Alternate universe TV crossover episode!

Hey folks, quick heads up. I will be in Seattle this weekend visiting my dad, and I’ve arranged to show up as a third wheel cohost on “Ask an Atheist” on Sunday.

What? You haven’t heard of Ask an Atheist? Why, it’s a nonprofit call-in cable access show promoting (something similar to) positive atheism and the separation of church and state. You should go check it out!

Also, if you live in Seattle and watch The Atheist Experience, feel free to swing by and say hi. I’m pretty sure there’s some sort of social post-show activity that dad and I will attend, but you’ll have to look it up yourself.

- Russell

Somebody hold me

I wish we could make these up, gang. I really really do. But we get these emails. How many are Poes and how many are the real crazy? All I can tell you from experience (as I’m willing to bet we at AETV are on the receiving end of Poe-age more than most) is that when people Poe us, they’re usually very nudge-wink obvious about it (like, they really overdo the misspellings, cap locks, and 1′s in place of !’s), and they pretty much always wrap up with “Haha! Just kidding, I’m an atheist too! Your show rocks! Keep up the good work!”, as if we’d actually just been masterfully punked.

So, when we get something like this, it’s usually the real deal.

Death doesn’t exist. The plan after death is like this we live. When people die they see their clothes, their utensils, objects and common residences, buildings, houses, flats. There is no more masons, doctors, manufacturing cooks handling with matter, because this plan is mental. (Indeed it is. —MW) You only need mind power and the work is done. Food, clothes, cars, modern objects is all the same. This plan is like here, no bureaucracy e everyboby deals with his reality, creates it, sceneries, nature by his own. We, the living beings, the plants, everything remains. Everybody can create his reality, for example: A person has a thought car. We think even buildings and make them exist. In order to avoid destruction in case of strikes is the same situation. They multiplied to a number of 849 billion people, all is possible there. I believe changes will begin in 2012 and will end in 2014. The Earth will be spiritual, a state of mind. In this plan, there are no myths, no mythology, only human beings and their will expanding to other planets. You have sex with a person in the shape you want.

I just knew he was leading up to a big finish there.

Face this fact: there are deeply, epically irrational humans in the world. And they write to us! So, you know, we really need some hugs about now. In whatever shape you want.

My God is an awesome God a whiny little bitch

Aaaand we get email! Yesterday, we heard from a fellow who objects to our objections to Christianity, because, as he goes on to explain, all other Christians are “ridiculous” because they’ve read the Bible all wrong, and he’s the first one ever who’s got God all figured out. Thing is, I don’t see his version as being much of an improvement on the concept…

My replies, as written in my email back, appear within.

(And PS: The first person in the comments who makes the usual “Oh, I just can’t believe anyone could be this stupid, this guy must be a Poe” remark gets to wear the Pointy Hat in the corner for 24 hours, and doesn’t get any pudding after supper either.)


I’m a Christian.

Your anti-biblical arguments are strawmen, and your anti-theistic arguments are typically childish, because you are arguing against mainstream definitions of God, which themselves are ridiculous definitions. Shame on those of you who claim to be “former Christians” because you, like the rest of Christians, never attempted to define the biblical God in any kind of logically consistent manner.

So you’re off to the races with a “no true Scotsman” fallacy right out of the gate? Look, we won’t stop you from claiming that you are the only Christian out there who isn’t working from a definition of God that is “ridiculous,” but honestly, isn’t that a matter for you to take up with your fellow Christians and not us? Shouldn’t all of you come to some kind of consensus as to what this being is you worship, and want us to worship, whose supposed edicts you want enacted as laws that will affect all the rest of us? I really don’t see how you can blame us for critiquing the concepts of God as they are presented to us by the vast majority of believers who contact us, even when you agree with us that these are “ridiculous” concepts. Really, where’s your beef with us?

The only way to resolve the problem of evil, or to make sense of the biblical accounts, is to define God as a being subject to certain needs, weaknesses, and limitations. For example, the biblical God obviously lacks foreknowledge, because a loving God would not create Lucifer, Adam, and Eve knowing in advance that they would freely choose to fall. The most loving thing to do would be to create only those persons foreknown to freely chose righteousness.

