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Archive for the ‘Freedom from Faith’ Category

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”?


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 »

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 »

The Shroud of Tourin’

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 05/03/2010

In a silly attempt to deflect all the talk about sexual abuse of children by priestly employees of the Vatican, Pope Benny has decided to revive that old  Shroud of Turin nonsense.  Of course the city’s Archbishop, Cardinal Severino Poletto, is thrilled to go along with the papal plug. Just think of all those discouraged Roman Catholics worldwide, who are surely eager to have their faith reaffirmed by seeing — in person — an imprint of Our Lord himself.

You could almost hear the tourism coins going kachinginus vobiscum in Poletto’s head, as he intoned:

We can’t say with mathematical certainty that it is authentic; it’s up to scientists to do that. But it remains a great enigma.

Not to me. Although the imprint on that piece of cloth doesn’t look anything like Jesus, the face does seem familiar somehow. Whoever he is, I’m assuming that he’ll be able to feed the multitude.

Posted in Freedom from Faith, Seriously Silly | 7 Comments »

Sucker Bet

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 04/25/2010

I got to thinking about Pascal’s Wager this afternoon, because a couple of bible-thumpers knocked on my door and asked if they could tell my wife and me some good news about Jesus.

For those of you who don’t know about Pascal’s Wager, it’s ol’ Blaise’s cute, little, irrational homily on why it’s always a good idea to gamble on belief.  He claimed that he was examining the odds for the question : Should you or should you not believe in a god? But honestly, his wager is all about the afterlife.

To paraphrase: You have to bet; you can’t choose not to be in the game. If you gamble on belief in heaven, and there is no heaven, you don’t lose anything when you die; but if there is a heaven you win big-time. Conversely, if you gamble on non-belief in a heaven, and there is no heaven, you don’t win anything when you die; but if there is a heaven, you’re up holy shit’s creek without a paddle. So why risk not believing?

Clearly, Pascal (and many religionists, in fact) are most concerned about what happens to you after you’re no longer you. But the pair of Jesus-jumpers who appeared at my door were definitely alive, although not exactly lively.

Today was a dreary, drizzly day here in Lexington, and it was immediately evident that those two were trying to summon up some ersatz joy despite their general sogginess, as well as — I’m guessing — the many rejections they’d had. Their efforts at feigning religious ecstatsy were completely unsuccessful, if the discouraged expressions on their faces were any indications of their real mood.

I hate to admit this, but I actually felt sorry for them. Not sorry enough to welcome them in for some hot cocoa while they told me about the glories of the Christian afterlife. Just sorry enough so that I didn’t yell “screw you” as I sent them on their not-so-merry way.

After they’d gone, I wondered what kind of an afterlife they imagine for themselves. Do they see each other going door-to-door in an unending witless witness. Yes, they would have won Pascal’s wager, but they’d have nothing to show for it except an eternity of damp hair and even damper spirits.

So I came up with what I’ll call Wallberg’s Wager.

You don’t have to bet. You can leave with what you have in your brain right now plus a few lovely parting gifts. If you do choose to be in the game, bear in mind that the casino is run by religious fanatics.  However, f you’re a theist with a couple of eons to spare, you’ll probably want to gamble on whether there’s a heaven or not.

If you gamble that there’s a heaven, and it turns out that there is no heaven, you will have spent years depriving yourself of certain terrestrial joys forbidden in your religion’s narrow morality: (e.g., non-marital intercourse; dancing; eating pork; sleeping late on Sunday morning; using colorful language whenever the fuck you want to; playing cards; masturbating; reading whatever you’d like to read; refusing to bomb infidels; wearing any kind of underwear you choose; and most important of all, thinking for yourself). Also, you’d have contributed hard-earned money to a worthless enterprise, stilted your children’s ability to have a broad education, and uselessly worn out dozens of shoes going from door to door to door spreading news that just made you look stupid. You lose.

