My Old Kentucky Homesite

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Please Pass the Sour Grapes, Henry

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 08/01/2010

I’d rather be right than be president.
Kentucky Senator Henry Clay

OK, the winners of the Lexington Herald-Leader  “The Best of Everything”  Readers’ Choice 2010 poll have been announced, and apparently I am not the most popular Local Media Personality (newspaper, TV. radio, blogger).  Nor am I the city’s most popular Pet Groomer, Cosmetic Surgeon, or Place to Worship.

No specific numbers were published, so, lacking evidence, we have to take the results on faith. The most popular media personality in Lexington is Leland Conway, who is — you’ll never believe this — a conservative radio commentator. The runners-up are a TV weatherman, and an early morning guy who claims he gets “to meet the greatest people on the earth: Kentuckians!”  (FYI: The exclamation point is his.)  Unfortunately, those people weren’t great enough to spell his last name correctly. It’s Cruse, not (as the newspaper editors wrote) Cruise. No relation to Tom or Carnival.

The poll is disappointing in other areas, too. Lexington is, happily, home to a number of decent all-day breakfast joints, but the readers’ favorite Place to Eat Breakfast/Brunch is that uniquely Bluegrass entity, the chain-restaurant Cracker Barrel (yuck). I guess the greatest people on the earth don’t necessarily enjoy gorging on one another’s pancakes.

There are dozens of local hamburger eateries here, too, some pretty good. But the second favorite Burger Joint is a national one, Wendy’s (also yuck).  Have you given up lite beer for low-end wine? You’ll probably be pleased to know that the second favorite Place to Buy Wine and Spirits is Kroger, an Ohio-based grocery chain.

I don’t really get it. Lexington is overrun with local boosters. Everywhere you go, you’ll hear about our basketball team, our horses, our bourbon, our coal, our god. Yet, when asked to choose their favorites in food, they ignore the local talent, and settle for bland national chains. Perhaps Lexingtonians don’t eat out because they’re too busy staying at home listening to right-wing radio and watching the latest news about rain.

That would seem to be the case, because the name of one of the finalists in Place for Patio Dining has a parenthetical next to it: “(NOW CLOSED).” I guess all the genteel Southern love , even from the greatest people on the earth, wasn’t sufficient to keep it from being affected by the recession. I’m pretty sure that our popular weatherman would blame the closure on meteorological phenomena. But I wonder how Leland Conway could conceivably turn it into Nancy Pelosi fault’s.

Posted in New to Kentucky, Random Rants, Useless Lists | 19 Comments »

Who Wants to Join Me in a Sing-Along?

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 07/22/2010

I’ve always hated the summer. It’s too goddamned hot, f’cryinoutloud. So I get particularly cranky about bullshit when July and August roll around.

I  get so tired of hearing the same stupid arguments over and over again from theists. Their proofs of the existence of a god are beneath contempt, and don’t even deserve a reply.

I also get tired of reading philosophical claptrap written ad nauseam by some atheist bloggers.

A_Blogger: I’m addressing this to the Christians who read my blog.
Me: Nice one! You’re about to make some devastating argument against religion that absolutely no one has thought of yet, right?
A_Blogger: Well, maybe somebody has thought of it. But my Christian readers may not have seen it before.
Me: And the millions of religonists who read your blog regularly will suddenly have their eyes opened here by your brilliant insights on Nobody_Gives_A_Shit_What_I_Write.com?
A_Blogger: Not millions. But a few lurkers, maybe.
Me: What, like a thousand? A hundred? Ten?
A_Blogger: Every person counts.
Me: Toward what? Are you an evangelical?

A_Blogger: We atheists have to show that you can be good without any gods.
Me: Just like theists show that their god makes them good?
A_Blogger: Well, one of religion’s biggest arguments is that morality comes from their god.
Me: Then ask them to prove it. And have them give examples from history. And don’t let them get away with defining morality to include their silly precepts against dancing or drinking or gambling or any other biblically disapproved activities. Make them tell you what actions are and aren’t moral, and how they know which is which.
A_Blogger: Still, we ought …
Me: And who’s this “we” you keep talking about?

