My Old Kentucky Homesite

Archive for May, 2010

Who the Hell Was Murphy, Anyway?

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 05/29/2010

Yesterday, Ben Schott invited readers of his feature in The New York Times to invent new eponymous “laws.” Here’s his post.

Of course, I couldn’t resist. I’d already created Wallberg’s Law, named after myself. I immediately typed that one in, and — why not? — linked back to this blog.

But Schott really seemed to want readers to use the names of well-known fictional characters, historical figures, and present-day newsmakers.  Therefore, I came up with the following. (Note: Since originally posting these at “Schott’s Vocab,” I’ve revised one or two for maximum hilarity.)

Watson’s Law: One man’s “elementary” is another man’s “huh?”

Clarabell’s Law: Honk if you’ve got seltzer.
Marx’s Corollary: Or a harp.

Fudd’s Law: If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s pwobably a wascally wabbit.

Caesar’s Law: It ain’t over till the soothsayer sings.

Dorothy’s Law: If you wear emerald-tinted glasses, men will seldom make passes, nor will they help you find your way back to Kansas.

Benchley-Cameron’s Law: Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to write about a fish, and you feed Hollywood forever.

Prissy’s Law: Talkin’ is easy. Birthin’ babies is hard.

My readers are much funnier than most of the people who pore over The Times every day, so I invite you to contribute your own words of wisdom.

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Posted in Language & Meaning, Seriously Silly | 31 Comments »

Hey, Look Who’s Just Like You and Me!

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 05/27/2010

Tribal mentality may be evolutionarily wired into our DNA. Humans — most of us, anyway — apparently have a longing to group ourselves into easily differentiated categories. Religion being one of those categories, it stands to reason that atheists would feel a common bond with one another.

With that in mind, I hereby list twenty famous people you may not have known were atheists. I assume you’ll feel proud about at least some of them.

  1. Harry Truman
  2. Mickey Mantle
  3. General William Tecumseh Sherman
  4. Queen Elizabeth I
  5. Daniel Boone
  6. Bob Kane (creator of Batman)
  7. Marilyn Monroe
  8. Zebulon Pike
  9. Johnny Weissmuller
  10. Ernest Lawrence Thayer (writer of “Casey at the Bat”)
  11. Pancho Villa
  12. Lucille Ball
  13. Ludwig von Beethoven
  14. Moe Howard (of the Three Stooges)
  15. Annie Oakley
  16. Otto von Bismarck
  17. Chief Justice John Marshall
  18. Jane Austen
  19. Cliff Edwards (“Ukulele Ike,” the voice of Jiminy Cricket)
  20. Amerigo Vespucci

That’s quite a collection of individuals, eh? And all of them shared our worldview!

Um … nope. First of all, atheism isn’t a worldview. It’s not a religion. It isn’t a tribal designation. It’s not an indication of any specific kinds of thought-processes. Hell, atheism, in and of itself, isn’t even an idea; it’s merely the rejection of a particularly stupid notion: theism.

But still, we’d like to feel some sense of kindred, whatever that means, with the twenty people named above. If nothing else, perhaps we can claim them as intellectual colleagues, right? Isn’t there something intangible about atheism that makes those of us who are faith-free look at one another with a glimmer of self-recognition? So tell the truth: You see those folks in a new light now, don’t you?

Well, you can turn off that bulb in your dim brain. Because I made that list up. I have no idea whether any of those famous men and women were atheists. But I doubt it.

I repeat: the only thing that atheists have in common is our rejection of a particularly stupid notion. If we need to organize to fight theocracy — and I, for one, think we must — then we ought not have false expectations of one another. None of us should ever make assumptions about what other atheists think or feel, what anyone else does or does not believe. Instead, we should probably just acknowledge that we’re held together by a very thin bond indeed, and keep our focus appropriately tight and rooted in the real world: Keep religion out of government.

[H/T to John Evo & vjack, both of whose linked posts started me on today’s rant.]

Posted in Freedom from Faith, Random Rants, Useless Lists | 41 Comments »

Earworm Saturday #5

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 05/22/2010

The other day, I was humming along to an old jazz album that I love, a compilation of “greatest hits” by the Dave Brubeck Quartet. Many of the cuts are among my all-time favorite recordings. But much to my dismay, I was also greeted by the sound of some music I’ve hated ever since I first heard it on the Broadway stage back before Noah first heard raindrops.