On the other hand, if you gamble that there’s a heaven, and it turns out that, yup, there is a heaven, you’ll have to continue depriving yourself of those previously mentioned joys, and you’ll be stuck forever with a group of self-righteous glad-handing bores who keep jockeying for position in god’s heirarchy. On top of which, your attendance will be compulsory at countless church socials, bar mitzvahs, anti-tax rallies, jihadist training classes, and occasional slaughters of the innocent — all of which will require that you wear an “In God We Trust” license plate screwed firmly onto your ass. Not only that, but every Christmas you’ll have to stop George Bailey from killing himself. Also, you’ll probably still be obliged to spread the news, if not in physical person, then in spirit, by watching over those surviving relatives who are trudging from house to house on a wet Kentucky afternoon. You lose.

Of course, the truth is that you don’t actually get to choose whether to believe or not to believe. That’s not a question. You either do or you don’t; nobody wakes up one morning and says out of the blue, “Hey, today, right after I pee, I think I’ll start believing in a heaven.” You can claim to believe, of course; but you can’t believe unless … duh … you believe. And you can’t not believe just by willing yourself not to. Sometimes, neither theists nor atheists seem to understand that.

So the whole wager thing, be it Pascal’s or Wallberg’s, is actually pretty dumb. But if you could choose, it sounds like a no-brainer to me. Why risk belief in a heaven? It’s a sucker bet: You lose either way.

Posted in Freedom from Faith | 59 Comments »

21 Worst Arguments for the Existence of God

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 04/22/2010

I’ve heard every one of these arguments, and so have you. These versions may be slightly exaggerated. But only slightly.

1. If there were no God, there would be no bible, because the writers of the bible were inspired by God. So if there’s a bible, there must be a God. There’s definitely a bible, because I saw a whole stack of them on sale at WalMart. So there must be a God at WalMart, too.

2. Somebody definitely loves me, because I feel loved. But everybody who knows me thinks I’m a creep. So there must be a God.

3.If you can imagine a God, there must be one, because your imagination really sucks.

4. Since every living thing changes, somebody must have set that change in motion. Obviously, that couldn’t have been you, because you don’t even change your socks when you need to. So it must have been God.

5. My gun-toting Christian neighbor says I’d better believe.

6. Everybody throughout history believed in a God. Except Hitler. Doesn’t that tell you something?

7. Since there’s no logic unless there’s a God, you can’t prove to me logically that there’s no God. Ergo, there IS a God. QED, WTF, & ROFLMAO.

8. The universe must have had a beginning. So it’s exactly like a story. Since a story has a writer, someone must have written the universe. Obviously, he had to have used a gigantic invisible pen, because computers weren’t invented yet.  Only God is strong enough to write legibly with that kind of pen.

9. You can’t desire something that doesn’t exist. I desired a shiny red Chevy pick-up that cost less than $500. Sure enough, I found one in an ad in the paper, even though it was dirty white and it didn’t have a working engine or any windows, and it still set me back 750 bucks. Therefore, God exists.

10. If there’s no God, how do you explain this voice in my head, huh? Did you ever think of that, you wacko atheists?

11. Everything has a cause. Nothing happens by accident. So somebody must have had a reason for creating the world. There are two possibilities who that somebody was: either God or an atheist. But by their own admission, all atheists say that they weren’t around when the world was created. So it must have been God.

12. You can’t have any ideas if you have no brain in your head. However, some ideas have been around for a very long time, maybe even 6,000 years. Clearly, no person’s brain is that old.  So who can be thinking all those ideas? Only God has a head that can last so long, although I think it would look much nicer if he trimmed his nose hairs.

13. How else can you explain the fact that there are exactly 60 seconds in a minute, and exactly sixty minutes in an hour, and exactly 6o hours in two and a half days, and exactly 60 days in two months (except for the weird ones like January, February, March, May, July, August, October, and December)? That didn’t happen just by accident.

14. Where would human morals come from if there was no God eager to torture us eternally for not believing in him?

15. Without a God, what a poor, pathetic, pointless place Kentucky would be.

16. According to your stupid theories, I would still be a monkey if there was no God. Obviously, I’m not a monkey. Right? Right?