A_Blogger: Atheists in America have to organize.
Me: I agree. We shouldn’t vote for anyone who doesn’t believe 100% in separation of church and state.
A_Blogger: Yes!
Me: So we shouldn’t support any candidate or elected official who refers to “God” or who panders to the religious zealots in the country, as Obama did when he expanded the Office of Faith-Based and “Neighborhood” — ha!— Partnerships?
A_Blogger: Well, sometimes we have to take the lesser of two evils.
Me: I thought you said we have to organize.
A_Blogger: Yeah, we do. But we can’t accomplish all our goals at once.
Me: What goals do we have besides promoting separation of church and state?
A_Blogger: We need to advocate for reason.
Me: So we shouldn’t ally ourselves with any public figure who perpetuates unreason? Like, say, telling the public how good prayer is, as Obama did in his speech about the oil crisis?
A_Blogger: Obama doesn’t really believe that stuff. He only says it to …
Me: … to pander to the religious zealots in the country? And to perpetuate unreason?

A_Blogger: The world would be a better place if religion were to disappear.
Me: So people would miraculously change from being the assholes that they are if they had no gods to pray to?
A_Blogger: Well, at least they wouldn’t have any nonsense to believe in.
Me: So you’re saying that there’s no nonsense aside from religion?
A_Blogger: No, I’m not saying that. Don’t put words in my mouth. But religion is a worse kind of nonsense than …
Me: Than political nonsense? Than legal nonsense? Than economic nonsense? Than literary nonsense? Than artistic …
A_Blogger: Look, if religion were gone, that would be just one less kind of nonsense for us to have to deal with.
Me: Who’s “us”?

You can come up with variations of those conversations, but they always boil down to the same ol’ thing.

By the way, I’m also bored with Republicans and Democrats, all media commentators, and basically anyone who tries to sell me on his or her opinion about anything. I’m enervated daily by fans of the U.K. Wildcats, Lexington “boosters,” and genteel Southerners. I’m sick of folks who buy lite beer. And I’ve had it up to here with people who tweet (except birders trying to attract rare species).

So I’ve adopted, as a personal anthem, this little ditty by one of my favorite singers.

By the way: I may feel slightly less curmudgeonly when mid-September finally arrives.

Posted in Freedom from Faith, Music, Random Rants | 26 Comments »

When The Lights Go On Again (All Over the World)

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 06/26/2010

While reading my previous post, some of you may have been wondering if I was indirectly praising Roman Catholicism and Judaism. The short answer is: nope. I do think that Catholic and Jewish households may provide an environment in which falling away from those odious superstititions is easier than in, say, Protestant or Muslim households. But the teachings of religious “leaders” — ha! — of any persuasion are always geared toward keeping the faithful in the dark. These days, in fact, officials of the Roman Catholic Church are trying to dim not only the glow of reason, but also the torch of justice.

Many of you know that in 2004, three men in Kentucky filed a case against the Vatican for criminal negligence in failing to protect children against, and for covering up, widespread instances of child abuse. Their attorney, William McMurry, filed a class-action suit against the Catholic Church’s Hide-out in the name of hundreds of victims across the United States. Part of his reasoning is that American bishops are either employed by, or officers of, the Vatican.

McMurry has been trying to get the U.S. District Court in Louisville to (1) order the release of Roman Catholic administrative documents, (2) allow him to depose Pope Benny. The Catholic Church, of course, argues that (1) no evidence has been established linking officials in the Holy-Shit City to boy-rape in America, and (2) Il Papa is a head of state, so deposing him would violate international law.

As of Thursday, the arguments by both sides were submitted to the Court. But even if the judges find in the victims’ favor, could the ruling be enforced?

My gut-feeling was, originally, “no.”

But then I got to thinking. An international conspiracy to abuse children or abet their abuse is clearly terrorism. At very least, the Vatican officials are aiding and/or providing a safe haven to terrorists.

We will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.

George W. Bush on September 20, 2001

I think our country’s duty is clear. There’s plenty of evidence against the Catholiban. So, for the good of America and all freedom-loving peoples around the world, we must invade the Vatican.