Don’t get me wrong: the instrumental Brubeck version is cool. However, when the ditty became an earworm shortly after I’d listened to it, I was appalled to discover that the original — complete with some of the most corny, insincere words ever written — was what I had rattling around my head. Augggh! I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s the world’s most treacly anthem to ersatz cheeriness. Thank you, Oscar Hammerstein, you sap!

Obviously, you’re dying to know what dumb piece of doggerel I’m referring to. But I can’t present it in its raw state, because some of you readers may be diabetics. Perhaps the most familiar version of the song won’t be quite so sickeningly sweet if you’re reaquainted with it during a drive-time sing-along.

In case you’re wondering, here’s how that tune was interpreted by Brubeck and company. Just sit back and try not to think of whiskers and sleighbells and schnitzel.

See what I mean? But actually, without the stupid snowflakes and strudels and brown paper packages, the melody is quite charming. Even a sourpuss like me could find little to apologize about in this highly entertaining, mostly wordless version.

But the question is: can you hear that tune without immediately thinking of cream-colored ponies and warm woolen mittens? And doorbells. What kind of mentally challenged person came up with that one? “Oh, yes, my favorite thing is a doorbell. My second favorite thing is a door knocker. I’m also fond of buzzers and chimes.” Anyway, maybe a Japanese Flamenco Duo might help you ignore any unwanted visitors (at your door, or in your ears).

Sorry If you’re now haunted by that drivel. But your bright copper kettles may come to a nice boil in this Latin dance rendition.

Frankly, one of my favorite things is that this guy is not my next-door neighbor.

Of course, another way to remove the saccharinity is to just make up your own words.

And how about these bitter girls (probably not in white dresses with blue satin sashes) singing about diamonds and pearls and rich greedy husbands?

But … (There’s always a but, isn’t there?) … some guys, apparently, have only one favorite thing. (But who can blame them?)

A few performers do manage to overcome the syrupy verses by employing subtle seduction. This lead singer’s come-hither glances convinced me that I’d like to be one of her favorite things. Warning, though: If you stick around like a puppydog until the end, you’ll have to sit through an ad for, of all (favorite) things, grapefruit-scented soap. Ah, what a comedown for the lovable (and lavable) Nataly.

Here’s another performer who, while using the original words, rids the song of more than just a spoonful of sugar. However, be warned: When the dog bites, when the bee stings, this might be the wrong governess to comfort you.

OK, readers, you may now joyfully return to petting your kittens.

Posted in Earworms | 23 Comments »

Dear Athiest

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 05/19/2010

[Note: Some of the friendlier atheist blogs run occasional features in which a guest writer gives long-winded answers to correspondents who write to him for solutions to their personal problems.  Unlike Dr. Philistine, I’m not qualified to give advice at such length. (For example, my answer to Jessica would have been: “Duh. Send your kid to public school.”) But I do get my share of email inquiries, and I hate to let those notes go unanswered.  So, today’s column will be devoted to some of the thousands of uninteresting queries I receive.]

Dear Athiest,

I have a bad tooth aich. I prayed about it but God dont seem to do nothin to help. Its gotten sos I cant eat any food harder than mush with out yellin ouch or even somethin worse that sounds like Im takin His name in my veins. Cold yogert feels real good in my mouth but I hate the taste of it unless its coffee which it aint cause my wife dont buy any kinds but mixed beeries and aprilcut which I both hate. I also prayed about her shoppin so maybe the Lord woud make her pick up a better flayver, but my wife just says God heps those who hep theyselves. But hes not heppin me none! So what shoud I do?

Yours in Christ,

I.M.N. Payne

I.M.N.:

I suggest you see a dentist. You can pay him to buy whatever kind of yogurt you like.

Deer Athiest,

I was thinking the other day that John must of got it wrong when he said Jesus wept in chapter 11 verse 35, that’s the shortest verse in the hole Bible so I got it mammarized. Jesus could’nt of wept because gods do’nt cry, not even my husband crys and hes no god bulleave me! And over some guy named Lazris dieing? Jesus don’t cry at all when other people die even preachers and such. So do you think maybe John got it wrong? Floyd thinks yes because he says that Jesus woulda just manned up insted of balling like some girl. And what kinda name is Lazris I never knew no body with no name like that? How could Jesus wept about some one with such a wierd name I never heard of? Also, how come your an athiest when the Bible is the Holy Word of God?