17. Since Nature is perfect, it must be God’s creation. I thought of that today while I was fertilizing my begonias and spraying for aphids.

18. If I pray hard enough, my Entenmann’s Chocolate Donut will turn into Jesus’s body. (NOTE: Some Christian sects think that you can substitute a Hostess Sno Ball. But they’re wrong, because it makes no sense for Jesus to enter anything with coconut.) I know that Jesus’s body becomes one with my donut (although not necessarily with the hole), because I feel as if I’m in heaven with him every time I eat an ECD.  So if I pray sincerely before I eat one, I’ll go to heaven.  As long as I don’t chew.

19. If there weren’t a God to give humans a code of morality, we’d all be godless commie homosexual baby-killers. And, even worse, nobody would ever vacuum.

20. I think country music is beautiful, and so do most of my friends. But my wife left me, and my girlfriend died, and I can’t find a job, and I’m hooked on lite beer, and I’m in jail for serial littering, and the Wildcats lost the championship. So how come I can still tell that a song is beautiful when I hear it? Therefore, there must be a God who made little green apples.

21. A miracle can take place only if there’s a God. It’s a miracle that you’ve read this list. Need I say more?

Posted in Freedom from Faith, Useless Lists | 24 Comments »

Earworm Saturday #4

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 04/17/2010

Whenever anybody asks me which movie I’d pick as best animated film ever, as someone did the other day, I always say without hesitation “Walt Disney’s Pinocchio.” Visually, it’s stunning. I’d say it’s probably the only really successful cartoon that incorporated actual film noir techniques in the service of a classic children’s story.

Another thing I love about Pinocchio is its score. “I’ve Got No Strings” could easily be my intellectual theme song. I also love “Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee (an Actor’s Life for Me)” and “Give a Little Whistle.” (Always let your consciousness be your guide.)

But I’ve gotta tell you: there’s one song in that flick that has always sickened me. Ever since I was a little boy, I’ve been creeped out by its pseudo-religious claptrap. Even without the words, the tune itself smacks of churchiness. I’d venture to guess that this number has been largely responsible for spreading the faith meme to American children ever since 1940. And, of course, that very song is the one that’s crawling through my brain as an earworm today.

I’ll first remind you of the original version, sort of. You’ll recognize it as soon as you hear it, even if you have trouble understanding all the words. (If you care to sing along, the lyrics are thoughtfully provided for yøu.)

If you go to YouTube, you’ll find dozens and dozens of pious performances of this ditty. But sometimes, no matter how lush and uplifting the orchestral background tries to be, the singer is just sooooo wrong. Man, I love when that happens.

Here’s an ultra-pretentious rendition in which the singer, obviously, wished for a hat. I can’t explain why, but the longer you focus on that thing, the funnier it becomes.

Well, maybe a Bronx accent helps the song sound somewhat less sanctimonious.

Close your eyes and listen to the melody as an excerpt from Satan’s Cricket, a 50s horror movie.

It stands to reason that deluded theists would find this song attractive. I don’t know whether this “America’s Got Talent” hopeful is a theist, but, wow!, is she deluded. If you’ve got the time, you might enjoy listening to her personal biography before she sings (starting at around 2:30). Apparently, her fifth grade teacher wrote a positive comment on her report card. If you stick around long enough, you’ll even see a hula. Then, believe it or not, this overaged Latin bombshell changes costume and performs the thing again!

I must admit, I sympathize with this YouTuber’s poor cat. (Try picturing it in the hat from a few videos above.)

What is this? (I kinda like it, even though I don’t have a clue what the guy is saying. Hey, maybe that’s a good thing.)

Doesn’t anybody know that the only thing to wish for is an Entenmann’s Chocolate Donut? Accept no substitutes!

This video is too distasteful even for me. But I share it here as a public service.