And, hey! I’ve even found an appropriate tune for our civilians at home to sing. Since the Roman Catholic Church has been a champion at disseminating intellectual darkness for centuries and centuries, I suggest that we cheer on our troops with this old song from World War II.

Posted in Freedom from Faith, Random Rants | 17 Comments »

Is Hating “Hate Crimes” a Hate Crime?

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 06/23/2010

In a truly free country where the intellectual climate wasn’t overwhelmed by a combination of right-wing Christian superstition and left-wing love-child emotionalism, it would be a truism that we don’t all have to like one another. We’d be free to express our feelings that our neighbor is an unbearable asshole, our boss a despicable jerk, and our family members worse than troglodytes. In short, we’d be free to dislike, even hate, one another. And we’d also be free to hate whole groups of people based on their ethnicities, races, nationalities, genders, age-ranges, geographical backgrounds, even their professions and hair-styles.

What we wouldn’t be free to do is to act on our hatreds in any way that broke the law. Because breaking the law is just that: breaking the law. So, obviously, we couldn’t use our antipathies for a specific group to justify killing one another, stealing from one another, or defrauding one another. We couldn’t plead that our prejudices made it OK for us to assault anyone, rape somebody, or burgle a person’s house.

In other words, we couldn’t explain away crimes as a result of our hatred. In a reasonable country, crimes would be crimes, regardless of their motives. All illegal activities would be prosecuted equally. The government would not try to enter the mind-reading business, which is an enterprise doomed to failure — or abuse.

However, here in the U.S. of A., the Jesus-is-love crowd joined forces with the flower-power generation to come up with the concept of so-called “hate crimes.” These crimes can be prosecuted whenever the authorities make a distinction between kinds of motivations, and then go on to draw a conclusion about the “reasoning” behind a particular criminal activity. You beat up a person and stole his money because he was wearing clothes that made you think he was rich? That’s all right; we’ll put you on trial for robbery. You beat up a person and stole his money because he was wearing clothes that made you think he was gay? Sorry. You’re gonna be charged with a hate crime.

Because we as a society are so love-addled, we’re averse to the darker side of human emotions. So it’s easier for a prosecutor to get a guilty verdict when a defendant is charged with a hate crime. Juries love to hate someone who hates.

But I’m not comfortable creating a system of measurement for illegal activities. Honestly? If some thug were to kick me in the nuts and run away with my wallet, I wouldn’t be too concerned about what his motivation was.

My feeling is: if you did something that’s against the law, you should be arrested and tried. If found guilty, you should be jailed and/or fined. Unless you’re Jean Valjean, I don’t give a shit why you did what you did.

That’s why I’m against the entire concept of “hate crimes,” mostly because it’s stupid and makes an unnecessary distinction that neither acts as a deterrent nor furthers the cause of justice. But also because it’s a sneaky attempt to enforce “love” as the norm.

Imagine my shock and anger, therefore, when I read this article in today’s New York Times.

It seems that in Queens, prosecutors now don’t even have to try to prove “hate” to charge a criminal with a hate crime.

The legal thinking behind the novel method is that New York’s hate crimes statute does not require prosecutors to prove defendants “hate” the group the victim belongs to, merely that they commit the crime because of some belief, correct or not, they hold about the group.

So if you’ve bilked a few old, confused codgers because you believed that they were easier to fool than some young, alert guys, bingo! You committed a “hate crime.” Never mind that “hate” didn’t enter into it. Haven’t you ever heard of Newspeak?

Well, you’d better watch out, you young, alert guys. Sooner or later, you’re gonna be the only safe targets left. That is, until some enterprising Queens D.A. decides that stealing from you is a hate crime, too, because criminals happen to believe, correctly or not, that your group comprises the only safe targets left.

Can you say “reductio ad absurdum,” boys and girls?

Posted in Random Rants | 20 Comments »

A Bit of Sourness to Brighten Your Day

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 06/10/2010

The optimist thinks this is the best of all possible worlds. The pessimist fears it is true.
(J. Robert Oppenheimer)

It turns out that there are a rare few intelligent atheists in the Lexington area. One of them is Sherwood Burress, a pleasingly cranky new friend with whom I had an interesting conversation yesterday.