Your freind,

Jess Asken

Jess:

Lazarus (note the correct spelling) was Jesus’s good friend. If you’ll read the next few verses (Yes, I know they have a lot of words, but perhaps you and Floyd could get through them if you go slowly), you’ll find that Christ prayed really hard and — presto! — Lazarus came back from the dead. I agree that preachers don’t usually rise up after they die, but that’s probably because they’re not on Jesus’s list of friends. I also agree that Lazarus is a weird name. I’m an atheist because I think the bible is stupid.

Deere Athiest,

There IS a hell and YOUR going their!!!! But their’s STILL TIME. Except the SAVOR JESUS CRHIST!!!!! Just remember that disapline is the key. GOD is your captain, your judge and, your jury. ‘The Lord will open the heavens, the store house of his bounty” !!!! (Duetoromony 28-1:12) In case your wandering, thats the Bibles’ way of saying He will give you good stuff from his store in the sky. And it will be FREE!!!! Otherwhys, ten days half rations. Keel haul this athiest!

Sin surly,

Christian Fletcher

Christian:

I don’t need any good stuff from the lord. I have too much stuff already. Perhaps he could figure out a way to ship it to the world’s most impoverished countries. By the way, your name made me chuckle because my best friend in third grade was a kid named Fletcher Jew.

der athiest,

heres what i dont under stand about you athiest poeple. you say theres no god but every body else says there is. can you prove theres no god? NO! so every body else must be right!

yours truely,

Billy Bob Aristotle

Billy Bob:

I’m glad you cleared that up for me.

Dere Athiest,

So let me get this strait. You don’t beleive that God causes all those horrorcanes an twizzlers an earthquacks an fluds an sudokus an oil spills. Am I rite? So who then? You?

Signed,

Sunny Daze

Sunny:

Aw, you caught me. I confess: I made all that bad weather. But please don’t hold me responsible for mosquitoes, tubercle bacilli, and nauseatingly cute kittens.

Dare Athiest,

If there ain’t no God, then why should we be good. You could just as well rape and murder and steel and masterbate and be a homo and kill babies and turn commie and say bad words and masterbate and cheat on your wife and drink and dance and smoke and masterbate. So that’s why I believe in God. Otherwise I might do those things except be a homo which I ain’t cause Bubba and I was ony fooling around and it didn’t mean nothing. And I’d probly never be no commie neither because I’d rather be an American than one a them cuckoo ratchas from Porta Rico or New Mexico or France. But otherwise I might. So what’s your excuse?

Love (but NOT in that way),

Sue (yeah that’s my name you wanna make something of it?) Macho

Sue:

Were you aware that Bubba’s from France? You can prove it by offering him some Velveeta. If he turns it down, you’ll know for sure.

Dir Athiest,

I make you a bet. You can chose to bleeve in God or not. If you do you win when you die cuz you go to heven. If you dont you lose cuz Ill kill you. So wich do you pick?

Watch Your Ass,

Sal Vation

Sal:

Could you throw in an all-expenses paid “cruise to nowhere” with the first option?

Dire Athiest,

I’m an athiest 2. I been looking for the nearest athiest church so I can practiss my relijon, but I can’t fine it in the phone book. So I’d be great full if you coul tell me where do you go to prey to nobody? Thanx for you’re cornside ration.

You’re fallow athiest,

Lourdice Myshepard

Lourdice:

No-god is everywhere. So you don’t need a church to practice your religion. Just pick whatever time and place you choose, and fall on your knees. I promise you, no lord will hear your prayers. Bless you, my daughter, for you have sneezed.

Dr Athiest,

I’m riting to you acause I spect that yawl will know this. It was the Final Joepardy answer tother day, but my dang TV went dead during the thinking music afor Alec’s had a chanct to come back and tell us what the question was. The catigory was The Dammed and the answer was: When he died, the athiest went to this place. ROFLMAO! Got yawl, dint I?

Ha,

Ben Gleck

Ben:

I believe the answer is “Kentucky.” Although it might be “the dentist’s office.”

[Note: If you have a question for Dear Athiest, please check your spelling, punctuation, and grammar (if she’s still alive).  Sorry, but mail received with no errors cannot be printed. Letters must be between 1 and 1,000,000 words long; pictures count as 1,000 words, and may be tampered with for space.  All letters published become the exclusive property of  the delete button.]

Posted in Freedom from Faith, Seriously Silly | 17 Comments »

Demythologizing the Past

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 05/16/2010

As I’ve said before, many atheists spend far too much of their reading time confirming their atheism. My attitude is: If your freedom from faith is so shaky that you’ve got to pore over every godless screed available through Amazon, you’re probably still a believer deep down.

Assuming, though, that you’re really interested in expanding your mind (instead of just sponging up a few facts to use in your next losing debate with a theist), you might want to pick up a decent novel. A well-written piece of literature forces the skilled reader to see the world through others’ eyes: those of the characters and, ultimately, the author.

What better way to find oneself in a different time and a different place and a different mindset than to pick up a historical novel? Unfortunately, the majority of books published in that genre are drivel. Far too often, the writers of so-called historical novels do some cursory research and then chug out predictable potboilers peopled by wooden characters that display feelings and motivations reflecting the stupidest modern-day sensibilities. The dialogue in those books is a weird combination of modern English usage, even slang, and a few old-fashioned words ludicrously sprinkled in, usually inappropriately, for colo(u)r. Long paragraphs are devoted to “period” details about clothing, food, architecture, transportation, you-name-it — encyclopedia articles that add nothing except tediousness. Picking up such a book is like being around an annoyingly precocious child determined to tell you what he or she has learned in class today. But by far the worst thing about those third-rate novels is that they almost always include a bogus romance as the main event, as if the only thing a reader could conceivably care about history is whether some bland boy and some drab girl succeeded in hooking up. Yuck.

Because I’m a lover of both history and literature, when I do come across a historical novel that I like, I tend to get excited about it. And I can’t resist sharing my enthusiasm. Right now, I’m working my way through two — two! — historical series, both of which I’m happy to preach about (although I promise not to ring your doorbell at seven in the morning).

The first series is Gore Vidal’s Narratives of Empire, a seven-novel jaunt through American political machinations, starting in revolutionary times and ending in the 1950’s (although a very short section of the final book takes place in the year 2000).

It’s an oversimplification to say that Vidal sees the long story of the United States as a continuous chain of contests between various Machiavellians vying for power. The writing is far too rich to reduce it to a mere hook for a theme. Still, the author does deconstruct our nation’s history, cutting ruthlessly through its sacred bull. The real characters who march in and out of these books are not the same figures you learned about in high school. Oh, they have the same names, all right, but Vidal brings them to life, sometimes shockingly so, often through hilarious dialogue. Over and over again, he records ironic interchanges between people you thought you “knew.” Whenever a real person is involved in a conversation, very little is “made up;” Vidal quotes actual words written or said by the individual taking part. Even those personages for whom Vidal seems to have great respect — Lincoln is a good example — are demythologized.

I can’t quite figure out how the author manages to suck the reader in, but I found myself turning pages eagerly to find the answers to questions like: Will Aaron Burr be found guilty of treason? Is Lincoln going to be assassinated? Who the hell will win the 1876 presidential election? Yeah, I already knew what was going to happen, but Vidal transmutes foregone conclusions into page-turners loaded with intellectual suspense. That’s great writing.

The second historical series I’m making a pitch for here are the Flashman books, all twelve of them, written by George MacDonald Fraser. These were originally brought to my attention by Postman, who delivered the good news in this comment.

Flashman began his literary life as a bullying character in Tom Brown’s School Days, a preachy 19th-century novel for boys, teaching them how to grow up to be fine upstanding Victorian men. Fraser takes the book’s most interesting character, who was likely not to grow up to be a model English gentleman, and examines his life. The adult Flashman is a coward (he calls himself a “poltroon”), a womanizer, a liar, cheat, racist, sexist, and xenophobe. But somehow, he becomes an unlikely star in just about every war fought by the English-speaking peoples of his time.

The conceit of the novels is that Flashman, looking back from old age, has chronicled his life in “packets,” sheaves of remembrances that relate self-contained episodes. The main character screws his way around the world, showing up to play reluctant “hero” in such places as Afghanistan, India, North America, China, the Crimea, and Madagascar, to name just a few venues in which he appears. Fraser, the “editor” of Flashman’s memoirs, helpfully supplies footnotes, appendices, glossaries, and maps.

The series was begun in 1969, near the tail end of James Bond’s original burst of popularity. So it’s possible to read the novels as tongue-in-cheek adventure tales, a la Ian Fleming. Or you could read them as satirical send-ups of military reminiscences. Certainly, each book contains a few history lessons, although you’d have to be a very serious dullard, indeed, if you opened these volumes merely to learn something.

MacDonald’s skill is in creating a believably unbelievable character who, by all rights, should be hateful to nearly every reader. The fact that we find ourselves rooting for him again and again must be related to our human DNA: we’re genetically programmed to be fascinated by hedonistic scoundrels. (Think of all those real-life lying, cheating bastards who keep us spinning through the news cycle.)

As Vidal does, MacDonald manages to un-deify some of the demigods of the past. He also introduces us to real characters whose actual words and actions seem too far-fetched for fiction. (MacDonald uses many of his notes to tauntingly tell the reader “Yep, that’s true. Gotcha!”)

Both series of novels contain plenty of treasures for cynics. The authors tell us, again and again in dozens of ways, not to take for granted anything that we’ve “learned.” Yes, both Vidal and MacDonald seem to say, textbook history may well be written by the victors. But there are always a few skeptics who joyfully refuse to get taken in by the propagandistic claptrap. Nothing in this world should be accepted unquestioningly, should be so sanctified that it can’t be reflected in a satirist’s funny mirror.

Remember: freethinking is not limited only to the subject of theology.

Narratives of Empire
Burr
Lincoln
1876
Empire
Hollywood
Washington, D.C.
The Golden Age
The Flashman Series
Flashman
Royal Flash
Flash for Freedom!
Flashman at the Charge
Flashman in the Great Game
Flashman’s Lady
Flashman and the Redskins
Flashman and the Dragon
Flashman and the Mountain of Light
Flashman and the Angel of the Lord
Flashman and the Tiger
Flashman on the March

Posted in Books & Bookshops, It's History | 45 Comments »

In Memoriam: Lena Horne

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 05/11/2010

I’m not a big fan of memorial posts because, obviously, a corpse doesn’t care whether it’s remembered or not.

But Lena Horne, who died on Sunday night, was one of my favorite singers. Back in the mid-50s, she was also one of my first crushes — before my mother explained to me that nice Jewish boys “can’t” marry shvartzers. What Mom should have told me was that I couldn’t marry Lena Horne because another nice Jewish boy, named Lennie Hayton, had already done so. Apparently, I had the right first initial, but that goddamned “W” cost me my shot.

I doubt whether my mother was a fan of Lenny Bruce, another nice Jewish boy. In one of his most famous standup routines, he said:

You are a white. The Imperial Wizard. Now, if you don’t think this is logic you can burn me on the fiery cross. This is the logic: You have the choice of spending fifteen years married to a woman, a black woman or a white woman. Fifteen years kissing and hugging and sleeping real close on hot nights. With a black, black woman or a white, white woman. The white woman is Kate Smith. And the black woman is Lena Horne. So you’re not concerned with black or white anymore, are you? You are concerned with how cute or how pretty. Then let’s really get basic and persecute ugly people!

Anyway, even though I dug having the opportunity to show Lena and quote Lenny, I still might not have posted my little tribute had there not been … godless drumroll … an atheist connection.

“Yip” Harburg, the lyricist of the song you’ll hear in the video embedded below, was a fellow heathen. In addition to writing the words to dozens of standards including “April in Paris,” “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime,” “Lydia, the Tattooed Lady,” and all the tunes in The Wizard of Oz, he also wrote the following little rhyme:

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree;
And only God who makes the tree
Also makes the fools like me.
But only fools like me, you see,
Can make a God, who makes a tree.

So this is Lena singing “Ain’t It the Truth”:

Here’s Lena in 1943, singing her signature tune, Stormy Weather.

Nearly 40 years later, she sang another version. Stick around for the second song, too, despite its name. You might be pleasantly surprised; it turns out to be … another godless drumroll … a subtle “screw-you” to the sanctimonious.

Lena Horne in fine voice and a middle finger flipped at the Fundies! Say what you will about astrology, but that’s what I’d call a harmonic convergence.

Posted in Music | 13 Comments »

Could YOU Be an Intelligent Designer?

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 05/10/2010

[Note: Most of the following post was written in March 2007. I lifted the original verbatim, because I think atheists are sometimes way too serious. However, I couldn’t resist adding a new, improved image, now with 300% more schlong!]

Once in a while, even the most dedicated of us get tired of separating church and state. That’s when Jefferson would pull out his fiddle, or make a trip down to his wine cellar. Me, I go trolling through the Internet to find mindless time-wasters.

So, okay, if you pull the elephant’s back legs down slowly, first to the right and then to the left, you can fashion a decent tail; to form two distinct flukes, put a little indent in the middle. Then stretch the front legs slowly, one at a time to turn them into flippers. If you press down on the critter’s back, not too far behind its head, and then do the same around its rear end, you’ll be left with a bump on its spine that you can shape into a fin.

Thus, your elephant becomes a sea mammal.