Not to leave my readers with the impression that I have no heart whatsoever, and to remind all atheists that even we can occasionally be suckers for shmaltz, I’ll include this rendition, which — sappiness and all — does manage to move me because it’s sung so simply and beautifully by one of the greatest Kentucky native “girl” singers ever. Seriously. Ahhh.

And so I wish you good day, dear readers. Makes no difference who you are. Happy whistling.

Posted in Earworms, Freedom from Faith, Music | 26 Comments »

If You Want a Church-Like Community, Join a Church

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 04/14/2010

Allow me a not-so-brief rant. I’d be interested in hearing what my intelligent readers have to say about this.

Atheists, skeptics, doubters, whatever word you’d like to use for those of us who think the very concept of gods is ridiculous, have to be on guard constantly. The naive and ignorant among us have to to be very careful not to broadcast their own kneejerk opinions when dealing with religionists. Unfortunately, in today’s America, any atheist who claims to speak for a group of “non-believers” is automatically assumed by theists to speak for us all. Just as many atheists assume that the fundamentalist idiots and/or the Pope speak for Christians everywhere.

Obviously, that’s a stupid assumption, but god-believers have been known to jump to some really ridiculous conclusions.

So I was annoyed last month when the assistant organizer of the Lexington Atheist Meetup announced that he’d somehow wangled the authority to speak for atheists in our local rag’s “Questions of Faith” feature. Most of you have probably seen inane space-fillers similar to “Questions of Faith.” An editor poses a question to religious “leaders” — ha! — and asks them to submit short answers suitable for publication. When our “representative” asked by email if anyone in the Lexington group had an objection to his speaking on our behalf, I responded:

I do have an objection — a strong one, in fact — to your presenting yourself as an atheist leader, or someone who has been empowered to speak for other atheists. We don’t have leaders, because we’re not an organized church and we have no agreed-upon dogma. Let’s not give the idiots the wrong impression. You should probably make it absolutely clear that you speak only for yourself, and not for anyone else.

But I have no objection if, in order to give yourself credibility, you present yourself as exactly what you are: the Assistant Organizer of the Lexington Atheist Meetup. (Can we find a better word than “Meetup”?)

A few responders to the email agreed with me, but most of them said things like, “Oh, lighten up, Larry.” Lexington, as most of you probably know by now, is an excellent place for lightening up, but not such a good one for enlightening.

Anyway, today, the group’s email list was informed that our “representative” was asked to respond to the following question:

The Catholic Church has now issued a directive that explicitly requires church officials to report some crimes to the police. When dealing with abusive situations within a congregation, do communities of faith 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

He suggested that he’d like to make these points: (1) Atheist groups have no problems with leaders because these leaders don’t speak for god, and (2) he’s not aware of any sexually abusive Atheist (sic) leaders, etc.


My response was:

You can’t be serious. Have you fallen into the mind-trap that atheist groups are comparable to churches? The next thing you’ll be doing is asking members to bring lime Jell-O molds and tuna casseroles to our Meetups.

The editor’s question is beneath contempt. It’s insulting even when aimed at religionists. That should be the sum total of your answer.

For you to answer it further would imply all kinds of things that are bullshit.

If you insist on doing so, you must make these points:
(1) There ARE no atheist leaders.
(2) Atheist organizations are not comparable to churches. They’re comparable to bridge clubs or quilting bees or a group of co-workers getting together for a few beers after hours.
(3) There’s no uniform atheist faith or spirituality or even agreement on any single idea.
(4) The word “atheism” should not be capitalized.
(5) While there may be sexual predators who happen to be atheists, there are no atheist sexual predators. Sexual predators in religious organizations get close to children (and adults, too) by deceitfully using their feigned authority to speak for their imaginary god. As leaders of their flocks, they become Catholic sexual predators, or Southern Baptist sexual predators, or Jewish sexual predators, or Muslim sexual predators, etc. But there’s no comparable situation for atheists because none of us has any authority to speak for anyone other than him- or herself, and there’s definitely no atheist flock. [When challenged with “of course, there are atheist sexual predators,” I embellished my answer to make it easier to understand.] No, there are no atheist sexual predators. There are also no “rationalist sexual predators” or “liberal sexual predators” or “existentialist sexual predators.” Conflating one’s philosophy with one’s criminality is ridiculous — except in the case of religious leaders whose criminality is tied inseparably to a philosophy that enables and even encourages that criminality. To speak of “atheist sexual predators” is as stupid as it would be to speak of “computer-consultant sexual predators” or “Dickens-loving sexual predators” or “Cheerios-eating sexual predators.” The adjective has nothing to do with the compound noun it modifies. We should not blithely accept this term when used by others, and we should definitely not use it ourselves.

