Open thread about AE #672

We’ve received some pleas lately to have threads available to discuss the shows when they happen, so I’m going to try and grant that request. If you can’t see a thread started each week, feel free to drop a line to [email protected] asking for it.

I’m listening to the show right now, and I just finished with Denise the Christian caller hanging up on Matt. Good stuff. Want more. Our thanks to the person who taunted her into it.

Clearly this is a discussion that is long overdue

Before a dozen people send me a link to this article: A Rational Approach to Irrationality let me just say that I’ve read it, it’s more accommodationist dribble and as I agree with Jerry Coyne on the subject, I’ll just send you over to read his response.

The only thing I’ll add is this:

Pretending that religious delusions are harmless makes you part of the problem.
Promoting your kinder, gentler skepticism by way of decidedly unskeptical methods (unsupported assertions, emotional appeals and encouragements to be less critical with one’s critical thinking) betrays the principles that make skepticism something people should aspire toward.

For the accommodationists, I’ll put it bluntly, as the more diplomatic responses seem to go unanswered: You’re still skeptics. You can still call yourself a skeptics (anyone can). You can still be part of the group and attend events and talk about skepticism…. but you’re a very poor skeptic in this area. You’ve demonstrated a preference for style over substance and shown that you’re willing to water down your skepticism for marketing purposes.

That’s your prerogative – but if you continually try to pretend that you hold the skeptical high ground while encouraging others to water down their skepticism or disparaging those who most consistently apply skepticism, you’ve become part of the problem and the unapologetic defenders of reason, inquiry and skepticism will continue to call you out on this.

Doing my part to spread the word

Back during a few months when the TV show was being filmed from “Dillahunty International Studios” rather than its normal location at the public access TV station, we stopped eating at Threadgill’s for a while and started going to a place near Lakeline Mall called Pluckers Wing Bar. Some people didn’t like it, but I managed to get mildly addicted to their hot wings. :)

There’s this challenge at Pluckers, that if you eat 25 “Fire in the Hole” wings, you get your picture taken for inclusion on the “Wall of Flame.” I’ve been meaning to leave my mark there, so yesterday I skipped breakfast and lunch and went for it.

The picture I got is of me giving an anguished stare at the empty basket of bones. Written in sharpie at the bottom is the inscription: “There is NO GOD!” If you want to drop by and admire my handywork, I’m on the left side of the board near the ceiling, as that was the best spot I could find on the fairly crowded wall.

Also got a t-shirt for cheap (unless you count the price of 25 wings) so that I can proudly display my accomplishment the next time I’m on TV. I feel enriched and character developed, let me tell ya.

Good cop, bad cop?

Here’s a chance to really demonstrate a problem (although it might guarantee that I’m not asked to speak at the University of Oregon)…

Lucy Gubbins has weighed in on the recent discussions about the skeptic schism.

She and I seem to agree on some things but she’s managed to frame this entire subject so poorly that the good points almost get lost in the fray and she finishes it off with a call for the “firebrands” to be more accommodating of the accommodationists.

“In interactions with religious people, do we need the Good Cop, or the Bad?

As often as I hear this dialogue, the answer seems to be, surprisingly, the same: we need both.”

I’m in agreement that we need many different voices to present information in many different ways to ensure that we have the best chance of reaching the largest audience, but when we start portraying this as “good cop” and “bad cop”, we’ve already erred. Those of us who are most likely to be tossed into the “bad cop” category simply don’t belong there because that category doesn’t exist.

In reality, if we’re going to stick with the cop analogy: we have an entire police force watching the highways and we all have discretionary control over when we’re going to give a warning and when we’re going to give a ticket or make an arrest.

“What happens when a nonbeliever appears who doesn’t loathe religion, and doesn’t find religious mockeries all that funny? And what happens when this nonbeliever is a vocal opponent of what the “Bad Cops” are doing?”

That’s actually pretty simple: they’re entitled to their opinion but it doesn’t mean that they get to define the skeptic or atheist community for others.

Sticking with the cop metaphor, these are the cops who are happy to give out tickets for reckless driving but they don’t like giving out speeding tickets until someone is exceeding the speed limit by more than 30 MPH…and they’re telling the cops that give out speeding tickets that they don’t like what they’re doing and they wish they’d stop.