You can perform this little exercise in unintelligent design by playing a kids’ “game” called Animal Warp at ChristianAnswers.net. Besides the elephant, you can try your hand improving a toucan, a rhino, a monkey, and various other species. What, exactly, this activity has to do with Christianity is sneakily withheld during the game. Just a few clicks away, though, you can learn all kinds of wondrous misinformation about nature, creationist propaganda written in the kind of simple language that any Christian — child OR adult — can understand. The most important lesson, of course, is:

In the beginning God created everything perfect …

If you’re an inventive and shameless parent, you can use “Animal Warp” to show your offspring what a shitmess they could make out of god’s allegedly perfect creations. When they push and pull the poor animal’s picture, they’re probably gonna wind up with some unidentifiable goo, looking like a chocolate Easter beast that has melted way beyond recognition. Why? Because your kids don’t have a really great plan like the big guy’s.

One thing he probably didn’t anticipate, however, was sea debris: floating condoms, cigarette butts, plastic straws, indestructible gum, pages ripped out of bibles, and, of course, an oil slick the size of … what is it up to today? … Jupiter. Which is why I went to the bottom of the Elephorpoise’s trunk and pulled on both ends until it looked like a vacuum cleaner attachment.

Why didn’t god think of that one, huh?

I hate to brag, but I also created a new species: the Huge-Penised Flying Devil Monkey, so named because it looks like a flying devil monkey with an unusually large schmeckel. Actually, the “penis” is really just the creature’s appendix. (Proof: The individual shown is a female.)

I don’t remember how I was able to copy my critters. It must not have been too hard to do, because unlike other creator gods, I never work in mysterious ways. (In fact, every time I try to play dice with the universe, I lose big-time.) If any reader can figure out how to save the images made with “Animal Warp,” please leave a comment telling the rest of us what steps we need to follow. Assuming that it is possible, somehow, to memorialize your work, feel free to send me your jpegs, and I’ll add them to this post. Otherwise, why not just describe what you’ve made? (But don’t forget to ask Adam to name it.)

Readers’ Gallery

<——Darwin Fish by SI

Hell-o-kitty by Chappy ——>

Posted in Seriously Silly | 12 Comments »

Good Question, Ridiculous Answer

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 05/08/2010

I have to confess a prejudice I have. There’s hardly anything that I find as off-pissing as an atheist idiot. My emotions labor under the delusion that we atheists/freethinkers/skeptics/humanists/doubters — call us what you will — are supposed, somehow, to be smarter than religionists. Of course, that’s a ridiculous idea, because human ignorance has no limits.

Today our local rag, on its “Life + Faith” pages, ran a feature that began with a well-written paragraph about the Catholic Church “navigating the dark waters of abusive clergy and a seemingly complicitous hierarchy.” Nice. The writer then posed the following “Question of Faith”:

When dealing with abusive situations within a congregation, do churches have an obligation to do more than what the law requires? What steps, if any, does your church or congregation take to protect its membership from sexual predators, spouse or child abusers? Does your faith community have specific ministries to help such victims or to prevent such problems?

Tough question. Religious “leaders” — ha! — have access to hundreds, maybe thousands of vulerable kids.  In many cases, this access occurs with the encouragement, or even the connivance, of the youngsters’ parents. If “leaders” happen to be pederastically inclined, they can easily use their alleged moral authority to prey on some of the children with whom they come into contact, and then hide their despicable criminality behind a veneer of piety.

As you might expect, most of the answers contained some claptrap about the essential goodness of the church, and how there are, unfortunately, some bad apples in every serving of applesauce.  But, yes, churches do have a commitment … etc., etc., etc. Some of the responses were quite articulate, others not.

But the stupidest one by far came from “Alex Grigg, assistant organizer, Lexington Atheists Meetup.” I don’t wanna say “I told you so.” (who’m I kidding? Of course I do!)

Anyway, here’s Grigg’s response in all its semi-literate glory.  Note that I’ve highlighted some words and phrases that particularly made my sparse hair stand on end. The notes explain why.

It is the responsibility of every organization, faith-based or not, to at least meet the minimum requirements of the law.1

Atheist organizations don’t have the problem of abusive leaders very often2 because we don’t see our leaders3 as being much4 different than the rest of us.

We also don’t consider our organizations to be representative of the will of a higher power, so it is easier5 to acknowledge and correct any mistakes6 that are made.