Also, if you DO insist on answering this question in print, please let me know so I can write an op/ed piece about “Why I Quit Going to the Lexington Atheist Meetup.”

Again, one of the responses began “Larry, man, take a deep breath.”

Unfortunately, I can’t. I don’t want to fill my lungs with Stupid. As I’d feared, it turns out that the Lexington Atheist Meetup is not an organization for a serious exchange of ideas; it’s one of these.

The sad truth is: We’re living in perilous political times. What atheists need most in Kentucky and elsewhere in the United States has nothing to do with being admired or being loved. We just need a nationwide respect for, and adherence to, the Establishment Clause,  and the recognition that all Americans have the freedom not to have religion foisted upon us.

What we definitely don’t need is to give the superstititous rabble the erroneous idea that we’re all members of the Happy Church of Atheism.

Posted in Freedom from Faith, Language & Meaning, Random Rants | 49 Comments »

The Ultimate Interactive Experience

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 04/12/2010

I get so tired of frequenting blogs that make the same points over and over and over again. Yeah, I get it. Republicans are all bad. Religionists are all dumb as rocks. Cats are the cutest things on Earth.

Of course, if I cared to, I could widen my scope and look for other kinds of writing on the Web: Democrats are ruining the country. Atheists are spawns of Satan. My child said the brightest thing yesterday. Here’s how I like to liven up my scrapbooks (one word: sequins), or cook meatballs and spaghetti (the secret? matzo meal!), or conquer the stock market (tip: start with plenty of your ancestors’ money).

Obviously, as a semi-frequent poster myself, I’m not condemning blogs. And I ought to point out that my favorites are quite interactive. Feel free to leave a comment if you disagree.

But no blog, as you may have guessed from the title of this post, is the ultimate interactive experience. No sirree, Bob! (If you’re one of my few fans not named Bob, I apologize for addressing you incorrectly. But at my age, I tend to call everyone Bob, because (1) some days I can’t even remember who I am, (2) a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, provided you’re not allegic and (3) it’s much easier to type than Zacjarias Aacharias Zacha$&^mmmmm Bob. See? Also, it makes no difference if you pronounce it frontwards or backwards.)

Anyway, interactivity is not normally something that I crave, because in order to be “inter,” I also have to be “active,” which I’m not. The truth is: I’m usually perfectly happy to sit and stare at the TV. Sometimes I even turn it on.

But yesterday, almost as if the event had been planned by my subconscious, I was given the opportunity to engage in an exciting experiment in telepathy. I must confess that it was difficult for me to tell if I was detecting thoughts generated only by the engine, or if I actually did understand what the other people involved were thinking and feeling. But the — what? I guess it was a game, in a way — was totally engrossing. In just a short time, I had “visited” quite a number of exotic places, not all of which corresponded with any reality of which I was previously aware. That’s probably because none of the places I “went” to had a C.S.I. unit or a newscrawl.

It’s almost impossible to imagine an activity nowadays in which you don’t have to do any clicking. (e.g. My wife sends me email to remind me to take out the garbage.) But one of the most amazing things about the whole interactive incident yesterday was that I didn’t have to press a single button, even though some of my buttons were pressed.

So, if you’ve casually skimmed this far — and you are skimming, right? — you’re probably asking yourself: “Self, how come this idiot doesn’t have any links, or polls, or videos, or something, anything, to do here? F’cryinoutloud, there’s not even a cool image I can download.”