WHY did God give Lucifer, Adam, and Eve enough freedom to hang themsleves? The only solution is to define God as a being who has an emotional need for voluntary fellowship. Had I the space, I would explain precisely WHY God has emotional needs.

Well, I suppose one can imagine a weak, stupid and insecure god just as easily as one can imagine an almighty, powerful, omniscient and omnipotent one. I think you’re going to have a harder sell where your fellow Christians are concerned, though. Why worship someone with weaknesses and limitations? What believers want in a God is a being just like them, except idealized and perfect. Otherwise where is the appeal? I don’t see too many religions thriving whose sales pitch is, “God! Just as pitiful as you!”

Next question. On what basis would the biblical God indict the whole world for the sin of Adam and Eve? The solution is quite simple. A soul defined as an immaterial substance is a logical absurdity beccause it leads to the insoluble mind-body problem, as the church father Tertullian pointed out in 200 AD. Therefore the soul must be defined as a tangible substance.

Lovely. Then it ought to appear on a CAT scan, an MRI, an X-ray or somewhere in the human genome. Let me know when you find it.

Let’s assume for the moment that God created only one tangible soul named Adam. After Adam sinned, God extracted most of Adam’s soul from his body and held it in suspended animation. At every human conception He mates a portion of this soul to the embryo. In other words, YOU are Adam. You were born guilty of sin because YOU are part of the Adam that originally sinned even though you don’t remember living in the garden.

I see no reason to assume any of these things, but I do think you probably have a fantastic career ahead of you writing for Marvel Comics. Seriously, there’s a plot here worthy of an entire series.

The biblical writers wrote with great brevity. Therefore we really don’t know how severe Adam’s rebellion was. For example we don’t really know how many times he partook of the forbidden fruit before God pronounced sentence. But if we give God the benefit of the doubt, we’ll assume that Adam’s sin was severe enough to merit hellfire, although personally I don’t believe that hell is everlasting. And since all men merit hellfire, we cannot regard the biblical God as tyrannical merely because he sent a Mesopotamian flood in Noah’s day, or rained burning coals upon Sodom and Gomorrah, or allowed babes to starve to death. All are guilty in Adam.

Well, that all sounds like a pretty raw deal for every human being born since Adam. So far, what you’ve been describing are the actions of a god that I can only consider an incompetent clod at best and a malevolent psychopath at worst. Why, exactly, would God only create one soul, watch it epically fail, then continue reinstalling tiny bits of that same soul in all subsequent humans in the hopes that — what — it’ll work this time? Why not just go back to the drawing board and keep plugging away until he’s ready to launch the new and improved Soul 2.0, now with new sin-negating algorithms?

Remember what I said about your promising writing career? Scratch that, you have serious problems with story logic, even worse than the conventional Christian mythology you’ve dismissed as ridiculous. Exactly where is the sense in God suspending a broken and malfunctioning soul so you can keep using it, despite knowing it’s broken and malfunctioning? I mean, even for religion, that’s silly.

Let’s move to another topic. Why believe in Christianity? Subjective experience is the only way for God to reveal Himself unfailingly. In other words He must persuade the heart that Christianity is the true religion, if in fact it is so. Why doesn’t He give this revelation to everyone? Again, because He has needs and limitations. It COSTS Him, emotionally, to show kindness to people who regularly sin against Him even after they get the revelation.

Then frankly, he should have gone about his business in a less idiotic way. Stop re-using the same old broken souls for all of humanity, and get rid of the completely unjust sentence of hellfire and damnation for refusal to believe in something that you admit he is too incompetent and emotionally dysfunctional to communicate properly in the first place. Sorry, but if you’re trying to cast your version of God in a sympathetic light, it ain’t working. As you describe him, he’s petulant, unintelligent, rash, given to tantrums, and incapable of following through on anything he’s started, or even understanding the consequences of his own failed actions.

For the long-term safety of the universe, He will not emotionally expend Himself to the extent of mentally destabilizing the Godhead (because were that to happen, we WOULD end up with a capricious God).