Who are the bad cops? Are they the ones who cut too many breaks or too few? I’d say that both extremes are problematic…but I don’t think we really see those extremes. What we see are people pretending that someone has crossed a line when they haven’t and it all comes down to ego and personal offense. Here’s a scenario that better represents the problem:

I pull someone over for a busted tail light, check their license and registration and notice that their inspection sticker expired 3 months ago. I could give them a ticket for both, either or neither.

I decide to write a ticket for one and give a warning for the other.

My partner steps out of the car and says “Hey, don’t give them a ticket, it happens to everyone.” And when I point out that I’m going to give them a ticket for one of the infractions, my partner says “Now you’re just being a dick.”

My partner may be trying to claim that giving people tickets:
– isn’t effective in correcting the problem
– makes people dislike cops
– gives cops a bad name
– demonstrates that I’m an inflexible bully

My partner’s view is that you shouldn’t give people tickets unless there’s a very serious violation of the law. My view is that this is nonsense because that’s when you should arrest them.

” However, I’m willing to take a leap of faith and concede that yes, if we want a strong, diverse community, we need both sides. But to make this happen, folks: we need to start practicing what we preach.

That means that if we want to continue touting the idea that the secular movement is one with diversity of opinion, and that the “Good Cops” and “Bad Cops” are equally welcomed, we need to act like it. We need to stop decrying the “accommodationists” and start supporting them, especially because they’re so underrepresented. “

If we’re going to support many different views, do we need to support the people who claim it’s wrong to support many different views? Because that’s what you’re suggesting. Of course not, that’s absurd – and that’s the point.

“And if you happen to be a firebrand who isn’t such a big fan of the diplomats? I humbly ask you to reconsider. You might be able to rally the secular troops, but you won’t have much chance reaching out to the vast majority of the world: the believers.”

I’ll go ahead and assume that I probably fit the “firebrand” category in Lucy’s opinion. (As far as I know, we’ve never spoken, so I may not fit that category…but the examples she provided make me suspect that I would.)

In that case, I not-so-humbly ask you to provide EVIDENCE to back up your assertion about the effectiveness of honestly and aggressively addressing religion. Because I’ve received many e-mails over the past 5 years that serve as evidence to the contrary – and Dawkins has an entire portion of his website devoted to that purpose as well.

What do the accommodationists have?

Finally:

“And without the ability to reach out, you lose a conversation, a dialogue, a chance to make the world a more secular-friendly place. And when that chance is gone, we lose everything.”

Clearly they have chicken little predictions based on gut feelings and a desire to “just get along”.

How has that worked out so far?

More risible moral arguments for God

One of my many godless Facebook friends (you mean you’re not one? — well, fine, be that way!) is a young Oregonian named Nathan who’s written some impressive essays that he’s posted to his Notes section, including a fine takedown of Zeitgeist. Sometimes, Christians in his own friends list try to challenge him on some of his Wall posts, and this happened most recently when Nathan posted a quote from Tracie to the effect that religious morality is little more than canine obedience. One Christian woman wrote the following, which I could not resist responding to.

It is important to remember that just as our perception of that which exists is limited, so is our idea of morality apart from its author.

Morality cannot exist merely because we perceive right and wrong in terms of human consequence….this type of moral structure is infinitely at odds with itself, ending in nothing but mere self-preservation. Societies that live at peace have not come up with a “morality that works” apart from the morality set forth in Scripture. You are assuming much when you suggest there might be any morality set forth by the secular world that has not been “borrowed” by the God of the universe. My premise, of course, is that God came first…we all came later.

So, then, we must also ask, is moral character conferred upon the author and creator of all things as you first implied, or does it exist because of that author? We are not the ones who attribute morality to God! We have, through the Scriptures, been given a glimpse of morality as it is merely a reflection of who God is. It comes from him. We do not define it or attribute it to Him. It is a reflection of the person of God, not an idea that floats around in our endlessly depraved minds.