Well, here’s the ultimate interactive experience. It’s called reading a novel. Oh, I can imagine many of you godless heathens saying

A novel? What’s the point of that? When I bother to read at all, I dig into non-fiction. I mean, it’s crucially important for us atheists to learn everything we can about evolution, and the Euthyphro dilemma, and the differences between Southern baptists and those other baptists who come from the North, East, and West. In order to win our compulsory daily arguments with religionists, we have to be totally clued in to history, and astrophysics, and mob psychology, and environmental science, and exactly what Richard Dawkins said about the Pope. We must bone up on our theological argumentation skills, heighten our knowledge of comparative religion, and hone our ability to come up with sarcastic spellings like ‘Jebus’ and ‘the Bibble.’ Who has time for some stupid story that isn’t even true?

(Judging from your own words, I can tell you’re an opinionated S.O.B. Aren’t you? It’s no wonder that the most popular kids in school won’t give you the time of day. Of course, another factor may be that kids aren’t taught how to tell time any more. Sheesh! We old farts learned how to do that as early as — judging by my watch — 8:45.)

My advice to you is: Set aside some time each day for reading fiction. I’m not suggesting that you spend hours poring over inane romance novels, or dismissible science-fantasy, or predictable mysteries, although there’s, ahem, nothing wrong with doing that. (Confession: I really think there is, but I recognize that my elitist prejudices have no place in modern American discourse.) In any case, those genres usually (not always) are represented best in movies and TV shows.

What I’m recommending is: Pick up a classic once in a while. Or a contemporary novel written by an author who has something new and different to say. Find a writer you like who seems to be speaking directly to you, who arouses both your intellect and your feelings, who doesn’t want to waste time talking to you unless you’re willing to take an active part in the conversation. A writer who brings characters to life, characters who reach out of the book and forcibly drag you into their world, characters you’d recognize instantly if you met them in the street, even though they probably don’t look anything like Lexington native George Clooney or anyone else you’ve ever seen.

That’s the ultimate interactive experience. I look forward to getting your recommendations (no Proust or Ayn Rand, though, please). If you’d like, I’ll even respond with a few of my own.

Posted in Books & Bookshops, Freedom from Faith, Random Rants | 39 Comments »

Tiger Woods and Sarah Palin: What’s Going On?

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 04/09/2010

We oh-so-rational atheists are not supposed to just spout off about any old thing, particularly ideas for which we lack evidence. Still, most of us, if we’re being completely truthful, have to acknowledge that we do harbor a few beliefs that might not withstand scientific scrutiny.

A few years back, I wrote a confessional post in which I admitted to some notions that fall into the above category. I’m not going to repeat the items here – most of them were too dull to have been written even once – but I’ll include the first one to show the kind of thing I mean:

Despite all my protestations of tolerance, I really do, deep down, think that anyone who believes in a god is a moron.

Anyway, here are some more unverifiable beliefs by which I live my life:

(1) There’s never anything on TV so important to watch that it’s worth cancelling or postponing any other activity.

(2) People who call you by name at the end of every sentence are always trying to sell you something.

(3) Weddings are a huge waste of money. Nobody ever enjoys them except the bride’s teenage female cousins.

(4) A world with Entenmann’s Chocolate Donuts is heaven enough for anybody.

(5) Doing the newspaper’s sudoku, Jumble, and crossword every day helps stave off senile dementia.

(6) Being a politician and being honest are mutually exclusive.

(7) Most Americans would embrace the most dictatorial political system if they thought it would lower their taxes and help them keep their crappy jobs.

(8) People who believe in a god always picture him as either a baby, a suffering misfit, Charlton Heston, or their father with a long, white beard.

(9) Kids need to have critical thinking abilities far more than they need to have self-esteem.

(10) Sex is fine in the afternoon and at night, but in the morning there’s nothing as good as a bowl of crunchy, sugary breakfast cereal.

(11) Sports stars and entertainers are not heroes.

(12) A twenty-something who says “WTF” in a face-to-face conversation is a fucking idiot.

