My Old Kentucky Homesite

Hey, Guess What! I’m Not a Brand.

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 06/12/2010

A “contributing columnist” to the Herald-Leader’s Life + Dumbth pages is a local preacher named Paul Prather. Today, his written sermon was entitled “New atheists embody the very things they hate.” Original, huh?

Of course, Prather began by railing against “popular books demeaning any form of belief in God.” He mentioned — who else? — Dawkins and Hitchens. And Bill Maher, whose “anti-faith film,” Religulous, “got a ton of attention.” Never mind that Maher has never claimed to be an atheist. Doesn’t matter.

Then Prather went on to point out “the online comments that follow every news story about religion.” The responses, Prather said, “seem to come disproportionately from readers who jeer at all references to God or piety.” That assertion, unsupported by any examples or statistics, must be true. A minister wrote it. What stake could he possibly have had in misrepresenting the numbers?

Anyway, we atheists should show a little respect. That’s the Christian thing to do.

The real kicker of the argument came when Prather accused “the current brand of aggressive atheism” as being “just another form of fundamentalism.” Oddly, I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with him if he’d said “a few atheists,” or even “some non-theists.” I’ve met plenty of bull-headed knee-jerk “rationalists.” Haven’t you?

But atheism doesn’t have a “current brand.” Not believing in something nonsensical is simply … not believing in something nonsensical. There have been atheists ( whatever they may have called themselves) throughout history who refused to succumb to their societies’ overwhelming pressure to bow to superstition. There’s no “brand” involved. If we atheists open our mouths at all, we’re perceived as “vocal” and “combative.” And “aggressive.” That’s always our brand, at least when Christians are doing the labeling.

The article continued with the usual foolishness about atheism being just another kind of church. That’s a ludicrous idea, even if it was recently bolstered by at least one Lexington idiot who seemingly claimed to speak for all atheists. In the very same newspaper section. How convenient.

But Prather is full of the milk of human kindness. “This might surprise you,” he wrote, “but I have nothing against atheists.” That’s blatant bullshit, the equivalent of “some of my best friends are Jewish.” Whenever I heard that, growing up in the Bronx, I knew that an anti-Semitic crack was coming. There was always going to be a “but …” involved.

The crux of Prather’s argument, nearly half his column, is that most “smug, dogmatic, and mean-spirited” atheists have not spent time reading a BP-gusher’s-worth of Christian apologetics. “I wish these atheists would venture, say, into a seminary library. They’d find tens of thousands of volumes written by thinkers great and obscure across two millennia.”

Many Christian arguments come around to that. We atheists haven’t sampled enough flavors of their religion to justify our blanket dismissal of its senseless tenets.

So, here are some generalizations about Christians of all brands. These statements are, I think, virtually impossible to challenge except by someone who has an extremely odd sense of what “Christianity” is:

1. Christians accept the existence of a god who is one or more (not necessarily all) of the following: omnipotent, omnipresent, omnisicient, and omnibenevolent.

2. Christians believe that a character known as Jesus Christ actually lived sometime during the first century (by our current counting system).

3. Christians say that this Jesus had ties to their god, through either (a) actually being that god, (b) being a manifestation of that god, (c) having some physical kinship to that god, and/or (d) experiencing an unusually close intellectual bond between himself and that god. (Note: You may notice that (d) might well define any delusional person with charisma enough to attract followers.)

4. Christians assume that belief in any or all of the above numbered items will do one or more of the following: (a) make them better people, (b) improve their lives, and/or (c) ensure them a pleasant afterlife. (Happy deathday to you.)

Now, when I look at even that small list, I don’t feel compelled to spend hours, days, months, years reading about those beliefs. Frankly, they sound pretty goddamned stupid to me.

Since the ridiculous and unsupported claims are all on their side in the constant “debate” with atheists, the onus is on Christians to prove those claims. Asking an atheist like me to read “tens of thousands of volumes,” all written to explain the many divergent ramifications of those four essential beliefs that even a non-threatened child would find incredible, is a tremendous imposition. Do Christians ask one another to visit the library and read thousands and thousands of books on Muslim or Jewish or Hindu apologetics? Or, for that matter, on areligious subjects? “Hey, you can’t honestly say that you don’t enjoy Shakespeare unless you’ve worked your way through two or three million volumes of analyses.” Or: “How can you claim that a diet of Entenmann’s Chocolate Donuts is bad for you unless you’ve read tens of thousands of books on nutrition?”

So, instead of attacking his imagined “new atheists,” Prather ought to challenge himself to clear his head. With no foregone conclusions and with a critical mind, he should read the myriad of silly books that he, himself, recommended.

I repeat: With no foregone conclusions. And with a critical mind.

But since Prather is one of the current brand of god-pushers, it’s never going to happen.

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40 Responses to “Hey, Guess What! I’m Not a Brand.”

  1. Amazing how over those millenia atheists have asked the same simple question whereas Christians have composed libraries of excuses why they don’t need to answer the question. Exactly how many times should one ask a question without receiving a straight answer before giving up? Is the number higher or lower than the number of licks it takes to get to the center of a tootsie-pop?

  2. We really should show a little respect. Let me be the first. I will begin with a reading from the 2nd Book of Chronicles, Chapter 15 verse 13:

    That whosoever would not seek the LORD God of Israel should be put to death, whether small or great, whether man or woman.

    Yup.

    Many Christian arguments come around to that. We atheists haven’t sampled enough flavors of their religion to justify our blanket dismissal of its senseless tenets.

    The same man claims he is not gay. By his reckoning, never having fellated an ungulate renders him incompetent to make blanket claims about his own sexuality.

  3. There must be something weird with the comment thingy that causes it to capitalize ever single word in a blockquote or cite.

  4. Philly:
    I’m not qualified to answer you yet. But I have only 99,999 volumes to go. So check back with me in a millennium or two.

    Des:
    I’ll respond as soon as I’ve finished reading some of the tens of thousands of volumes written by thinkers great and obscure about ungulate fellatio across the millennia.

    By the way, I’ve fixed your capitalization problem. If you’re really curious about what caused it, drop me an email, and I’ll be happy to send you the address of a nearby seminary library, wherein you can probably find a Christian explanation for it.

  5. Lorena said

    If you’re really curious about what caused it, drop me an email, and I’ll be happy to send you the address of a nearby seminary library, wherein you can probably find a Christian explanation for it.

    LOL! … I’ll like to find a seminary around here that can biblically explain hot flushes to me.

  6. Lorena:
    I doubt you’ll find any seminary that explains hot flashes because most of the writers of Christian apologetics were comfortably male. However, a few women have weighed in recently on the issue:

    This [Spiritual Wellness] will bring the greatest stability when women enter this new stage of life. As a Christian. you can be certain that the Lord cares about you and understands your suffering. He will be your companion through this valley. Take more time to read Scripture, the Psalms and pray. This will help alleviate depression and anxiety caused by menopause. Memorizing Scripture can change your attitude about life.

    When the writer of Psalm 42:5 felt depressed, he talked to himself and told himself biblical truth about life, the future and God: “Why are you downcast o my soul? Why so disturbed within me? For I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my Lord.”Challenge your thinking and renew your mind according to the truth of Scripture in order to get God’s perspective on your life and experience a greater sense of wellness all-around.

    … Finally, trust in the promises of God. Isaiah 58:11 says, “The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.”

    I hope those words of encouragement help. Perhaps if you spritz yourself every five minutes with holy water you’ll cool down.

  7. Ralph said

    Reading volumes of religious thought will not convince me there is a god because faith doesn’t prove anything.

  8. Sarge said

    Gee, Des, ungulates…I suppose we must hie ourselves away to the “commentaries” to differentiate between the even-toed and odd-toed. Bless their hearts, there are probably MANY testimonies!

    Lorena, my wife was assured that her experiences during “The Change”, that she should take comfort in her chastisement, for she was a “Daughter of Eve”, and such was her lot since that unfortunate happenstance in paradise. Yeah, and bible verses were mentioned as well.
    During that time period wife wasn’t as testy as usual, or I might have gotten a call from the bail bondsman…

    That always gets me, too, Larry. Read the “commentaries”. Even the fundies want “commentaries”.
    Throw more horse shit on original horseshit, and that will address the mess.

    When the more religiously inclined start giving me that malarky, I paraphrase the old civil war era joke, I say that I stick with Yukon Golds or Jersey Blues.
    I then tell them that the “Common Taters” upset my stomach.

    I sometimes ask if they use those same mouths to praise their deity and sing hymns after what comes out after that.

  9. the chaplain said

    Maybe you and Prather could swap books. For every commentary you read, he has to read a book by a freethinker, atheist, humanist, etc. You read John Calvin, he reads Bertrand Russell; you read the sermons of John Wesley, he reads the lectures of Robert Ingersoll; you read Augustine, he reads Darwin….

  10. Is this the point in the discussion where some is required to post the obligatory Courtier’s Reply?

    It’s all about deflection. You have a question about the existence of god? Sorry, I can’t answer that until you’ve read so much drivel it turns your brain to mush, and you’re receptive to anything that promises returning it to its natural state. If you’re put off from further inquiry, well, my job here is done.

  11. Ralph:
    Reading volumes of religious thought will not convince me there is a god because faith doesn’t prove anything.
    On top of that, I’m not sure there is such a thing as religious thought. Oh, yes, there are religious brainwaves, but it’s not “thought” in the sense that the word is used in, say, “thought-provoking” or “thought-out.”

    Sarge:
    Commentaries and exegeses are methods by which apologists can misrepresent the passages they’d rather not see in their bible.

    Chappy:
    I’d have no interest in swapping books with Prather. The point is: if someone needs a seminary library full of Christian dogma to shore up his beliefs, he probably doesn’t really believe. I’ve made the same argument about atheists reading umpteen books on not believing. If I had my way, everybody would read Huckleberry Finn, Bleak House, and “Casey at the Bat.”

    SI:
    Hey, do you think I could find a book telling me that Casey may not have struck out?

  12. I think someone wrote an alternative history, appropriately titled Casey Who-May-Or-May-Not Have Been At The Bat. I’ll put my librarian on a search.

    It was fiction, after all. Like the story of Jebus.

  13. Lorena said

    I hope those words of encouragement help. Perhaps if you spritz yourself every five minutes with holy water you’ll cool down.

    Too funny! Yes, the encouragement will help. The next time I feel like strangulating my husband, I will stop to read Psalm 42…LOL!

  14. the chaplain said

    Larry:
    If you swapped books with Prather, it would definitely be a lopsided deal – he’d get to read interesting stuff, you’d get to read circuitous bullshit. But, you and I know he’d never go for it anyway – he wouldn’t want to risk polluting his mind with godless drivel, or wasting him time on worldly ideas or something of the sort, or, the ultimate fear: risk losing his faith. That’s the crux of it right there. You have nothing to lose, while Prather (in his mind) has everything, including eternal bliss with Jeebus, to lose.

    With regard to your point about the seminary library, Prather’s suggestion is disingenuous. On the one hand, Christian evangelists tell people that Christianity is so easy even a child can do it: all one has to do is believe and, presto changeo, one is a new creature in Christ and Jesus is one’s Best Invisible Friend. But, for those who insist on going beyond childish levels of belief and understanding, suddenly Chrisianity isn’t so simple, now it’s the deepest subject in the world, requiring a lifetime of study and meditation.

    Bottom line: Christianity is childishly simple for those who believe it, and devilishly complex for those who don’t believe. That gives preachers two simple answers to apply as needed.

  15. SI:
    It was fiction, after all.
    Really? Can you prove that there was no Casey at the bat? How do you explain the fact that so many people think there was!

    Lorena:
    The next time I feel like strangulating my husband, I will stop to read Psalm 42.

    Actually, your husband might have beat you to the family bible. I don’t know exactly how nutzoid you can get, but perhaps he has been reading Job 7:15 in the New Living Translation (as opposed to the Old Dead Translation):

    I would rather be strangled — rather die than suffer like this.

    Of course, he may deserve to be silenced, but hitting him over the head with a blunt instrument seems like the best way to go. I quote from Proverbs 11:1 in the KJWTFV:

    A false balance is abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is his delight.

    Chappy:
    Christianity is childishly simple for those who believe it, and devilishly complex for those who don’t believe.
    Yes, if a simple Christian “understands” the bible perfectly, Jesus has entered his heart.
    If a more sophisticated Christian doesn’t understand the self-contradictions, blatant immorality, and nonsense in the bible, well then: the Lord works in mysterious ways.

  16. BrentH said

    KJWTFV – LOL and SETE!!! VFF!!! THX.

  17. Lorena said

    I would rather be strangled — rather die than suffer like this.

    ROFLOL!

  18. Brent:
    I confess that I had to look up SETE and VFF, although I’d already GTMOTL (guessed the meaning of the latter). I’ve hated acronyms ever since I was a little boy, when TV commercials were still spouting “LSMFT.” (Lucky Strike means fine tobacco). Now, with text-messaging and Twitter, acronyms are FUBAR.

    Lorena:
    Maybe all that ROF raises your body temperature. The next time you read something funny, try staying in a seated position and just slapping your knee.

    (Note: Unfortunately, I can’t find any biblical authority for that. Which is no surprise, since there’s not much humor in either “Testament,” is there? Apparently, Yahweh’s idea of comedy is wiping out a village.)

  19. BrentH said

    Apparently, Yahweh’s idea of comedy is wiping out a village.

    My personal favorite is turning people into pillars of salt. Now that’s a hoot!

  20. Brent:
    My personal favorite is turning people into pillars of salt.
    Yep, as a comic masterpiece, you just can’t lick that.

  21. the chaplain said

    Maybe one of you smart people can tell me WTF “KJWTFV” means?

  22. Chappy:
    It’s the King James “What the Fuck!” Version.
    I think you might be able to find a Kindle download of that one, if you go to Amazon and search for keywords “#^$!*&%” and “atheist.”

    But don’t mix it up with the NIFIIKV.

  23. the chaplain said

    I already have the English Standard Version of the Bible on my Kindle (it was a freebie). Why would I pay for yet another Bible – even one as cool as the King James What the Fuck Version – when I can get a freebie? Besides, I’ve still got lots of Bibles hanging around the house: NIVs, RSVs, NASBs, KJVs, The Message, the Tanakh…

    Now, I’ve just got to figure out WTH the GD “NIFIIKV” is!

  24. I’d be afraid to put the Bible on the my Nook with all my other books. A lot of them are crime fiction, and I wouldn’t want those books to be infected by the mother of all crime fiction.

  25. Sarge said

    Gee, SI, crime fiction… busman’s holiday when you read, you being a lawyer, huh?

    Well, my wife tends to like what I’ve heard called “shop girl’s delight”, AKA “bodice-rippers”…well, romance novels.
    She says, “I’m a ‘shop girl’ (she works in retail sales) and they delight me. So what”?
    She has me there, I admit it ;-/

    Ah, the age of “The Brand”.
    Everything has some kind of association which probably isn’t what it is purported to be, but is so identified.
    How we pay for packaging but recieve so little actual product, which delivers low percentage on it’s promise is beyond me.
    The TRUE wonder of the age is that we are so hyper=civilised that we make lying an art form and scorn the duped. And reward the greatest liar.
    Oh, it’s always been around, christianity is a great example, but I don’t think the rewards for appearing to be what one is patently not have ever been higher.

  26. Sarge said

    But even worse is when they brand and “package” something that is NOT what they say and the coontation is NOT favorable.

  27. Sarge:
    Our society’s need to label, categorize, brand (call it what you’d like) people and/or ideas is one sign that we Americans are losing our ability to think in more complex ways. Everyone and everything is reduced to a simplistic formula. Unforunately, some Americans see that as a quest for “purity.”

  28. Shane O' said

    Larry:

    Our society’s need to label, categorize, brand (call it what you’d like) people and/or ideas is one sign that we Americans are losing our ability to think in more complex ways.

    That sums it up quite nicely. It seem so obtuse to classify someone as only being one thing, like they can be interpreted elementally using a periodic table. All too often, there is little one can do to get through to someone who has made their decision predicated upon sociologically instilled bias — they’ve already bought into the “brand.”

    We can all fall prey to personal bias, but there are those that are extremely stubborn to accept unfashionable views that represent the “top of the line.” Even when facts support opposing opinions, those that hold fast in denial truly are a different, more uncomfortable cut of ass-hat.

  29. Shane:
    My post was about being branded by others, but you bring up an interesting point. People can smugly brand themselves. And then accuse others of not being “true” exemplars of that brand.

  30. BigKoala said

    I have a hard time understanding Prather. When his wife was diagnosed with a treatable form of cancer, he urged her to get that treatment. (She was certain, of course, that it was a test of her faith and that she just needed to be a better Christian.) Of course, her cancer worsened, and by the time Prather convinced her to go in for treatment it was too late and she, of course, died for believing in faith rather than using reason.

    How do you go from losing your wife because she wouldn’t analyze evidence and accept reality — a decision you did not agree with! — to sneering at people who analyze evidence in their attempts to understand reality?

  31. Because he’s not sneering at people who analyze evidence in their attempt to understand reality, only those who won’t accept what he considers to be evidence for his god, or more specifically in the form of apologetics and his library of Christian thought, why his god claim should be exempted from requiring standard evidence.

  32. Koala:
    I’d have thought that a reasonable man, given Prather’s past, would have abandoned preaching entirely, recognizing its awful downside.

    Philly:
    But, according to Koala, the man has some personal evidence that tends to negate his beliefs. So you have to acknowledge the stubborness factor.

  33. cl said

    Mr. Wallberg,

    “New atheists embody the very things they hate.” Original, huh?

    Not original, and obviously a wild generalization, but undeniably true of a significant subset of atheists in general. The support for my claim follows.

    …Bill Maher, whose “anti-faith film,” Religulous, “got a ton of attention.” Never mind that Maher has never claimed to be an atheist. Doesn’t matter.

    Bill Maher’s film could be “anti-faith” even if he wasn’t an atheist at all, so that’s a non-sequitur, which means that you would be correct: it doesn’t matter.

    That assertion, unsupported by any examples or statistics, must be true. A minister wrote it. What stake could he possibly have had in misrepresenting the numbers?

    I get the sarcasm, and again he makes a wild generalization, but are you really denying the minister’s claim that online responses to religious stories seem to come disproportionately from readers who jeer at all references to God or piety?

    OTOH, maybe you are:

    That assertion, unsupported by any examples or statistics, must be true. A minister wrote it. What stake could he possibly have had in misrepresenting the numbers?

    Problem is, look how bad you botched that one! First, you cite the minister’s lack of examples or statistics. Then, you allege the minister “misrepresented the numbers.” Yet, in order to misrepresent the numbers, you first have to give some numbers – and you just claimed an absence of examples or statistics in the previous sentence!

    I’ve met plenty of bull-headed knee-jerk “rationalists.” Haven’t you?