No, the being you describe is already capricious, because he’s not even in control of his own emotional health and compounds his mistakes by punishing people for his own failures, rather than simply correcting those mistakes. And apparently, if he gets extra pissy he’ll blow up the universe or something. Talk about a buggy system! It’s really sounding like God should have put together a better angelic QC team before creating stuff.

You know, your God isn’t really much different or any more appealing than the conventional Christian conce
pt after all.

The Bible says that God is love. This IMPLIES that He is already expending Himself to the max, that is, to the very brink of destabilizing the Godhead.

Therefore He needs our help in getting men saved. When we Christians pray to Him and worship Him, this ministers to His emotional needs – you might say it raises His pain threshhold – and thereby enables Him to impart the saving revelation to more and more unsaved people.

You know, Jerry, when you say stuff like this, do you know what we hear? We hear something like this: “In Thor #whatever, Thor, like all Asgardians, is shown to be not truly immortal but relies upon periodic consumption of the Golden Apples of Idunn to sustain his lifespan, which to date has lasted many millennia. After Odin’s death, Thor inherited his father’s power, the Odinforce. Thor becomes capable of feats such as reconstructing the Earth’s Moon, willing the Asgardian monster Mangog into nothingness, and, by focusing his entire power into a hammer throw, decapitating a Desak-occupied Destroyer.”

Yes, I got all that from the Wikipedia entry on the Thor comic book. Which is the point: to us, your mythology sounds no different than that one. You can describe this being you have imagined all you wish, but in the end I’m going to ask you the same question I ask all those other Christians with their “ridiculous” version of God: How do you propose to demonstrate that your God is real and not merely something you are imagining?

I claim to be the first person in Church history to provide any kind of reasonable, legitimate theodicy,

I think this claim is open to doubt.

but unfortunately I don’t have time right now for a full exposition. Feel free to contact me with any objections and, if I have time, I’ll provide you with more details on my views.

All I ask is that stop reading the Bible in a silly manner. Don’t start with the assumption that God is insusceptible to weakness, because such assumptions makes the Bible look ridiculous. I realize that’s how Christians have been reading it for 2000 years, but this kind of silliness is precisely why I haven’t attended church for many years. I reached a point where I just couldn’t stand it anymore.

As you’ve described it, your variation on the myth is no less silly. In places it’s even moreso, as I’ve described above.

The incarnation demonstrates God’s susceptibilty to weakness. Jesus became fatigued and needed rest. God is not, therefore, inherently strong. Strength is rather something He aquired over a long time, as the Ancient of Days. Nor is He inherently omniscient, as shown by the fact that Jesus arrived on earth as an ignornant babe. God therefore aquired His knowledge over time. Note well that a God defined as susceptible to learning would quite naturally create the species over a period of several billion years. Learning takes time.

Scientists tell us that the fossil record is consistent with a slow process of evolution. But it is also perfectly consistent with a creative Being who is slowly educating Himself, experimenting with various species.

You could also say evolution is “consistent” with the Flying Spaghetti Monster, provided you define that being the same way you’re defining your god: a cosmic tinkerer who’s just kind of messing around without really knowing what he’s doing. Again, I fail to see why Christians should be eager to embrace this klutzy, inept, Aspie God you seem to find appealing.

If you actually study evolutionary theory (or any field of science for that matter), you find that what is so beautiful and elegant about them is that they make recourse to supernatural explanations totally unnecessary. Gone are the days when people had to fear that sickness was due to evil spirits clogging our humors. The more you study nature, the less need there is for cosmic tinkerers.

Does this imply that He is cruel to innocent animals? Again, let’s not read the Bible in a silly manner. The Bible says that God is love. Therefore He isn’t cruel to animals, in which case we can safely assume that animal souls are actually Lucifer’s followers who already deserve hellfire. Therefore it isn’t capricius for God to run experiments on animals, for they already deserve any suffering experienced.

Minion of Lucifer, NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

A fond farewell to Joe Rhodes

Joe Rhodes has been one of AETV’s producers since — well, since I was host, I do believe. How the time it do fly.

Anyway, he’s given us both good news and bad news. The good news is that he’s gotten a job in the Portland, OR region, and the bad naturally means that this will entail leaving us. Joe’s hard work on the show over several years has been invaluable. The old cliché that we couldn’t have done it without him here holds true, and we all owe him a debt of gratitude. So this coming show will be his last, after which we wish him happy trails! I’m sure there are enough AETV fans in that area to make him welcome when he settles in.

The Biblical Spin Continues

ACA member and frequent commentator David Tyler went on the campaign trail briefly with Mark Loewe to John Hagee’s Cornerstone Church. David’s trip report is in our November Austin Atheist Newsletter (p. 2). I’m sorry I couldn’t go to this service. I’ve always wanted to see John Hagee in action. If you missed my 2008 Atheist Experience episode on John Hagee (episode #557), he’s a major wackjob with a large following in San Antonio. His main shtick is promoting end-times theology, complete with apocalyptic theology books, a major lobbying effort to bring about the end times, and an insistence that Hitler was inspired by God to bring Jews together (so good Christians can be raptured).

The speaker was co-Christian lunatic and propagandist, David Barton, of “Wall Builders” fame. I’ll be talking about Barton on this Sunday’s episode, but I wanted to draw attention to his “4 values” that he promoted to get the flock to vote his way:

1. Open display of worship (prayer in schools and government functions).
2. No killing of innocents (abortion, Pro-life).
3. Honor your father and mother (traditional marriage, family only – no gays).
4. Protection of private property (no government eminent domain seizures).

Barton allegedly got these directly from the Ten Commandments. I wanted to point out how self-serving his interpretation is.

1. While proselytization is nothing new to the Christian faith, the 10C in the Exodus fable was directed at the Israelites, God’s supposedly chosen people. If you weren’t part of that chosen people, advertising wasn’t going to help you. For Christian “leaders” like Hagee and Barton, advertising is necessary to sell that lemon of a religion. Who cares if you have to embrace the tactics of the Pharisees condemned in Matt. 6-5.

2. When did “Thou Shalt Not Kill” get turned into something about killing of innocents? Innocent by whose standard? I guess to these Christian leaders, killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans is completely just. The abortion thing is simply made up (bearing false witness). There’s no mention of abortion anywhere in either the Old or New Testaments. The penalty for causing a miscarriage is a fine (Ex. 21:22)… paid to the father–the one whose property has been taken. Remember that the wife is property herself and has no real rights under Biblical law.

3. I was amused by the “honoring thy father and mother” turning into a slam against gay rights. That one’s new to me. Jesus never said anything about gays, but he did make it very clear in Matt. 10:34-38 that people should disobey their parents, leave their families, and follow him. Jesus should have been killed for his contempt of Jewish law. Too bad there were no serious followers of Jewish law around to extract the penalty of death. But what drama would there be in that?

4. Let’s take a look at Biblical property rights, especially in that “coveting” commandment (Ex. 20:17). Wives, slaves, animals, and tangible property are all listed as a man’s property. Elsewhere, it’s clear that his children are a man’s property, as well. It would seem that would make Barton pro slavery, against women owning property, for multiple wives, and against anyone interfering with a man’s desire to have his own children aborted, should he so choose. Christians self-servingly never associate the “coveting” commandment mentioned their meddling with others’ reproduction–others’ property, according to their own Bible.

You’ll also never hear Barton associate his pro-Christian twisting of American History with the commandment about bearing false witness. Lying is his livelihood just as peddling Christian snuff porn is Hagee’s. So Barton’s plug for the 10C is really about promoting the Christian agenda of advertising their crap, the manufacture of future tithers, selling hatred of gays as red meat for rabid followers, and making sure Christian leaders keep their profit$ and tax advantages. They’ll both say and do anything to make a buck and their followers are too stupid to know they’re being conned.

Another year, another Hell House

Lynnea‘s still relatively new to Texas, with just over a year clocked here, and she told me she really wanted to visit a Hell House this Halloween. Long time readers may recall that I had a terrible experience with a Hell House a couple of years ago — seven of us stood in line for about 4-5 hours, for an attraction that was generally not worth it. I didn’t want to go back to THAT one.

There are no Hell Houses that I could find near Austin. There is one in Temple, TX, a place I’m unfortunately familiar with thanks to an extremely unpleasant six month software contract job (in a company where all workers are contractually obligated to adhere to “high Christian principles”). However, we’re now in South Austin, and Temple is more than an hour’s drive north of us.

Fate intervened though… Ben’s best friend had a birthday party at his grandma’s house near Temple, and we decided that the two events together were enough reason to make the trip.

We got there pretty early, soon enough to see the first group of people go in. The line this time was not five hours — it was two. We chatted up a pleasant fellow behind us, who had two kids in tow. He turned out to be an Iraq veteran who had a law degree and was going after a sociology Ph.D. He had a lot of funny things to say about being always surrounded by morons, by which I think he meant both in the army, and in Temple in general. I didn’t have the nerve to ask his religious position. I did make some wisecracks about the Hell House theme, and he laughed about it but said that supernatural stuff does scare him.

We wound up going through in a group with that guy and his kids, and about fifteen high school kids, mostly African-American and fairly loud and boisterous. I’m not going to completely rehash the experience inside, which was pretty similar to the one we went to in 2008. “Demons” — kids wearing black capes and various skull masks — pranced around various scripted scenes of “sin” and death, giggling gleefully and egging the participants on. Among the highlights:

  • A husband had an affair, and he and his mistress were shot in a bar by his betrayed wife. This struck me as an insanely stupid and random way for the wife to handle it, openly shooting two people in full view of half a dozen witnesses. Why not get a divorce and soak him for everything he’s got, instead of getting a “go directly to jail” card and leaving the kids with neither parent?
  • Our group got “kidnapped” by a black soldier with PTSD. One teenager with us, obviously a plant, was yelled at to shut up, then dragged behind a dumpster and shot. This was actually the most fun part of the experience, as we got herded into the back of a windowless van at gunpoint and driven wildly around a field, with lots of swerving. I likes me some showmanship. Despite the amateur acting, it seemed like some of the high school girls were actually fooled, as I heard many of them screaming and crying a lot. I should also mention that one of them had approached us with a worried look on her face before we went in, and asked if we had seen anyone come OUT of the Hell House. I thought that was hilarious.
  • In a scene nearly identical to my last trip, a girl met a guy on the internet, agreed to meet him at his house, and got drugged and then violently raped. (Question: why drug the girl at all if you are just going to violently force yourself on her before the drug has any time to take effect? Huh? Isn’t the point of the drug… oh, never mind.) Anyway, then in the next scene, she’s already discovered she’s pregnant, gotten an abortion, felt guilty about it, and then — with demonic encouragement, of course — she slits her wrists. The end. The moral, of course, is that she should have gone ahead and borne her rapist’s baby.
  • A kid gets picked on in school, and then shoots people in the cafeteria. Then himself.
  • We go to hell (dark room where demons gesticulate at people in the foreground, while the Devil gives us a Hannibal Lecture about how we’ll never escape). Then we go to heaven (cottony room where the torture porn scenes from Passion of the Christ play, because that’s what’s ALWAYS playing in heaven).
  • And then we get preached at, by a woman who first apologizes for scaring us so much, then talks about how Jesus changed her life, and finally she invites us to go to the prayer room and get saved. Out of our group of twenty, only one or two went to the other room. Can we call this progress? I’m thinking that at this point, far more people attend Hell House for the camp value than to actually take the message seriously.

As you can tell if you read my previous report, not a lot changes from city to city, or from year to year. They change the themes, just barely; this year’s excursion was called “Beneath the Skin,” and also featured the Devil at the beginning of the tour comparing life to a game of chess, where we mortals are all pawns waiting to be captured one by one. But really, it’s mostly like a well worn stand-up comedy set that gets polished a bit between performances but mostly stays the same.

To drive this point home, we watched the movie Hell House on Netflix instant queue the next night. The documentary was released in 2000, and it still looked like they could have been filming the stuff we just saw. I watched about an hour of it and it was interesting for a while, but I got bored of it as it was mostly just following the lives of a bunch of misguided evangelicals who really think their messages make sense.

Now that I’ve been to two Hell Houses and Lynnea’s already seen it, I think I can do without any more. In any case, here are a few stray observations from our trip.