That slurpy sound you hear is that of an atheist theatrically rolling his eyes. Seriously, every moral argument for God I’ve heard has been a total intellectual faceplant, but this one more than most. It really does read as if this woman is simply parroting claims she got from some apologetics source, without thinking them through for even a moment.

First off, in what way is a set of moral precepts based on an understanding of the consequences of actions any more “at odds with itself” than a set …of moral precepts simply handed down as rules from a divine authority figure who expects to be obeyed upon pain of eternal torture? The former has at least something to do with compassion, empathy, and kindness. The latter is little more than simple subservience based on fear.

Moral precepts rooted in human empathy and consequences, while no one would claim they are perfect, at least have a real-world referent. Human beings, being thinking creatures, can understand the difference between observed positive and negative consequences. Moreover, another point she ignores in her claim that secular morality leads only to “self-preservation” is the fact that we are a social species, and our instinct for self-preservation is still tied to species success. It is not the norm for human beings to exist in total isolation, and in order to coexist we develop behaviors that are beneficial to maintaining that coexistence. (And humans are far from the only species that do this. Basic moral behaviors have been observed in a number of primate species, as well as in such animals as dolphins and dogs.)

If anything, it is religious “morality” that stems from self-preservation, because a person who adopts moral behaviors simply in order to please a god whom he fears will punish him otherwise is not really a moral person, just a terrified, submissive and broken one. He has been given no reasons to be “good” other than to avoid negative consequences to himself. Beyond this he has been given no understanding of the positive benefits of his moral behavior. Religious morality, as has been said here many times, gives people bad reasons to be good. If you live a moral life simply to score yourself a ticket to heaven, you’re doing it wrong, and worst of all you haven’t been given the intellectual tools to understand why.

You’ll have noticed the woman responding to Nathan makes bold assertions that she glibly fails to back up in any way. At the same time, all she offers as support for her God’s alleged moral nature are tautologies (God is moral, morality is of God, is basically all she’s got), with a sprinkling of “and anyway, God’s just beyond our puny human perception.” These are not sound bases for an argument.

If her premise is that “that God came first…we all came later,” she must first support that premise with evidence before she begins to argue from it. She says that secularists are “assuming much when you suggest there might be any morality set forth by the secular world that has not been ‘borrowed’ by the God of the universe.” I would say that she’s assuming infinitely more when she claims that there is a “God of the universe” to begin with. Demonstrate through evidence that this is true first, then she can begin to argue that morals come from this God.

She asserts that “societies that live at peace have not come up with a ‘morality that works’ apart from the morality set forth in Scripture,” without, of course, citing any source to support this claim. Indeed, I suspect that the bulk of the world’s cultural anthropologists would be laughing their heads off about now. The Code of Hammurabi predates most Biblical writings, and Confucius came up with something very like The Golden Rule more than 500 years before Jesus is said to have done so. While you might argue that many of the punishments laid out by Hammurabi would be barbaric by modern standards, so would the morals of the Old Testament. After all, this is a book in which Lot, said to be the most virtuous of men, offers his daughters to a gang of rapists simply so that they’ll leave his male house guests alone. Later these same daughters get him drunk and have incestuous sex with him, because God wants them to. (God doesn’t explicitly command it, but given that this is one pissed off motherfucking deity who’s just firebombed the living shit out of two whole cities for their sexual shenanigans, it’s hard to imagine that He just stepped out to grab a smoke and totally missed the act of drunken incest, let alone failed to notice the subsequent pregnancies that gave rise to two whole new lineages.)

Among the “moral” precepts God is proud to have handed down to me is that I must be put to death for eating shellfish, gathering sticks on a Sunday, or having sex with a woman during her period. On the other hand, if I rape a girl, all I have to do is buy her from her father for 50 shekels, and it’s all good. If these “morals” are a reflection of “the person of God,” then God is a person I don’t care to know. (Oh yes, this God also explicitly, unambiguously, and without any possibility of spinning it otherwise, endorses slavery.)

I think if this woman ever chooses to crack a history book that hasn’t been vetted and redacted by fundamentalists, she’ll learn a thing or two: that the time when such modern concepts as human rights, equality, free speech — ideas that emerged from the “endlessly depraved minds” of people — began to take root is known as the Enlightenment. And this period is notable for the decline of the authority of religion over all of the affairs of humanity.

Finally, I’m going to repeat a point I made in my last post on this topic: what use would God have for morality? This is an all-powerful being, who needs to answer to no one at all for his deeds. He can never face any form of punishment for even the greatest atrocity he could conceive. Furthermore, why would God care if we were moral? If all God wants is our unyielding worship and adulation, why would morality need to be part of that equation? We could all wipe ourselves out in the worst of all possible wars, and God could simply chuckle and, being all-powerful and stu
ff, just recreate the human race from scratch. So why would God have bothered to “author” something like morality in the first place, when its own consequences could never apply to him, and its application to our own lives could not possibly be relevant to him?

Morality is entirely comprehensible when considered as an emergent social phenomenon occurring within social frameworks. It is incomprehensible when thought of as originating from a supernatural being utterly immune to its consequences or even its practical application.

On the difference between religion and woo

Rob Knop has a blog post called “The Difference Between Religion and Woo“. It’s yet another in a long line of passive-aggressive posts, comments and lectures that attempt to disparage skeptical critics of religion by simply claiming that they don’t understand the subject enough to make their criticisms valid.

Bollocks. If anything, it is Knop and his ilk who demonstrate that they don’t understand skepticism.

He begins with a question that, evidently, he feels is a stumper:

What makes Robert Frost so much more important to human culture than the stories I wrote when I was 7?

The answer is: nothing beyond personal preference. Neither his story nor a Frost poem have any intrinsic value. Their value, like all value, is the result of a mind attributing worth to an item. The fact that we, as similar creatures have many shared values and appreciate similar things is sufficient to explain why, on the whole, more people are more likely to value a Frost poem than his story. What makes a Frost poem more important to human culture? Humans.

There is no puzzle here and it’s not analogous to the subject of comparing religion to woo. This question is a bit of well-poisoning designed to imply that there are subjects that we cannot easily assess, quantify, measure or explain because they are matters of personal opinion.

Ironically, he expands on this theme by flatly asserting that skeptics offer trite, unfair analogies when discussing religion and claims that:

If you cannot see the difference between Russell’s teapot and the great world religions, then you’re no more qualified to talk about religion than the fellow who thinks that cultural bias is the only reason any of us believe in the Big Bang is qualified to talk about cosmology.

Unfortunately, it is Knop who demonstrates that he’s unqualified to talk about the skeptical analysis of religion as the point of Russell’s teapot is to demonstrate that untestable claims are, by their very nature, devoid of supporting evidence and acceptance of those claims cannot be rationally justified.

Religious claims fall into two categories: testable and untestable. Knop clearly identifies that testable religious claims (like creationism) can be assessed skeptically and rejected, but he doesn’t seem to note that there are two categories to rejection. The first is demonstration that a claim is false and the second is a demonstration that the claim has not been sufficiently supported by evidence to justify belief.

Untestable claims, by default, fall into that second category.

While it can be difficult to consistently apply skepticism, it’s fairly simple to describe skepticism:

Skepticism is the ideology that belief is proportioned to the evidence and skeptics strive to only accept those things as true which have been sufficiently supported by evidence.

Which means that untestable claims, by default, should not be accepted.

Even those who agree that ridiculing people for their beliefs is not only counter-productive, but just bad behavior, often don’t seem to think there’s any difference between the brand of religion practiced by Pamela Gay (or by myself, for that matter) and Creationism

Actually, I don’t really think that’s true. I can clearly see a difference between different religious claims and I’ve written about it many times (including here). Some claims are testable, and some aren’t.

The problem is that skeptical theists like Pamela Gay (I named a category after her and clearly Knop fits that category) want to claim that their beliefs address untestable claims and that skepticism simply doesn’t apply to those beliefs.

That’s not only nonsense, it’s the entire point behind Russell’s teapot and it’s not surprising that a theistic skeptic like Knop would miss this.

What skepticism has to say about untestable religious claims is very simple:

You cannot possibly meet the burden of proof and, therefore, acceptance of your claim is irrational and unjustified.

