourteen feet. In decades past, the city's building codes were updated and many buildings were reinforced to better withstand earthquakes, and this foresight paid off big time. There was very little loss of life; the retrofitting was a huge success.

But the Angelican Dean of Christchurch, Reverend Peter Beck, had a different view:
"Thank God for earthquake strengthening ten years ago."
Wait a second ... thank God for the building codes? What about the earthquake itself, wasn't that God's work?

Church Members and Gangs: Prove it with Tatoos!

A Christian Church in Anaheim, California (just a few blocks from where I was born!) has discovered what gangs have long known: you can get more loyalty from your members if they tattoo themselves with your gang sign. Or in this case, with a Christian tattoo. It seems the minister and several others promised that if 200 people came to an event they were holding, they would go under the needle and get tattoos.

As one man put it, "... two previous tattoos required years of reflection, but that the City Church ink was a no-brainer. 'I said, you know what, you're my pastor, got to show my support.'" I'll agree with that, it's a no-brainer!

I have a ... let's call him a really good friend ... who has some very elaborate tattoos, some of which are very Christian indeed. Unfortunately, this gentleman has become quite the atheist. He has a pretty laid-back attitude about it, his past is a still a part of him and always will be even though he's moved on. But it illustrates, so to speak, why body art might not be the place to write your girlfriend's name ... or your commitment to Jesus!

Here's a little clip for fun...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Scandal of Atheism

Atheists are facing a grave scandal today that threatens the very roots of atheism.

It is almost identical to the one that enveloped philosophy itself around the end of the nineteenth century. Back in the early 1900s, the question was this: How do I know that you really exist? Maybe you're just a dream of mine, maybe the whole world is a dream. I claim the external world doesn't exist. You say you're real, not just my dream? Prove it!

And so you try ... and it turns out to be impossible. No matter what you say, I can counter by pointing out that in my dream, that's what you'd be likely to say, that it's just my own mind dreaming up answers to my questions.

To most people, it seems like a silly question, but philosophers were very perplexed. Immanuel Kant famously called it "the scandal of philosophy" that philosophers couldn't even prove the existence of the external world.

But the great philosopher Martin Heidegger saw this "scandal" for what it was: a made-up problem. He famously wrote:
The 'scandal of philosophy' is not that this proof has yet to be given, but that such proofs are expected and attempted again and again.
Heidegger's view was that the question was essentially useless (not his words, but that's the idea) – one can make up all sorts of impossible questions, and the only scandal is when you take them seriously and waste whole careers, decades and centuries trying to find answers.

Atheism faces an almost identical scandal today. We've been sucked into a silly argument that has no answer,

Monday, September 13, 2010

James Corbett, Teacher Extraordinaire, Persecuted by Christians

Over the weekend I stumbled across a story right in my own back yard. It's about James Corbett, an extraordinary teacher who is being persecuted in California's courts by a bunch of Christians. His crime? He treats Christianity like any part of history, subject to genuine scrutiny and criticism.

Dr. James Corbett teaches Advanced Placement European History at Capistrano High School. Even his detractors admit that Corbett is a truly great teacher, and the Advanced Placement scores of his students confirm their opinion. Corbett's philosophy is simple:
"The only virtue for Socrates was "knowledge." He reached it by questioning the most deeply held beliefs of his students by which I mean all of Athens and ultimately all of us. What troubled the Athenians about Socrates, however, was not listed in the charges. His crime was that he prompted people to think. ... Every teacher who makes a student think takes the risk that he will be attacked by parents and others who see themselves as guardians of cherished political and religious myth."
Corbett goes on to explain how all students who sign up for his class know what they're getting into – they sign a paper saying the class is going to be provocative, their parents receive a letter, and they know from their fellow students. In fact, that's why many of them select Dr. Corbett's class: it's the best.

Apparently Chad Farnan, an average student who admitted that he hadn't even been doing his assignments, was fine with Corbett's study of European history, until they got to Christianity's role in that history. So Chad took a tape recorder to class (which is a violation of California law), and recorded a few two- to five-second snippets of Corbett's history lessons. Here are the gems: