Dishonesty and Hypocrisy

Because the full exchange was very long, and my breakdowns are also long, I’ve done my best to pare down the following content to the vital bits. It’s possible I will later regret not including particular parts, but that’s the price I pay in order to avoid making an over-long post even longer. While the exchange was between Russell and a theist viewer, I wanted to provide my thoughts about this particular theist and what I observed in his responses that I found particularly unbearable. Kudos to Russell for keeping it civil to the end. I’d have been fed up with this very early on.

The two things I loathe most in a correspondence are dishonesty and hypocrisy. Recently Russell engaged a theist, Caleb, who wrote to us to assert the following:

“I am a christian and believe the Bible is the inspired word of God.

He then went on to cherry pick verses in order to claim that there is no hell and there is no afterlife according to the Bible. Clearly Caleb is in the minority with regard to Christian orthodox reading of the text. In his own words:

“Another truth about the Bible is the teaching of the immortality of the soul, the bible clearly teaches that when we die we simply die.

Russell replied by pointing out that atheists aren’t particularly concerned about what the Bible teaches, because, to the atheist, it’s just another book.

Caleb replied with “No True Scotsman,” that the majority of Christians don’t understand the Bible correctly—”correctly” being how Caleb understands it.

“I don’t assume that you care about the Bible. However I truly feel that a lot of your assumptions and conclusions have been based solely on stories out of the bible that have been twisted and defaced by false religion.

And he then accused us of of using twisted interpretations of the Bible to make it say horrible things that it doesn’t. In reality, we’re simply going with an orthodox Christian view that has been orthodox for centuries.

“…when you have a story such as hellfire and eternal torment that makes your side of the argument appear to lean to your side, you use the bible against itself and it sounds credible

He seems less interested in the reality that it’s Christians—Bible defenders—who promote hell fire and afterlife, not detractors. Like so many others, Caleb has written to us to complain, when, in fact, his real issue is with other Christians. If he thinks the orthodox Christian view is maligning the real Bible message, an atheist program isn’t going to be able to help him out with that problem. We respond to what Christians actually believe and promote, we don’t dictate it.

And Caleb understands that we’re presenting orthodoxy, he just doesn’t understand that Christian orthodox views aren’t under our control:

“What the Bible really teaches is credible, but it will never be credible as long as you have the twisted stories that are presented to you on your show by these traditional Christians.

All I can say is that while this is the traditional Christian view, it’s the view we’re going to critique when we talk about Christianity. If we presented Christianity using minority views, such as Caleb’s, we’d surely (and rightly) be accused of misrepresenting Christianity. Caleb has taken his “fight” to the wrong arena. If he wants us to address his views when we discuss what Christianity is about, then he’ll need to work to make his view the orthodox view with his fellow Christians.

Caleb then stated something we need to pay special attention to:

Also there are many Bible prophesies in the Bible that Show its credibility.

What do you think is meant by Caleb when he says that the content demonstrates the Bible’s “credibility”? I don’t think it is very confusing. He means that it’s credible evidence of divine authorship—as he indicated previously (quoted above) as his view. What other sort of “credibility” would Caleb think ancient prophecies in the Bible demonstrate?

Then he says something we’re all used to, the Bible is supported by, and does not conflict with, science. Note especially the spherical Earth claim, as this is going to come back as well.

In Isaiah 40:22 we see the Bible writer refers to the Earth as being circle, globe, or round, so the Bible has referred to the Earth being round more than 2000 years before those voyages. Was the writer a great guesser? Also the Bible goes hand in hand with science as far as science goes take for instance the Genesis account, and this goes back to what I was talking about earlier most Christians believe the Earth was created in 6 literal days about 6-10,000 years ago. Again this is crazy that simply does not match up with science. However a further examination will reveal that the Bible does not specify the amount of time it took to create the Earth.

