Faith and…uh…charity?

On last Sunday’s show, Matt and I got into it with one caller where we ended up pointing out, repeatedly, that religion is no less selfish than any other human activity. Certainly there is altruism in the things many people do. But altruism is usually understood as doing good for others without expectation of reward or personal benefit. And you don’t find this activity in religious environments, with few exceptions. People pretty much practice whatever religion they subscribe to because they want something. You hear this admitted plainly by Christians who try to argue that God is necessary for morality. “If there were no God,” they say, “I’d just go out and do whatever, kill people, who cares?” In other words, if there’s no reward awaiting them for good behavior, why be good? Selfishness in its most childish form.

In the case of religion as an institution, it always wants something. And that something is more converts.

We see this no more plainly than in the case of religious charities. These little exercises are certainly undertaken due to the self-interest of the sponsors, regardless of what they may say. They’re eager to be picking up brownie points with God, racking up a good Heavenly credit rating. And they get to show off how pious they are for the public, which, hopefully, will be good for business. I suppose that’s a small kind of selfishness, and not in and of itself worthy of criticism.

Thing is, some churches take it a little too far. Case in point: the First Reformed Church of Hackensack, NJ. I’m not sure what they’re claiming to be “reformed” from, but after this little embarrassment, some reform will surely be necessary.

Seems this church was litting a charity not directly affiliated with them, the FAITH Foundation, use their facilities for a Christmas dinner for about 100 homeless people. The church laid down a rule that homeless attendees first had to be subjected to prayers and a sermon — in short, a full scale church service — prior to being fed. In short: sales pitch first, then food.

The shelter’s own director, Robin Reilly, realizing most of the attendees hadn’t eaten a thing in more than 24 hours, went ahead and served dinner without the required god-bothering. Result: the church kicked her out. No Jesus, no food, is the rule at the First Reformed Church, evidently. Perhaps what they’ve been “reformed” from is basic human decency.

Robin Reilly did the right thing, and she’s clearly one of the rare exceptions in an entire religious “charity” industry that’s really all about targeting the most vulnerable people in our culture as easy converts. She’s apparently had trouble before, failing to get the right permits and that sort of thing. But overall she’s clearly a person who wants to help those who need help. Apparently the True Christians at the First Reformed Church have a difference of opinion concerning the idea that the Christmas season is all about the spirit of giving, the milk of human kindness, and all that hippie crap. Nope, Jesus is the reason for the season, and you better drop to your miserable knees now and realize that fact, you homeless piece of shit. Hell, you’re practically falling down from starvation already, so it ought to be easy for you, right? And if not, well, hell, why don’t you just get a job?

Today’s “Duh!” moment

From the WaPo:

Teenagers who pledge to remain virgins until marriage are just as likely to have premarital sex as those who do not promise abstinence and are significantly less likely to use condoms and other forms of birth control when they do, according to a study released today.

The new analysis of data from a large federal survey found that more than half of youths became sexually active before marriage regardless of whether they had taken a “virginity pledge,” but that the percentage who took precautions against pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases was 10 points lower for pledgers than for non-pledgers

Abstinence-only sex education is an exemplar of the neocon/religious right way of handling problems: wishful thinking. But it’s no substitute for education. Teach students about the actual consequences of irresponsible and careless sexual behavior, teach them the benefits of protecting yourself and realizing that you’re the one who makes the decisions about your body and no one else, and they’ll be much better off. Basic human urges simply can’t be swept under the rug with ritualized denialism. But they can be properly controlled and channelled if you have a good idea what can happen to you if you don’t exercise a little common sense in knowing when to act, and when not to act, upon those urges.

Today on the show: Atheist evangelism

Today I’m cohost, and I’ll be talking briefly about some recent efforts at atheist evangelism, specifically some highly publicized signs, billboards and bus ads, and I’ll give my opinion on what I think are effective versus ineffective approaches to promoting atheism in the public square. This will basically be following up on recent posts here on the matter.


In other news, a T-shirt update: 32 still available for reservation out of the original 100.


Well, I didn’t get to discuss my topic much, but that’s because the calls were roaring in from the get-go and talking to callers is infinitely more interesting than anything I’d find to prattle on about. The chat room accompanying the online stream was on fire, too. Fun show today, overall.

Bloggy slowness?

Had a commenter or two mention the blog seems to load a bit slowly. I’ve noticed on both Mac Safari and Windows Firefox, the main body of the blog loads normally, but there appears to be something in the sidebar causing a traffic jam. I suspect it could be that scrolling blogroll, but I’m not sure. Can’t be the Paypal button; that’s very simple code and I’ve never known a Paypal button to slow down any other page they’re on.

Anyone else experiencing this?