Hell House is based on something I’ve come to recognize as one of the most standard evangelical ploys. Basically you spend an hour shouting the message “Life sucks! Life is miserable! Everything sucks! You suck!” And then in the last five minutes, you switch to: “…Unless you have Jesus.”

As a lifelong atheist, I don’t identify with it. At all. But I do see the effects of this type of thinking on people all the time. You know, it’s the people who ask “You’re an atheist? Why go on living?” Or “You believe in NOTHING?” I know exactly where this is coming from. People listen to the message “There is absolutely nothing in this life worth living for, except for Jesus.” Then, never having taken the time to look for something worth living for, they’re baffled by an atheist who doesn’t appear to be an emotional basket case.

If you take everything that is good in life and focus on aspects of it that are bad, then you can easily wind up with an attitude where perpetual misery is unavoidable. Take food, for instance. Most people enjoy the act of sitting down to a meal. But if you went to a church every week where they preached an anti-food message, they could probably make you hate it. They’d show you pictures of morbidly obese families. They’d show people with horrible table manners, shoveling in some kind of completely unappetizing food, like watery porridge and square colorless lumps of something. They’d describe the terrible food being prepared in the most graphical detail, with lard being dumped on a grill and grease dripping everywhere and burned bits flaking off, and pretty soon the very prospect of eating food could make you sick.

But this is unfair, because it doesn’t capture the experience of a delicious steak off the grill, or a fresh salad, or the way your taste buds feel when something is just pushing the limits of how much spiciness you can handle. It doesn’t mention what it’s like when you haven’t eaten for hours, all you can thin
k about is a good meal, and then you eat a feast of something you love until you’re satisfied.

Or take sex. In the world of evangelicals, sex is a filthy, nasty, disgusting business. Until, of course, you get a priest to say a few stock phrases, and hand you a piece of paper to sign. Then it’s magically transformed from an unspeakable sin to a beautiful act AS LONG AS YOU’RE NOT SUBVERTING GOD’S INTENTION FOR YOU TO GET PREGNANT, YOU PERVERT.

In Hell House (not to mention the universe of horror movie rules), all mention of sex is in the context where it is shameful, or sneaky, or dangerous, or violent. People act stupidly, and are punished and probably dead at the end of it.

The Hell House’s abortion sequence is a great case study. In the scene, the abortion has already happened, and the only question up in the air is what’s going to be done about it. And in the scene, the demon yells at her “YOU’RE A MURDERER! YOU KILLED YOUR BABY! HA HA HA!” And the girl kills herself because she can’t take it anymore. But, who told her that abortion was murder in the first place? The church, that’s who. They’re the ones showing tiny like slimy things in the shape of hands and feet, and telling her, “This was a person, with a soul.” For someone who doesn’t believe that souls exist, or that removing tissue without a fully formed brain or nervous system is the moral equivalent of being Hitler, there’s no reason to kill yourself. They’re trying to offer a solution to a problem they created.

In the scenes they created, there were a lot of opportunities for positive social messages. Like, for instance, “If you meet a dude on the internet, maybe your first visit should be in a well lit public place.” That seems like an adequate precaution, especially given that most men aren’t rapists. Or how about: “When you cheat on your wife, your lies are hurtful and the resulting bad feelings can put your family in jeopardy, which isn’t good for the kids.” That seems like a really sound, rational approach even without tacking on the whole “AND THEN SHE’LL SHOOT YOU AND YOU’LL GO TO HELL” angle. And perhaps: “Be nice to the other kids in school, even weird nerdy kids, because they have feelings too and maybe they’re worth getting to know.”

But that’s not the primary interest of Hell House. The message is that this world is a cesspool, and you’re not getting out alive, so you might as well prep for the next one.

And they say atheism is a negative philosophy.

Update: Lynnea has now written her own account of the trip.

Chirp…chirp…chirp…

Yeah, I know, it’s been dead around here lately. I’ve been busy, I guess Russell and Tracie and the rest of the gang have too. Not much to talk about at the moment…except go vote! As Patton Oswalt asked so eloquently, who will win today: the spineless pussies or the psychotic loons? What lovely choices we have each election cycle.

We’ll try to kick it back into gear soon, gang. Anyway, how are you?