Russell’s reply was quite brief but hit several points:

1. That Russell has read the Bible himself and isn’t just assuming what’s in it based on stories he’s been told.


2. That some of what is in the Bible is correct, and some is not, and that he disagrees with the claim a god exists.


3. A link to an article talking about Flat Earth ideology and how it was understood by ancient Greeks, and that the word Caleb is translating as “sphere” can mean “circle”—which can still be flat. And also that the Bible contains passages that indicate you can stand on sufficiently high points to see every location on Earth—something impossible on a globe.


4. Russell points out Genesis indicates plants existed prior to the sun, which does conflict with science.

Of all the points above the ONLY point Caleb responded to was the question of the “sphere” vs. the “circle”:

OK I have done some research on the Hebrew word at Is 40:22, the Hebrew word chugh, translated circle, can also mean sphere…

And he didn’t touch Russell’s point that other passages clearly indicate a flat Earth. Again, if the word means either “sphere” or “circle,” and we have several other verses indicating you can see all areas of the Earth from a sufficiently high point, what is most likely the model of the Earth to ancient Hebrews? In fact, the idea of seeing all points on Earth from a single, sufficiently high area, isn’t even restricted to Old Testament texts. Such descriptions are also found within the New Testament books (see the link further below for further examples). But Caleb ignores this, and upon realizing the word means either “circle” or “sphere,” he then just ignores “circle” (the predominant usage) from that point onward and sticks with “sphere”—the position that supports his view of miraculous knowledge. We know he’s not interested in honestly examining what the word most likely meant to the people writing at that time—otherwise he’d have addressed the larger context, the question of the “high vantage point” problem, that he, instead, chose to completely ignore.

But what we see is Russell agreeing it can mean “circle” or “sphere,” but simply saying (to paraphrase) “based on who is writing and what else they say about their model of the Earth, what is most likely meant here?” Russell takes the full range of meaning, looks at the most likely scenario, and concludes it’s likely intended to be a flat circle. Caleb ignores the larger context, sees that it can mean either a “sphere” or a “circle” and then latches onto the meaning that suits him, while dismissing the definition that does not.

Then Caleb says something else interesting. And this reminds me of the apologist Josh McDowell. McDowell specializes in presenting data that supports his view, and holding back any data that conflicts or would undermine his assertions. McDowell does what is normally called “a lie of omission.” In other words, you say only what needs to be said to make you sound credible, and you don’t provide the information that calls your claims into question, and you hope the party you’re talking to is none the wiser, so you can “win” even if you’re “win” is based on dishonest survey of the evidence and data, rather than an honest one. So, here is what we have:

“The point is the book of Isaiah was penned in the 8th century B.C.E(778-732 B.C.E) which was centuries before Greek philosophers theorized that the Earth likely was spherical, and thousands of years before humans saw the earth as a globe from space.

And again, Russell comes back to point out to Caleb that he’s not considering all data, just data that suits him:

Initially you were claiming that the Bible absolutely makes some kind of scientific claim that could only be interpreted as imparting knowledge which was not in any way available to people of the time it was written. Now you’re clinging to this explanation that if you take an alternative meaning of a word which primarily means ‘circle,’ as filtered through modern translators who are trying to prove the Bible correct, then the authors might conceivably have been obliquely referring to knowledge which already existed in other cultures around the same time.

“(Incidentally, your note about the authorship of Isaiah is incomplete. Parts of it were written in the 8th century BCE, but parts of the book, including chapter 40 onward, are dated to the 6th.

Moving the date to the 6th century means that the idea of a spherical Earth would have been broadly understood. And it undermines the idea that the Hebrews—even if they used the term to mean “sphere”—were working from divine knowledge. Although figuring out something before someone else, really isn’t evidence of divine knowledge anyway—someone is always the first to figure a thing out.