Just sat here counting in my head, and by golly, the blog took a full 17 seconds before it fully loaded (that is to say, it was 17 seconds before the cursor stopped being an hourglass and I had full mouse control over the page). In Internet terms, 17 seconds is a small eternity. Hmm, what to do? Kazim?

Have we mentioned lately that Islamic culture is evil?

Well then, let’s take up the slack, shall we? From Saudi Arabia, that oasis of egalitarian, progressive civilization at its apex [/snark], comes word that a court has ruled that the 8-year-old child bride of a 47-year old man, married off to him by her father as a way of paying off the father’s debts to the man, will not be able to have the marriage annulled. But hey, at least the court is doing its best to let everyone know how fair they’re being about all this. After all, they’ve gotten the groom to agree not to consummate the marriage until the girl reaches puberty, which means, lucky thing, that she’s got until about age 11 or 12 before she gets raped. And once she hits puberty, she’ll be allowed to file for divorce with the court. I’m sure they’ll just as fair to her then as they’re being now!

There are human rights organizations, apparently, even within Saudi Arabia, who are vehemently opposed to these arranged child marriages. How these organizations manage to exist without being regularly raided and their members dragged into the street and shot (oh, I forgot, “beheaded” is more Saudi style) is a question for another time. All we need to remember now is how this is just another indicator of how sick a society can get when fundamentalist religion — especially one as barbaric and misogynist as Islam — runs the show, and how, even a full decade into the 21st century, there are still victims of pre-medieval injustices living and suffering around the world today.

It would be nice if the US were willing to take a principled stand on this sort of thing. But you see, a little bit of oil is enough to lubricate a conscience rusty with such built-up gunk as “integrity” and “principle”. And Saudi Arabia has much more than a little bit of oil to go around. Let’s see, they force pre-pubescent kids into marriage, their radicalized young men crash planes into our buildings…but they’ll always be our “allies”. As long as the pumps are going.

Ray probably exists, I think…

Ray has asked for evidence that Darwin existed and, as expected, has decided to imitate his strawman view of atheists by declaring every piece of evidence unacceptable because we can’t be absolutely certain.

Here’s my response:

“Ray’s right, we can’t be absolutely certain that Darwin existed. We can’t be absolutely certain about any historical event.

But absolute certainty is a red herring, the only issue is one of reasonable certainty – that a claim has been verified as ‘most probably true’, to the best of our ability to do so. Some claims have more supporting evidence than others. Additionally, some claims require more evidence than others before they become ‘reasonable’.

The only answer anyone needed to give, and the only answer that is correct is this:

We have sufficient evidence to claim that Darwin most probably existed and that the events attributed to his life (the voyage on the Beagle, his writings, articles about him by contemporaries – favorable and unfavorable, his family line, etc) are most probably accurate.

The same is true for George Washington, though the “I cannot tell a lie” story is most likely false, and there may be other romanticized, mytho-heroic tales attributed to him which aren’t very accurate.

The same cannot be said for Paul Bunyan or King Arthur… or Jesus.

When we try to determine whether a particular historical figure existed, we have to collect the stories about them to define the personage we’re trying to verify. If the preponderance of evidence confirms a significant portion of those stories, it’s very probable that the individual existed.

If the stories are supported by nothing more than anecdotal evidence or hearsay, they’re unreliable. If they also include claims of supernatural/magical abilities, they’re better relegated to the “tall tales” bin.

Ray has mistakenly tried to represent the case for Jesus as being of a similar nature to the question of Darwin’s existence. They’re not remotely comparable – and if we find out tomorrow that Darwin never existed, that he was a fictitious invention, it doesn’t change a single thing about the science of evolution or the value of the discoveries attributed to him. The same isn’t true for Jesus.

Ray is comparing apples and motorcycles and making a childish appeal to absolute certainty where no such appeal is required or justified.”

Though that will come as no surprise to anyone.

Merry Christmas (to those celebrating it for any reason). Happy Holidays, or not, to those who celebrate something else, or nothing at all. :)

‘Tis the season for naked commerce!

See that sexay Atheist Experience blog logo to the right there? It’s currently being silk-screened on T-shirts. Admit it, you’re too stylish not to wear one. I’m printing up a hundred (real screen printing, not the transfer stuff you get using online p.o.d. services), but it’s easy enough to place a phone call if more are needed, so don’t worry about size availability.

For those of you of a green bent, I’m considering totes too. What think you?

Matt Dillahunty has also been asked by some of the TV show viewers about offering a wider variety of ACA or AE TV show merch — stuff like shirts, mousepads, more mugs, whatever. He replied that he’s thinking about that. If he or the organization ever decide to offer such stuff, assuming there’s an interest, he’ll offer it here as well as the regular TV show site if he wishes. What might you like to see, specifically?

And now, a rant: Christians can’t be happy unless they’re making gays unhappy. That’s mean. Mean people suck.