    You know I have, and on select occasions you’ve been known to take my side against said atheotards. However, that fact doesn’t nullify the minister’s claim that a “current brand of aggressive atheism” exists. You know damn well it does! You’re objecting to his words – presumably brand – not his claim.

    There have been atheists ( whatever they may have called themselves) throughout history…

    The minister isn’t talking about atheists throughout history. His claim had to do with a “current brand” of atheists. Stay on topic.

    If we atheists open our mouths at all, we’re perceived as “vocal” and “combative.”

    This is comedy. You scold the minister for lack of examples and statistics, then you give us… a claim that lacks examples and statistics! How is that not embodying what you hate?

    …when I look at even that small list, I don’t feel compelled to spend hours, days, months, years reading about those beliefs. Frankly, they sound pretty goddamned stupid to me.

    IOW, I’ll go with my gut, call it a day, and then have the audacity to don a rationalist hat. Though – correct me if I’m wrong – you already admitted you’ve had this figured out since you were five.

    With no foregone conclusions and with a critical mind, he should read the myriad of silly books that he, himself, recommended.

    There, we agree. Otherwise, this post was an epic fail. Though I grant that you likely don’t consider yourself a “New Atheist,” this post was rife with contradictions and special pleading that ironically supports the claim, “many atheists – even the smart ones that write well – often embody the very things they hate.”

  34. Cl:
    Thanks for your input on this topic.

  35. cl said

    I think Prather’s following observations were spot-on:

    These particular atheists are zealots on the subject of faith who see no shadings of gray, only black and white. They’re dead-set against religion but weirdly obsessed with it…

    My objection to the new atheists isn’t that they’re atheists. It’s that they strike me as hypocrites, which is the charge they unfailingly level, with mixed justification, against the religious. In opposing religion in the manner they do, they betray themselves as possessing the traits they profess to loathe. They’re smug, dogmatic and mean-spirited. They trot out tired, half-truthful stereotypes, and they cherry-pick historical examples of religious wrongdoing…

    It’s absurd, and it’s especially grating because it comes from people who flaunt what they consider to be their own relentless logic, superior intellect and brave candor…

  36. Well you would, since you’re both biased and not too bright.

  37. cl said

    Unfortunately, you lend more support to Prather’s point: “smug… mean-spirited… flaunt what they consider to be their own relentless logic, superior intellect and brave candor…”

  38. To the uneducated, I bet I do. :)

    His quote is typical of what you generally do, make assertions and reframe or divert the discussion to some land of straw and free flowing fallacies, so naturally you found it to be “spot-on”.

  39. Cl:
    The following warning is in no way a reflection of whether I agree with you or not.

    Please do not merely lift chunks of copyrighted material when commenting here. Feel free to use others’ words if you’re going to expand on them, or analyze them, or refute them, or in some other way add your own content. That would probably be considered “fair use,” particularly if your source is an opinion column. And I’d stand behind your doing that.

    The only exceptions to the rule above are (1) items in the public domain, (2) material for the use of which you (or all readers) have express permission, and (3) official government transcripts. I believe that you can quote those kinds of sources at length, if you’re so inclined.

    You can also feel free to link to others’ articles provided that you don’t in addition reprint large naked segments of what they’ve written. (FYI: The WordPress spam blocker for this blog will isolate any comment containing more than two links.)

    In any case, cutting-and-pasting, as you’ve done above, without adding anything of your own except an opening sentence, may be a violation of copyright. I’d hate to have to delete your responses to a discussion, but I will do so if you leave similarly cobbled-together “comments” in the future.

    By the way, when you comment on this blog you retain all rights to reprint your own material, but your rights are no longer exclusive, since you also grant to me, and/or anyone else I may choose to designate, the right in perpetuity to reprint that material.

  40. Man said

    Time’s running out atheists, better drop the make-believe and come to Jesus before it’s too late.

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