Russell then shared a link to an article full of Bible support for Flat Earth ideology. It’s written by a skeptic who is examining what the Flat E
arth society believes, what they promote, and upon what Bible verses they base their Biblical interpretation:

http://www.lhup.edu/~dsimanek/febible.htm

Again, this is the doctrine of other Christians. Other believers. Others who hold the Bible to be the true and unerring word of the divine creator. And they don’t agree with Caleb. What is their ulterior motive to misrepresent the god and the book they are devoted to? Who could be more honestly devoted to a religion than a group that could deny the tremendous body of evidence for a spherical Earth? That’s actually quite a commitment to your holy book, in my view. As Caleb demonstrates, most people, even most believers, couldn’t hold to that level of devotion to the concepts promoted within the Bible. Most Christians, like Caleb, are willing to cherry pick in order to make the Bible fit better into reality as we learn more and more about the universe around us. It’s ironic that Caleb will try to make a text from several thousand years back fit into the paradigms of today, while claiming those who do not do this are the ones “twisting” the meaning. But here we are, right?

True to form, Caleb writes back with his myopic view of evidence. Sure, parts of Isaiah could have been written in the 6th century—but that doesn’t mean they were…therefore Caleb concludes, against the obvious, they weren’t. He then goes on to do some wild thrashing to quickly change the subject and get out of the frying pan:

“The fact that that Isaiah was incomplete can be refuted, but the fact remains that there are plenty of holes in the evidence that points to life being traced to previous organisms, the bible is not a science book but what is in there is in line with the scientific discoveries today. The bible does not contradict itself…”

Caleb is confusing “refute” with the idea that there is often a range of scholarly opinions concerning dating something from thousands of years ago. The idea that parts of Isaiah were produced in later centuries isn’t “refuted.” The fact there are a range of opinions is not “refutation.” What Caleb really means is that since the scholarship asserting that parts of Isaiah were written at a later date can only be expert opinion—even if that’s a majority opinion—he has all he needs to assert (as he absolutely did earlier, above) that it was, in fact, written in the 8th century BCE. This is dishonest. Caleb didn’t say earlier that it could have been written anywhere between the 8th and 6th century BCE, he said, “the book of Isaiah was penned in the 8th century B.C.E”—and that’s “Josh McDowell”-level dishonesty right there.

Russell’s reply was short and concise—and fair:

“Way to change the subject. Can you please acknowledge that your first argument didn’t work as a proof of god before trying to sneak into another one?

“After you’ve done that, then you’ll be free to explain why you’re trying to claim simultaneously that the Bible agrees completely with modern science, and the Bible is completely incompatible with the core principles of modern biology.

Caleb’s final response drove me to this blog post. My desire, if I’m honest, was to reply directly to Caleb. However, there were four things that made me hold back:

1. It was Russell’s dialog.

2. Caleb dismisses anything that conflicts with his ideology.

3. Caleb ignores any points he can’t address, as though they were never made (and bear in mind, although I didn’t include Russell’s full replies, they were quite brief. This wasn’t a case of pages of rebuttal where it was only human to choose which areas to respond. Ignoring points in a note that only contains three or four clear points is simply dodging.

4. Caleb takes things that require interpretation (sphere/circle, 6th/8th century origins) and lays them out as fact. He doesn’t get that it’s not sufficient to say “it can mean this,” to demonstrate your point. You actually have to show it does mean it. Russell actually pointed this out using an illustration to make it crystal clear:

“This kind of reminds me of how James ‘The Amazing’ Randi speaks about Uri Geller, a parlor magician who claims to be able to bend spoons with the power of his mind. After proving that this can easily be done through sleight of hand, Randi said ‘He might be doing it through telekinesis, but if so, he’s doing it the hard way.’”

Caleb is “doing it the hard way.” We have a book that presents a pervasive theme of a flat Earth, but Caleb will do all he can to just ignore context and alternate (common) meanings, in order to cling to the “sphere” ideology. He does this as a means to try and bolster his original claim that it must have been a god that produced this book. And even if Isaiah does present a sphere, and we have a range of possible dates for the text from 8th to 6th century (and it would have been mundane to know this in the 6th century), trying to cling to the 8th century in order to bolster your divine authorship claim, is, at best irrational, and at worst, dishonest. The most likely scenario, if it was a sphere described, is that this, along with the other points that make scholarship lean toward 6th century authorship, would probably be a result of the later chapters having been written or revised in later centuries. Revisions, updates, and additions to Bible manuscripts are commonly recorded. Would it be more likely that a later update referenced a then-common model of a spherical Earth, or that a spirit being imparted magical knowledge to ancient herders to prove to people, thousands of years later, that it was a god that wrote it—especially considering that the methods to discern a spherical Earth existed as much in the 8th century as the 6th. Again, even if some clever Hebrew had figured it out 200 years earlier, is that evidence of the divine?