We believe7 that all of us8 are equal under the law and that any abuser should be reported immediately. We don’t have many9 official policies with regard to abuse, because there are very few10 atheist groups with formal child care or meetings geared towards children. Our events11 like Camp Quest, which are specifically aimed at children, do require criminal background checks of the leaders and would not tolerate any hint of inappropriate activity.12

1 Not responsive to the question, which specifically asks whether churches have an obligation to do more than what the law requires.
2 The implication is that there are some examples of atheist organizations that have had such problems, and that the writer knows what they are.
3 Atheist organizations have officials, officers, spokespersons. But they have no leaders, at least not in the same sense as “religious leaders.”
4 In what way are those non-existent atheist leaders different at all from other atheists?
5 “Easier” than what?
6 Is child abuse merely a mistake to be acknowledged and corrected? Sheesh.
7 Who are “we”? And how does the writer know what “we” believe?
8 Is there an “us”? Who are they? All humans? Americans? Atheists only? Or just members of the Lexington Atheists Meetup?
9 Can the writer name even one such official policy?
10 How does the writer know how many atheist groups in the country offer formal, or even informal, child care? How does he know how many of these organizations have meetings specifically geared to educating and/or entertaining children?
11 A camp is not an event.
12 The question is about sexual predation. Why gloss over its seriousness by calling it “inappropriate activity” that’s not to be “tolerated”?

Augggh.

The last paragraph is barely English, but never mind. I was far more concerned that Grigg’s response, merely by appearing in the “Life + Faith” pages, spread any number of false notions about atheism and atheists. So I immediately tossed off an email to the editor of the section. In a short personal introduction addressed to her, I let her know that Mr. Grigg was not empowered to speak for anyone other than himself. In fact, I wrote, a number of group members had made it quite clear to him that he was not to pose in any way as “an atheist leader,” nor to pretend to represent “atheists.” Then I suggested she print the following:

I’ve been an atheist all my life, and I must say that the response by Alex Grigg to your recent “Question of Faith” gives a number of false impressions about atheists and atheism.

Atheism isn’t an “-ism” in the sense of a religion or a worldview. Atheism is merely the rejection of a particularly pervasive idea, theism. Many self-proclaimed atheists, although not all, are faith-free. Most of us, again not all, put no credence in the concept of a “higher power.” But we share no set of specific beliefs. There are no sacred books of atheism, no tenets or credos, no orthodoxies or established hierarchies, no ultimate authorities whatsoever. Atheist organizations, per se, are not comparable to churches because we don’t gather together to worship or to pray. Some atheist organizations, like the Lexington Atheist Meetup, are loosely formed social groups, comparable to bridge clubs or quilting bees or coworkers joining one another after hours for a few beers. Other atheist organizations are essentially legal action committees, working to ensure the rights of all Americans to think and speak freely. But atheists have no leaders in the way that followers of religions have leaders. Our organizations may have elected officers or duly appointed spokespersons, just as do organizations like the Audubon Society or the Chamber of Commerce, the Symphony Guild or AARP. But unlike religious leaders, our officials are not expected or empowered to claim universal atheist truths. There are none.

Asking an atheist to address a tendentious question on the “Life + Faith” pages is the same thing as asking a vegetarian to respond to a question on the “Life + Meat” pages. Why not occasionally run a “Life + Reason” feature? You could ask a question of various atheists, freethinkers, skeptics, and humanists in the area. There are plenty of us here. Or, alternatively, you could commission essays now and then by Lexingtonians who live a faith-free life. Our writings might provide a fair balance to the overwhelming Saturday religiosity of the Herald-Leader, and perhaps even help our fellow Kentuckians understand what some of us non-Christians think.

I doubt that my response will be printed, or my suggestion given serious consideration. Although I wrote very carefully, avoiding words like numnuts and peabrain, I was still probably not genteel enough. How could I be? Seven answers were published in response to the “Question of Faith.” Having read them all, I was embarrassed that the least articulate, worst reasoned entry came from a fellow atheist. But that’s just my prejudice in action, isn’t it?