Yes, there is absolutely no scientific reason to believe in a God or in anything spiritual beyond the real world that we can see and measure with science. But that does not mean that those who do believe in some of those things can’t be every bit as much a skeptic who wants people to understand solid scientific reasoning as a card-carrying atheist.

Actually, it means EXACTLY that. It means that, of the two of us, I’m the one who is willing to be skeptical about ALL claims, including your untestable claims and by asserting that skepticism doesn’t apply to those claims, you are demonstrating that you are NOT “every bit as much a skeptic”.

It doesn’t mean you’re not a skeptic, or even a good skeptic, on other subjects. It doesn’t mean you’re an idiot and it doesn’t mean that you should be excommunicated from some non-existent skeptical cabal.

What it means is that you are not consistent in applying skepticism and that you’re rationalizing the reason why. In Knop’s case, he’s taken the popular route of trying to make those who disagree with him appear to be rigid thinkers, unable to see the subtleties of the human experience. It’s not only not true, it’s exactly backward: understanding the subtleties of human experience is what allows skeptics to identify the mistakes they make.

We all make mistakes. We are all unskeptical about something. We are all idiots on some subject or another… the best skeptics are those who strive to eliminate these mistakes, instead of making excuses for them. The best skeptics are those who strive to make their beliefs as consistent as possible with the truth, to the extent that evidence can support it. The best skeptics are those who, having had a gross rationalization exposed, seek to prevent it from happening in the future, instead of trying to shield it from critical examination.

If someone believes that an untestable, deistic god exists, that’s their prerogative and they need not ever defend it…but they don’t get to pretend that they’re being skeptical about this belief or that skepticism shouldn’t apply. And when they do attempt to defend it, they should do so honestly and not by trying to claim that those who challenge their beliefs managed to misunderstand skepticism.

They should do so by presenting evidence to support their beliefs and not by trying to claim that their beliefs should be immune from skeptical inquiry.

If his only point were to claim that religious beliefs are nothing more than personal opinions, he’s already lost because religious beliefs make claims about truth — not opinion. The idea that whether or not a god exists is merely a matter of opinion is as laughable and absurd as the idea that whether or not the Big Bang happened is merely a matter of opinion.

Your opinions have no bearing on truth. You’re entitled to them, but if you pretend that no one can evaluate your opinions about reality with respect to reality — you’re engaged in a sort of self-delusion that beggars credulity.

Prince Albert

Jerry Coyne has posted on the “don’t be a dick” subject and he seems to have written many of the same things I’ve written.

It’ll be interesting to see what, if anything, Phil says in response.

He could choose to be dishonest and dismissive, as he was with me.
He could address it fairly and actually participate in the discussion he claims is long overdue.
…Or, he could ignore it.

I know some people are sick of the subject and that’s understandable, but I’ll be making at least one more post on this subject – and I’m pretty sure that won’t be enough. This entire fiasco has simply demonstrated the schism that I’ve been talking about for more than a year and it’s unlikely to go away without some sort of resolution.

Still more on being a dick

This started as a comment on Matt’s post about being a dick, but when it got to a certain length, I decided to barge to the front of the line and write my own post. That is, no doubt, a dick move on my part. :)

The problem with Phil’s approach isn’t that there are no dicks in the atheist community. Obviously there are, as highlighted by the “all Christians are retarded” post linked in that thread. All Christians aren’t retarded, and that’s a dick thing to say. One point for Phil.

The real problem is that by focusing on it in a speech this way, Phil gives the clearly false impression that this is systemic to the “leaders” of the “new atheist” “movement” (to the extent that there are leaders and it is a movement that is new, although I join many in despising the “new” designation).

There’s a bait-and-switch which always seems to go on in these discussions. PZ Myers, Dawkins, and we on TAE, do what we can to attack ideas and not people at every opportunity. Some people are dumb, but none of us wants to paint with a broad brush everyone who holds a belief as universally dumb. We say that up front, and we don’t hesitate to call specific ideas dumb, if it’s warranted. By focusing on the ideas we can pay attention to WHY they’re dumb, rather than calling names of people who, after all, are complex individuals with many different ideas and motivations.