So, upon weighing the odds of my success in getting Caleb to grasp the level of his own hypocrisy and dishonesty, I ultimately concluded that contacting him directly would be nothing short of an exercise in futility. So, this seemed like one of those times when my ideas would do more good shared publicly than privately with a correspondent who would not likely be able to actually internalize them. At any rate, here is the final response from Caleb, that left me incredulous:

“No I will not acknowledge that, that was not an argument of proof of god.”

Caleb started out asserting that god wrote the Bible, and then tried to claim it had valid prophecies and also that it had miraculous scientific knowledge. This statement, above, is simply less than honest.

“I was trying to convey that the bible does not contradict science or itself, I was conveying the authenticity of the bible.”

Why is it important the Bible doesn’t contradict itself? The Bible is “authentically” what, Caleb? If it’s authentically the product of goat herders and not a god, what is your goal in trying to claim internal consistency and valid prophecies and miraculous scientific knowledge? Remember where you asked if the Hebrews knew the world was spherical due to a “lucky guess”? What do you mean to imply in this quote below?

“In Isaiah 40:22 we see the Bible writer refers to the Earth as being circle, globe, or round, so the Bible has referred to the Earth being round more than 2000 years before those voyages. Was the writer a great guesser?

And now we’re supposed to believe none of this is about using the Bible to demonstrate a god exists?

You then audaciously put forward this bit of clear projection:

“But you have made it clear that you have no vested interest in even understanding what the bible really teaches. Therefore if you are only willing to look at one side of the evidence then you are making a conclusion that is incomplete and unjust.”

Russell pointed out repeatedly we have a range of data we must consider in making assessments. If part of that range offers a reasonable and mundane explanation, reason dictates we should go with the most likely answernot try to force-fit “the hard way.” Caleb, however, insists on “the hard way,” and denies the existence of any reasonable and easy way. He works quite hard to make the data seem miraculous and incredible, ignoring every piece of evidence that points to far more rational and simple explanations. And for asking Caleb to stop ignoring the data that doesn’t suit his ideology, Russell is accused of being myopic.

Then we have what I can only label a
real bit of insanity from Caleb:

“I have to ask, have you never wandered why there is so much suffering? Why there is so much injustice? Why isn’t there a human government that can solve even the little problems? Such as the national debt, the greed that prevails in politics, or corruption. None of these things have never touched your heart?”

For the record, the Problem of Evil is not a problem at all in a realm where the beings at the helm are not all-knowing, all-powerful and all-loving. There is nothing miraculous about organically evolved beings in a realm being unable to produce a Utopia. I’m amazed that Caleb sees the Problem of Evil as a problem for nonbelievers rather than for believers. What, one has to ask, is Caleb’s model of god? Is it malevolent, ignorant, ineffective—or all three? What sort of god is Caleb promoting that has produced such a mucked up world and allowed it to continue on with all the “problems” Caleb is crying about? This is a problem that has plagued believers for centuries—not nonbelievers.

“Do you feel you have a purpose? Why do we grow old and die?”

Again, this is really a problem for believers, not nonbelievers. When a believer tells me the universe is designed, one of my first questions is “what exactly do you see as a purpose of the universe when you look at cosmic events? What exactly have you demonstrated this universe is doing?” And as far as why do organisms die, it’s a natural progression. Matter and energy are extremely durable, but the organized set of chemical reactions we fuzzily label “life,” don’t maintain that organization forever. They wear down, the same as all chemical reactions. How, again, is this evidence of a god? It appears to be a natural occurrence that aligns quite well with natural laws that govern the universe. I surely don’t see any miracle evident in this process. How does “people die” demonstrate the existence of a spirit realm? We might as well ask “Why do ants die?” Is that evidence of The Great Ant God? How do we verify that if a god created people he would create people that die? How did Caleb come to that conclusion?

“I hope in our discussions I have not offended you or anyone else on your program.”

Caleb’s presentation was polite enough. But his dishonesty and hypocrisy is what galled me. I wouldn’t say it offended me, though. I’d say it more disgusted me. And while Caleb surely wouldn’t see any of this in his own dialog, I’m hoping that, just like callers on the show, others who see this might learn from Caleb’s mistakes here, and recognize that if they’re doing it the hard way, they’re not being reasonable nor are they being honest.

Don’t Be a Dick redux — now with Real Life Adventure!

Had an absolutely insane personal encounter today that I’m still having difficulty processing, because it was the sort of display of flagrantly irrational, histrionic and emotional behavior that we as atheists and rationalists criticize, but which you in fact rarely get to experience right in your face. It reminded me of a great many basic axioms though. For one thing, being an atheist is no guarantee you’ll come with rationality pre-installed. For another, it never fails that people who have fanatical views that they refuse to see challenged will be the first to praise themselves as beacons of reason. It’s a human flaw I suppose we must all watch out for.

So I’m at a nearby mall today, when I pass by a fellow — who Shall Remain Unnamed — who, many years ago, used to be an ACA member. He left a while back, to the disappointment of few, it must be said, and I recall not liking him much personally for some prima donna behavior he exhibited in regards to the TV show at the time. But anyway, I caught his eye and decided it never hurts to be friendly, so I waved and said hi. I soon had cause to regret my sociability.

We spoke for a moment, and everything was gas and gators. Then he demonstrated that, since leaving the ACA, he’s travelled to a much weirder place, by turning the conversation towards — are you ready? — 9/11 conspiracy theories. Basically, he buys them.

Now, before I continue, I’m sure this is futile but the point of this post is not to start a sprawling endless comment thread debating such theories. (Just go here if you want to have that discussion.) It’s to talk about, well, behavior. And I think it dovetails with a lot of current kerfuffle that’s playing itself out among the online godless community right now — like Rebecca Watson and the Elevator Incident. In other words, part of living the rational life is having a sense of self-awareness. How you interact with others has much to do with how your message will be received. This is basic common sense and socialization, not an advocacy of tone trolling. Indeed, there are times in-your-face rudeness is the way to respond. But in most cases — and certainly in public — how you behave reveals more about you than you might wish people knew. Not only does it reveal what your beliefs are, but it reveals how those beliefs inform whether you’re a normal, cool person that others want to interact with. In short, if you cannot control yourself, expect to be an embittered loner, whose sense of victimhood is shored up by righteousness. Which brings me back to the person at hand.

So the guy shows me the new issue of Skeptical Inquirer, and indignantly denounces its cover story debunking 9/11 conspiracy mongering as “propaganda.” He then goes on to speculate that the Center for Inquiry has been infiltrated by the CIA, who planted the story in the magazine. (He did not, in his genius, consider that if the CIA was doing this sort of thing, they certainly have the wherewithal to plant such a story in bigger and better-selling publications than Skeptical Inquirer, whose global circulation is around 50,000, compared to, say, Time‘s 3.3 million.) Anyway, it was a farrago of absurdity, and I could tell he was passionate about it.

Now, you know me from the show. I’m snarky. So when he mentioned that the airplanes that crashed into the towers had “nothing whatsoever to do” with their collapsing, despite destroying support columns and causing fires in excess of 1000 degrees, I replied, “So what, was it just special effects on TV, when we witnessed the planes actually hit the buildings?”

Rule #1 when dealing with the fundamentalist mindset (which is something one sees displayed often in non-religious environments, you know): Mock them, or even make them think you’re mocking them, and they will completely lose their shit. Which this guy did. Right there, in public, in the middle of a shopping mall.