Sherwood was bemoaning the fact that most Americans seem to hold a largely undisputed, but nevertheless unfounded, belief that the “trajectory of history is positive.” Such a view of history, Sherwood said, “undergirds exceptionalism,” which “continues to befog our spectacles when we look at the world.”

Nice vitriol. And I agree with his assessment. Most of us atheists — and even many aatheists — realize that the species homo sapiens is not the zenith of nature, nor the greatest “achievement” of any god’s creation, nor the point to which evolution was headed. However, many of those same “rationalists” do make the mistake of discussing human history as if it had some kind of foreordained direction. Onward and upward. To infinity and beyond.

But think about it. History has no trajectory at all. It’s just peaks and valleys, peaks and valleys, peaks and valleys, over and over and over again, with occasional, but recurring, plummets into the abyss of ignorance, and once in a great while a relatively short spurt of intellectual mountain-building. Of course, one man’s peak is another man’s precipice.

I get so tired of hearing statements that begin:

It’s the 21st century, so you’d think …

Quite frankly, I’d think … nothing, or at least, not the kind of drivel that usually follows those ellipses. It makes perfect sense to me that, for instance, BP doesn’t know how to fix its own gusher and clean up its eco-mess; why would it? Some uncontrolled companies have grown too big to fail. Duh, of course! Fundamentalists of all religions are waging war against one another all over the globe, and using the most deadly resources available. Why should anyone assume that they wouldn’t?

I’m not shocked that our country seems to be getting more and more ignorant and theocratic by the day. It should have been obvious from the nation’s birth that such a thing was bound to happen. We’re governed by humans, aren’t we? Yes, some of the so-called Founders had the brilliant idea to try building safeguards against the “populist” mentality into the Constitution. But, unfortunately, they didn’t anticipate a culture in which “majority rules” — essentially, “might makes right!” — is a kind of mindless mantra. Nor did they foresee that most of the country’s bastions of learning would be taken over by professional sports promoters, or that our main source of news would be a piece of furniture in front of which we passively sit while words and images lull us into a stupor.

It’s awesome, in the old-fashioned sense of the word, that our current knowledge of science has reached a level not heretofore attained. But we’d better be mindful that all of our learning can be wiped out in a mere historical “second.” I don’t see any reason to assume that the Dark Ages were an anomaly. Ignorance persists, and it’s always stronger and more widespread than intelligence. I’ve yet to see evidence that wisdom is a genetic benefit.

But just look at our progress, some of you may argue. Everyone with access to a computer has the ability to find all kinds of information instantly today. Isn’t that a huge boon to the advancement of knowledge? Won’t our species grow increasingly enlightened as we become more and more educated? I’d argue: Yeah, we have some pretty amazing communication tools, unheard of in the past. And, f’Chrissakes, we’ve got “aps” for everything. But most of the messages that are communicated, the vast majority of fact-nuggets that we exchange with one another, are probably no more cogent than primitive drumbeats. In what way are semi-literate tweets an improvement over the expressive grunts of our ancestors?

So, it’s the 21st century. Congratulations on being able to count from Jesus to 2,010.

But try not to be too smug about it, eh?

Posted in Random Rants | 27 Comments »

Half-Open Thread

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 06/08/2010

What should I write about today? Sometimes, there’s too much material floating around out there in the ether. At my advanced age, I find it difficult to multi-vent.

Still, each of the following videos pisses me off for more than one reason. If I started writing a post about all of them combined, I’m afraid that I’d never be able to stop.

That’s where you readers come in. I suspect that at least some of these demonstrations of idiocy will get you angry, too.

So in this open — sorta — thread, I invite you to comment on any or all of these infuriating examples of horse-droppings. Have fun snarking, and rest assured that I’ll join you.

Video #1.

Video #2.

Video #3.

Video #4.

Video #5.

Posted in Random Rants | 36 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 »

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 »

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.

Auggghhh!

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 »