(13) Unless you’re deluding yourself, it’s impossible to really like the taste of “lite” beer.

(14) The Pope is just an Ayatollah who speaks Italian.

(15) Some activities in life don’t need — and so shouldn’t have — an app.

(16) Driving, no matter how fast it’s done, is not a sport.

(17) Country music singers are not “artists.” Most of them are hardly even singers, f’Chrissake.

(18) No matter how creative it is, a billboard never made anybody change his or her mind about anything.

(19) A good post title will get you more hits on your Web site than interesting content.

(20) Nobody except those actually involved in the proceedings should give a rat’s ass who Tiger Woods or Sarah Palin screwed.

Readers, feel free to add any irrational beliefs that you may espouse.

Posted in Freedom from Faith, Google, Seriously Silly, Useless Lists | 16 Comments »

In Kentucky, We Call It “Litta-chur”

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 04/07/2010

April is the cruelest month — unless you’re a poet.

Limerickers, clerihewists, haikuans, parodisiacs, doggereleers, and versifiers of all kinds, have good reason to celebrate, for we are now well into National Poetry Month.

What does that have to do with atheism, you might well ask? Basically, nothing, except that some of our language’s most celebrated poets were skeptics. Herewith, a small sampler of excerpts:

Percy Bysshe Shelley
How calm and sweet the victories of life,
How terrorless the triumph of the grave!
How powerless were the mightiest monarch’s arm,
Vain his loud threat, and impotent his frown!
How ludicrous the priest’s dogmatic roar!
The weight of his exterminating curse
How light! And his affecting charity,
To suit the pressure of the changing times,
What palpable deceit! — but for thy aid,
Religion! but for thee, prolific fiend,
Who peoplest earth with demons, Hell with men,
And Heaven with slaves!

Matthew Arnold
“Christ,” some one says, “was human as we are;
No judge eyes us from Heaven, our sin to scan;
We live no more, when we have done our span.”

Algernon Charles Swinburne
Since man, with a child’s pride proud, and abashed as a child and afraid,
Made God in his likeness, and bowed him to worship the Maker he made,
No faith more dire hath enticed man’s trust than the saint’s whose creed
Made Caiaphas one with Christ, that worms on the cross might feed.
Priests gazed upon God in the eyes of a babe new-born, and therein
Beheld not heaven, and the wise glad secret of love, but sin.

Emily Dickinson
“Faith” is a fine invention
When gentlemen can
But microscopes are prudent
In an emergency.

Edgar Lee Masters
And it will be some centuries before it becomes an accepted understanding
That Jesus had no mind capable of doing good for the world.
While possessing power to put Socrates and men like him aside
So that they could do little for the world.
That this has been so and is yet so is just as mysterious
As the so-called problem of evil can be to any mind.
For no one can explain why Athens, which was indeed a city set upon a hill,
Did not last forever for the benefit of all climes and peoples;
And why Jerusalem, a village of demons and camel dung,
Became the shrine of the world
Whereto men make pilgrimages to see the place where Jesus died for men.
While few are interested in the jail where Socrates gave up his life
Rather than surrender his freedom to think.

Langston Hughes
Go ahead on now,
You’re getting in the way of things, Lord.
And please take Saint Gandhi with you when you go,
And Saint Pope Pius,
And Saint Aimee McPherson,
And big black Saint Becton
Of the Consecrated Dime.
And step on the gas, Christ!

Don’t be so slow about movin!
The world is mine from now on —
And nobody’s gonna sell ME
To a king, or a general,
Or a millionaire.

Robert Frost
I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth —
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches’ broth —
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.

What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall? —
If design govern in a thing so small.

Also on the atheo-poetic front: Despite its blatantly anti-theistic content, and largely due to the votes of my readers (for which I’m grateful, although not eternally), my poem “Horton Hears an Evangelical” has been named the winner of the Silly Poetry Contest.

Posted in Books & Bookshops, Freedom from Faith, From Bad to Verse | 10 Comments »