So he leans in, and starts shouting at me. No really…shouting. And it has now become a “violating personal space” issue, in addition to the plain inappropriate public display of temper. So, not being one to take this kind of crap, let alone from someone whom I approached for a friendly social chat despite not especially liking him in the first place, I put up both hands and said, “No! Wrong! I’m not doing this in public. Goodbye.” And I walked off.

Naturally, he followed me, keeping up his harangue. How could anyone believe that “gravity could make buildings fall”? Etc etc. Now I am seriously pissed, and begin making my way towards a nearby jewelry store, where they usually employ a cop. Really. I am not making any of this up.

Finally, I stop, in the hopes of just convincing him to fuck off before I have to go and make things really ugly, like pressing public nuisance charges. After another few seconds of heated exchange, he wailed that he has “lost all respect for every atheist blah blah blah.” I say, “Good, so goodbye! Stop following me!” And he leaves.

Gang, this happened. I mean, this happened.

What is it that turns a person into something like this? I understand ideologies, I understand being someone who gets too emotionally involved in what you believe, and I understand a lack of self-awareness and poor social skills. But outside of street riots — where the environment seems to be conducive — you don’t tend to encounter someone whose complete lack of anything resembling basic respect for others and common sense is so proudly on display.

At the core of it all, I think, is irrationality married to poor social skills. Irrationality is not necessarily about what you believe (though yeah, it often is), but how you believe it, why you believe it, and how your beliefs inform your personal interactions and behaviors. After all, why would a rational person choose to take a friendly greeting in a shopping mall as an invitation to start a shouting match about whatever political thing you have up your ass today? And if you expect the person you’re trying to pick this fight with to disagree with you anyway (he began by saying that he expected I, like “most atheists,” to have “swallowed the official 9/11 story”), then what other than arrogant stupidity would provoke you to go ballistic at them when they give you the expected disagreement? If he really hoped to persuade me I’m wrong for not believing in a conspiracy, did he really think totally jumping my shit in the middle of a fucking shopping mall was the way I’d have my mind changed?

I reiterate that this fellow is an atheist, and that his reason for leaving ACA was that we weren’t the group of political agitators he wanted us to be, plus the part he doesn’t mention, which was that he also didn’t like the way we reacted negatively to his being a douche to everyone. But his behavior today was entirely in keeping with his behavior of the past. When in the group, he angered the entire TV crew — of which he was not a part — by turning up at the studio one Sunday holding a bunch of signs he’d had printed, pronouncing himself “art director,” and proceeding to redecorate the backdrop (which took 45 minutes longer than it usually did) with these signs, which had type so small they couldn’t be read onscreen. When repeatedly told this, he flounced off in a huff, making a misogynist insult against one of our women crew and deriding our “amateurishness.” I followed him into the parking lot and chewed him about six new assholes, and never saw him again, until today. Guess I shouldn’t have been shocked.

So, why am I belaboring you all with this? Well, in part, it’s cathartic. In other part, it was a healthy reminder of the dangers of irrationality — the unwillingness to have your views challenged or to entertain that you may be wrong, the blindness to how your behavior affects others, the inability to what what behavior is appropriate and when, the failure of letting temper control you rather than vice versa. We all talk about crazy fundies and how they impose themselves where they aren’
t wanted. But if we wish to consider ourselves on the side of the “angels” of reason, if you’ll pardon my phrasing, then we should be vigilant and self-aware, strictly applying our own standards to ourselves before we demand them from others. I guess what I’m saying is — “Don’t Be a Dick!” I don’t, like Phil, think we all do it, and I certainly don’t agree that challenging anyone in any way is dickish. But with a little too much ego and self-absorption, and too little sense and rational thought, anyone can be a dick if they don’t watch out. An encounter like today’s is upsetting, sure. But you can take it as a cautionary tale, and get the positive from it.

And that’s your drama for today. And I bet you thought Matt got all the wackos. Now, I’m going to go hang with my dogs.

Burning Korans, drawing Mohammed, avoiding hypocrisy, creative vs. destructive protests — religion just makes the whole frickin’ world crazy!

There’s a truth about the upcoming Koran cookout planned by Dove World Church and its grandstanding (and light-fingered) pastor Terry Jones: they have every right under the Constitution to do this thing. Are they a bunch of dicks who don’t care about the potential devastating backlash of their actions as long as they get the publicity they crave? Yeah, I suppose they are.

Recently, atheists proudly participated in an online event called Everybody Draw Mohammed Day, which was as deliberate a middle finger to Islam as we could have thought up. Before that, PZ Myers famously threw a cracker in the trash, making him the bête noire of Catholics worldwide. (Though they conveniently forget that he also trashed a copy of The God Delusion at the same time.) As people who are not above acts of deliberate provocation ourselves — indeed, as people who are currently arguing amongst ourselves about the merits of “being a dick” in our encounters with religionists — it would hardly be honest of us to join the chorus of chest-beating outrage against Jones’ church for the horrible offense of burning somebody’s holy book. While most of us, I’m sure, take Fahrenheit 451 to heart and deplore book-burning on general principles as a disgraceful act of intellectual cowardice and the suppression of ideas, we should also acknowledge the legitimacy of the act as a form of protest speech. After all, I can’t very well defend the rights of flag-burners while condemning a Koran-burner. Don’t work dat way!

I suppose where the conversation ought to go from here for atheists is in whether or not Jones is motivated by a desire to conduct a legitimate form of protest, or if he’s simply a crass political opportunist, playing into a rising tide of anti-Muslim bigotry in order to increase his profile from “obscure pastor of an outcast hick church” to “internationally famous martyr and warrior for Christ”. Well, what is legitimate protest in this context? Yes, radical Islamists brought down the World Trade Center. But all Muslims are not radical Islamists, and all Muslims did not partake in, let alone condone, the 9/11 attacks. So if Jones’s idea is that he’s protesting Islam for 9/11, he’s clearly throwing his net way too wide. The thing is, I suppose he knows it, but doesn’t care. He’s getting the publicity he wants.

The potential for hypocrisy in criticizing the upcoming burning has been much on my mind, and I’ve been forced to think about the similarities and differences between what Jones is about to do, and, say, Everybody Draw Mohammed Day. And then I’ve been forced to question whether or not any of my ideas are simply bullshit justifications I’ve been making up to feel better. I don’t think they are. But I do think it’s a positive thing, overall, that I’m willing to be self-critical. This is an advantage the godless life offers, I think, over the brazen certainties of God-botherers like Jones, who confidently assert that God (i.e., their projection of themselves upon the universe) truly wants them to do what they’re planning.

Everybody Draw Mohammed Day, for one thing, was on the whole a creative rather than destructive act of protest. It was a response, not only to the real Islamist violence and threats of violence that erupted in the wake of the publication of a few innocuous (and not especially good, when you think about it) cartoons, but to the arrogant assumption on the part of Islamists that non-Muslims were somehow obligated to follow Islam’s rules. Also, at the end of the day, what you had were a bunch of silly cartoons. While there was a little huffing and puffing about EDMD, in the end, the message I think got across (to the general public, if not to radicals) that taking someone’s life over a lame doodle was both insane and pitiful in equal measure. Lame doodles themselves can’t possibly hurt a fly. EDMD might have offended some Muslims. But in the end, no one killed anyone.

Now, piling up a couple hundred copies of the Koran and torching them — that would be a destructive form of protest. Furthermore, it’s hypocritical of Jones to justify it by condemning Islam as a hateful, intolerant religion, when he has a history of hate speech (against gays, the usual suspects) and intolerance. While I think Jones has the right to go through with his speech, I don’t think his motives are honest. He’s exactly what he condemns, except that his religious radicalism wears a cross rather than a crescent moon and star. (The atheists who took part in EDMD might condemn Islam and Islamist violence, but we’d never want to deprive Muslims of their right to worship, as many right-wingers do right now.)