Posted in Freedom from Faith, Language & Meaning, Random Rants | 23 Comments »

Why Kentucky Needs Gun Control

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 05/06/2010

Me: Hi, my name is [pronounced very carefully] Larry Wallberg.
Recep: And what’s your first name?
Me: Larry. L. A. R. R. Y. And my last name is Wallberg. W. A. L. L. B. E. R. G.
Recep: OK, Mr. Garry, how can I help you?
Me: Yesterday, someone over in your practice was supposed to fax my dental X-rays to my old family dentist.
Recep: Dental X-rays. Mm-hmm.
Me: My dentist received them, but they’re not readable. They’re all black.
Recep: All black. Mm-hmm.
Me: So could you people fax him some better copies?
Recep: You say we faxed him copies yesterday?
Me: Yes, but they were unreadable.
Recep: These were your dental records we faxed?
Me: Yes. But they weren’t readable.
Recep: And you say your dentist never received them?
Me: No, he received them, but they were all black. He couldn’t read them.
Recep: Couldn’t read them. Mm-hmm.
Me: So I’d like to know if it’s possible to send him some readable copies today.
Recep: And who am I speaking to?
Me: Larry Wallberg. I’m the patient.
Recep: Patient. Mm-hmm. And how do you spell your name, Mr. Wilbur?
Me: W. A. L. L. That’s two L’s. B. E. R. G.
Recep: Oh. Albert. And what’s your last name?
Me: No. Let me start again. My last name is W. A. L. L. B as in Baby. E. R. G.
Recep: I think I’ve got it now. Mr. Ellery. Mm-hmm. [shuffling noises] I can’t seem to find your files.
Me: Could you read my name back?
Recep: Sure. A. L. L. Two L’s, right? E. E. R. And then you said “Y” at the end, right?
Me: That’s almost correct. Put a W in front.
Recep: W in front. Mm-hmm.
Me: Now do you see those two E’s? Make the first one a B as in Baby.
Recep: You mean like a little baby?
Me: Yes, a very little baby.
Recep: Baby. Mm-hmm.
Me: Then change the last letter. You made it a Y, but it should be a G as in Girl. And that’ll be perfect.
Recep: There’s no G in World.
Me: OK, make it a G as in Google.
Recep: Oh, a G. Mm-hmm.
Me: Yes.
Recep: So it’s W. A. L. B. E. G., right?
Me: Close enough.
Recep: And you said your first name was Wilbur?
Me: Is there anyone else I could speak to?
Recep: No, they’re all out to lunch.
Me: OK, I’ll call again later. When do they get back from lunch?
Recep: Well, they’re usually back here by 1:30.
Me: It’s 1:45 now.
Recep: 1:45. Mm-hmm. I imagine they’ll be back soon. You can call back then if you’d like.
Me: Good idea.
Recep: OK, Mr. Wilbury.

Posted in Dangling Conversations, New to Kentucky | 13 Comments »

National Day of Theocracy: A Poll

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 05/05/2010

The Constitution is not subject to polls. In fact, the Bill of Rights was written specifically to ensure that certain liberties of American citizens could not be voted away by our ignorant majority.

So it’s beneath contempt for a newspaper to run an opinion poll asking the idiot public whether or not such-and-such a governmental act is in accordance with the Constitution. The views of readers, whether they’re biased or not, don’t matter. Certain fundamental rights are inviolable in this country, no matter how Fox-ergized the masses become.

Nonetheless, The Daytona Beach News-Journal, my one-time employer, has chosen to solicit a legal opinion from the brilliant NASCAR fans, bikers, and spring-breakers that make up its readership. Query: Do you think the National Day of Prayer is unconstititonal?

That question has already been asked and answered in one Federal court. On April 15, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb, writing for the Western District of Wisconsin, said yes, it IS unconstitutional. In her opinion (excerpts of which you can read in this news release), she enjoined the president from enforcing a law that called for all Americans to fall down on their knees before the power of the theocrats. However, she did add that the injunction wouldn’t go into effect until the appeals process runs its course — which means, ultimately, until a decision is rendered by the Supreme Papal Authorities. (Reminder: Two-thirds of the Justices are Roman Catholic, and every single one of the so-called “conservatives” on the bench is a member of that group.)

So, breathing a pious sigh of relief for yet another opportunity to pander to the religious zealots who seek to control the government, our nation’s Constitutional Scholar-in-Chief, Barack “Drill, Jesus, Drill” Obama, proceeded to issue a presidential proclamation that flies in the face of Judge Crabb’s well-reasoned Opinion and Order.

Since we can predict with some degree of certainty that at least five Supreme Court Justices will answer “no” to the question, there’s little practical point in your casting your own vote. Still, you might just be pissed off enough to take part in the poll. I was. If you are, too, and you’d like to just say YES, here’s your opportunity. (When the page loads, give it a second to take you by the e-hand and lead you directly to the choices offered.)

Be sure to watch for next week’s moronic poll: Should freedom of speech be unconstitutional during stock car races?

Posted in First Amendment, Freedom from Faith | 18 Comments »