We do attack ideas, but we attack them in a way that sometimes offends people. The point, though, is that the people who are taking offense are often doing so due to unreasonable beliefs. Like PZ Myers and his “frackin’ cracker.” It’s less about the offensive language and more about the fact that certain people believe the cracker is the body of Jesus — which it clearly isn’t — and they are willing to terrorize and intimidate people who don’t treat it with the respect due to a magical cracker — which it isn’t. It’s about the fact that people should be allowed to draw cartoons with Mohammed as a character — clearly an activity that harms no one except by annoying them — without receiving death threats.

In a nutshell, this is about drawing attention to an activity which shouldn’t be offensive but is. It is taking a stand to say that religious devotees cannot draw arbitrary battle lines and say “We hereby intend to be offended by activity X, and unless you cease and desist from doing X at all times, you are a dick.” I actually see a lot of parallel between this issue and the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque”, which is neither a Mosque nor at ground zero. On that subject, an opinion seems to be coalescing, even among people who are trying to appear reasonable, that “those Muslims have the right to build a cultural center there, but good taste dictates that they should not do it.”

I reject that. I think if anything, this whole crapstorm has made it more apparent that those Muslims should build their cultural center right where they damn well said they would, because if they give up ground on this issue then there won’t be a spot in America where they are allowed to build anything, ever. Free speech and free assembly aren’t just symbolic. If those rights aren’t exercised then we can still lose them.

I’m willing to have a reasonable discussion about what are the best methods for exercising our free speech to deal with unreasonable taboos. Sure , Phil, in a few situations it may be preferable to be polite and observe the taboos that you disagree with, depending on how important the fight is. I reject, however, the categorical statement that you shouldn’t do things that might make some group think you’re a dick. That way lies capitulation to every unrealistic demand of a new Taliban.

But Phil Plait would also like to strengthen his case by sneakily conflating two things. On one hand, we have posts that say “All Christians are Retards,” a statement which is both dickish and false. On the other hand, we have PZ Myers throwing his cracker in the trash. By conflating the two, we can be left with the impression that PZ Myers calls all Christians retards, when in reality the two acts are not equivalent.

It just seems to me that way too often, saying “Don’t be a dick” is actually code for “Shut up and accept it when other people are dicks to you.”

Is everything about religion bad?

Someone wrote recently to ask “Is everything about religion bad?” My reply was that religion can be used to channel the good or the bad in some people. But it has the additional downside of channeling some good people toward bad. So, I would rather advocate promoting good using reason than using religion which comes at a heavy cost.

His reply was not an uncommon one, basically that when good comes out of religious work we should credit religion, but when bad comes out of religious work, we should not credit religion. This boils down to “When people do what I would do in the name of religion, they’re interpreting it correctly; when they don’t do what I would do in the name of religion, they are clearly interpreting something wrong.” Bear in mind the people “incorrectly interpreting” it say the person making this accusation is the person incorrectly interpreting it.

In this particular case, the writer noted that religion is subject to interpretation, is produced by flawed ancient men, and that it should both (1) be given to uneducated people to give them hope, but (2) not be expected to be understood accurately by uneducated people who sometimes are inspired by it to do what it actually says (that is kill gays, instruct people not to wear condoms, thwart education, be misogynistic, and so on).

I pointed out that I had no way to determine who, if anyone, was able to correctly “interpret” a Bible. We can’t all be right—but we can all be wrong. He replied: “I don’t care if it’s wrong” (only whether or not it inspires good).

Think of that: I take a religious book that says that it’s good to love others and also that it’s good to kill others. I don’t know if anything in the book is true, and more to the point, I don’t care if it’s true. But I advocate giving that religion to people for the good it does. When some people say they love others because of the religion, I praise the religion, for the love it inspires. But when people say they’re killing others because of the religion, I say it’s not the religion’s fault, because clearly this group doesn’t know how to interpret the holy book that says to both love and kill one another. Further, by filtering reality this way, I can keep handing this religion to everyone, and claiming it only does good.