What a sickening cesspool of hate and fear Christianity has become. How can so many of its adherents live with themselves, when they actively take steps to bully, victimize, and bring misery to the lives of a group of people for the sole crime of being different? Word comes from California that it isn’t enough for the supporters of Proposition H8 that they’ve banned gay marriage. Now they want to nullify the thousands of marriages that were performed in the few brief weeks that gays and lesbians actually got to see what having a basic human right was like.

Look, I know there are many decent and tolerant Christians out there who were (and are) opposed to Prop H8, and supportive of gay rights and marriage equality. I’d suggest that if those people are intelligent enough to support those things, then they’re intelligent enough to know that all of Christianity’s superstitions about God and Satan and Heaven and Hell and choirs of angels and talking donkeys are bullshit, too. And the moral character they possess that, in addition to their intelligence, allows them to support equality and tolerance is something they possess despite, not because of, their Christianity. You can’t get morals from an immoral religion. If you’re progressive, tolerant, humane, decent, and Christian, well, one of those things is a fifth wheel. Pop it off. You don’t need it.

After all, it’s that fifth wheel that allows these confused people to set up websites called ProtectMarriage.com whose stated agenda is to destroy marriages by the thousands. See, a person who really was both intelligent and moral would see the oxymoron there, and say, “Hey, I’m being conned!”

Honestly, why is it that conservative Christians (who would be likely, actually, to agree with my assessment that tolerant progressives shouldn’t be Christian either, as everyone knows they are the only True Christians) can’t be happy unless they’re making gays and lesbians unhappy at every opportunity? Because, you know. That’s mean. Mean people suck. But then, so does Christianity. So it makes sense, I guess.

I get the impression that these are the family “values” True Christians enthusiastically favor, eh?

Obama’s first big screwup

Everyone is bitching about Barack Obama’s ill-advised choice to ask pop-pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his inauguration. I agree. Bad move, bad choice, total pandering. Warren talks a moderate game, but his views are not basically less conservative than the more blustery evangelicals out there. Warren’s support of Proposition 8 (aka Proposition H8) in California last month sends a message to the gay community that this supposedly liberal new president may not necessarily be as friendly to their concerns as one might think.

I know that Obama and Warren likely don’t see eye to eye on every single issue, and gay rights may be one of those issues. But you know, the company you keep says a lot about you. You’d think Obama might have learned a lesson about dubious religious affiliations earlier this year, what with all the flap about Wright. But maybe not. This could just be show business and not an indicator of how Obama’s first term will play out in the big picture. But…it does seem as if Obama will bear watching. We shouldn’t take him for granted, as many of his supporters have done, as some great progressive “messiah” who will usher in a new golden age in America, not just yet.

Dec 14th Atheist Experience Topic

In a recent AE list dialogue, I was referred to as a Conspiracy Theorist on two counts. The first count was that I stated that while I would not say Jesus never existed, I also could not say that I am certain that he did. The second count was that I stated that the church drove the “official” doctrine by creating an environment where the more powerful and popular positions simply eliminated opposition–sometimes by execution, exile or destroying dissident books.

So, the intended topic for today will be a bit about Christian history, the shaping of doctrine and the historical response to “heresy.” Assuming we get to it, we’ll cover the idea that there were, in fact, divisions from the time the foundations of the church were being laid. Arguments between the apostles themselves and problems between apostles and the churches are clearly recorded in the New Testament texts.

The idea, that seems to be widespread in modern Christianity, that there was a time of doctrinal unity in the early Christian church, to which they should also adhere, is simply incorrect. There has never been a unified Christian doctrine, but Constantine (Roman Emperor, 272-337 CE) attempted to remedy that when he made Christianity the official religion of Rome. If Christianity was to be endorsed and promoted by the government, it had to be defined–and that proved to be quite a task. He appointed Eusebius to work on producing a collection of texts while he called for a series of meetings (Nicea) to try and determine what would become the official church doctrine moving forward. The manuscripts Eusebius would collect would be used in conjunction with the doctrines determined in these debates. And his anthology would eventually (some centuries later) become the Bibles (there are still multiple “official” versions that contain different books) we recognize today as authoritative–meant to reflect and support a doctrine determined not by Jesus and his apostles, but rather by processes put in place much later by the Roman government. The Bible is, then, the result of an attempt to unify the Christian schisms in Rome under a legal Christian doctrine endorsed by Constantine, and to put an end to dissension, by force if necessary. Despite well documented history, the idea that the book is a message from god to Christians today has somehow sprung up and entrenched itself with modern fundamentalist Christians–many of whom are sometimes completely unaware of the basic facts surrounding the production of what today they labeled as “God’s Word.”

Some names and events to bone up on: Arius, Montanus, Priscillian of Avila, Nestorius, Library of Serapeum in Alexandria, Peter Abelard, Cathars of Languedoc / Albigensian Crusade.