In other words: I don’t care if we submit a lie to people. I don’t care if that lie goes to many people who I already know will have trouble understanding it’s a lie—and who will most likely believe it—in all its authoritative and brutal entirety. And when these people hear religion’s instructions to hate and kill, and actually do hate and kill, I don’t have to think for a moment it’s due to this lie, or to me advocating and spreading it.

Whatever helps you sleep at night, I suppose?

On the heels of this letter was another from a young atheist who described his religious parents as doing what they think is right, and then interpreting their religion in such a way as to make sure god agrees with what they’re doing. In fact, we have all seen this quite often. And my original correspondent actually is a prime example of this. He indicated that where the Bible says it’s OK to hate and pillage, people ought to understand it was ignorant people producing these texts and not believe these things are “good” ideas. In other words, do what you reason is right—and then make the Bible agree with whatever you’d like it to say.

This is surely one common style of Christian. But I can’t simply ignore that there are others.

Surely we have examples throughout history and even today of people who use religion to justify their hate and aggression. I agree it’s possible these sorts would be horrible people even without religion. They’d certainly have opportunities to find political ideologies or social hate groups to glom onto. No doubt all the bad in the world cannot be attributed to religion, I will agree.

But there is a third category of Christian that this defender is not considering, and won’t consider, in fact. This Christian is the main problem, the collateral damage. This is the sincere person, wanting to do good, who believes these texts in full. This would be the Christian who says that, “I wouldn’t normally call my gay son an abomination, or shun my mother for divorcing my dad, or vote down someone else’s civil rights, but god says to do it, and as a mere mortal the Bible says I cannot question the all-knowing, all-mighty god who is the author of morality and this book (and must have a greater good in mind when he tells me to do these things that are counter to my personal moral sense).”

These are not extremists. In fact, this represents a great many indoctrinated people. People who have been raised to disregard and doubt their own judgment and simply obey—because that is “good.”

On our show, we have demonstrated that there are “good Christians” who will agree to torture their own children without requiring an explanation, if god asks them to do so. They’re not always comfortable admitting this, but they will confess it once you get past the “god would never ask this,” defense. Not surprisingly, the AETV e-list has been able in correspondence to get people, who write to inform us that religion is actually a net good, to say this exact thing as well. Consider what it would take for a parent to willingly torture their own child. And yet, with no explanation, and on god’s word alone, those who would harm their own children for god are writing to explain we’re missing the “good” part of religion’s impact on people. These two ideas exist, somehow at peace, within the same mind.

My point to this writer was that if “good” comes out of religion only when good people filter out the horror it suggests they do, why promote the full lie? Why keep using the Bible if you’re going to only adhere to the parts that suggest what you already were going to do anyway? How is that not simply doing whatever you, personally, think is right? Why not admit you’re using your own human morality, that you, clearly by your actions, demonstrate you deem superior to the morality espoused in this “holy” religion?

And if we agree that a literal reading is a major headache for humanity, and we agree that the many parts that instruct evil are inherently flawed and should be rejected, and if the only parts we’re going to use are the parts we can justify by using our own reasoning capacity—why not just stick to the reasoning capacity we’re relying upon, and stop imposing this textual source of confusion (you demonstrate people don’t need) upon human beings who are all but bound to read it as literal and holy truth in a great many areas of the globe, and who are, in their minds, commanded by god to act upon it in every regard?

If we can inspire good without the superstitious and demonstrably dangerous ambiguity, what is the reason for maintaining that mode?

I guess the irony to me is that I was asked if everything about religion was bad. I answered “no,” that it’s good mixed with bad. That clearly wasn’t good enough. The right answer could only be that religion is all good and there is nothing bad about it. And this person accused me of simplifying this issue.

Fan mail, I guess

“How big a man are you or woman to go and attack the memorials set in
place for the men and women who have died protecting this great
nation, that has even protected your rights to be idiots.When the
families come with the torches and pitchforks they will even protect
you and after they are killed you will spit on them because you
wouldnt want to see the cross that reminds you that you are a sinner
and you will burn in hell. Unless you change your ignorant
ways.regardless the Christians put up with a bunch of your ignorance
but we only have 2 cheeks Lord says I have to turn the other cheek and
I will but dont forget how many we have this is not a threat just
important information you may want to know.”