Could this event trigger more terrorist attacks and counter-strikes against our troops overseas? Yeah, I suppose it could, though it isn’t as if they needed more reasons to do that. But if Jones ends up giving them one, the first such attack will be all the vindication he needs. “See, we were right about how violent Islam is!” Not caring that, in this instance, he threw the first punch. Yeah, it’s entirely valid to condemn radical Islamists for doing what they actually do, which is kill people who aren’t sufficiently “respectful” to their beliefs. But you limit your condemnation to those individuals and groups who do the violence. As has been pointed out to an indifferent Jones, it’s absurd and dishonest as hell for him to suggest that he’s only protesting the violent Islamists, and that “moderate Muslims” ought to support him, when it’s their holy book he’s burning too.

In the end, I think what we as atheists should take away from all this insanity is a sobering realization that this is the kind of world you get when religion runs the show. Belief pits us against our fellow man for the most absurd of reasons: failure to worship the correct invisible magic man in the correct way. And for all that defenders bleat about the alleged benefits of religion — that sense of charity, well-being, love and community we are told believers enjoy better than any of the rest of us — they always leave out the part about religion’s innate tribalism. Whatever benefits religious beliefs confer are only enjoyed by those within that particular belief community. If you’re an outsider…run.

We rationalists can only hope humanity outgrows its penchant for religious tribalism one day, and that all these vile superstitions are eradicated from our cultural landscape completely. (Not through violence, of course, but through intellectual and moral awakening.) There really ought to only be one tribe — humanity.

But until then…yeah, go ahead, burn that Koran. Whatever. I’ll be at home that day. Let me know when the smoke clears and it’s safe to breathe free again.

Kcuf the muthakcufas!

So. We have artificial life. Kickass. But wait, what’s this? Why, right on cue, if it isn’t a bunch of showboating, pious old cretins in dresses wagging their fingers at the presumptuousness of scientists, and insisting that the creation of life is the sole purview of some invisible magic man in the sky they seem to believe in.

“We look at science with great interest. But we think above all about the meaning that must be given to life,” said Fisichella, who heads Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life. “We can only reach the conclusion that we need God, the origin of life.”

Now, one could respond to that in the usual way, by pointing out that before they can make claims like that about their God, they should prove the old spectre exists in the first frickin’ place.

But of course, we don’t even need to go there. Because the very idea of an organized crime syndicate responsible for enabling and protecting the largest and most appalling epidemic of child rape in the history of civilization having the audacity to lecture anyone, let alone scientists, on “the ethical dimension” of anyfuckingthing, is quite simply gobsmacking. Now, at least, you know why those guys wear those huge flowing robes. They need them to contain their colossal solid brass balls!

So all that’s left is to give this little ditty another airing, I do believe. Take it away, Timbo.

PS: The comments on that Yahoo news article are gold. The RCC has a serious public image crisis. I wonder why…

George Rekers is a bigger whore than his own rentboy

Whenever one of these secretly-gay fundamentalist homophobes manages unintentionally to out himself with the usual Keystone Kops subtlety, one thing can be counted on always to happen. Folks like us will be passing around yummy slices of schadenfreude pie, and at some point during the party, amidst all the gloating and off-color jokes about a man’s “luggage,” someone will sincerely wonder why the secretly-gayest of all Christians are the most virulently, vocally homophobic.

There’s a complex psychological answer to this, of course, having much to do with the cognitive trauma endured by a lifetime of Christian indoctrination that is often and repeatedly at odds with reality, and the way such indoctrination is designed expressly to tear down the believer’s self-esteem so as to rebuild it with Christianity at the center of it. But in some cases, there’s also a painfully simple answer as well. Take old George Rekers. In a very meaningful way, what prompted his homophobic crusade was the crassest of all human motives. It paid big bucks. Your big bucks, if you happen to be a Floridian.

Turns out that Rekers banked a handsome $120,000 of taxpayers’ money when the state of Florida paid for his services as an “expert witness” against a gay man trying to adopt a child. Money, as the writer of the linked article points out bitterly, which could have gone to some needy school district or something. And he’s done it before, once in Arkansas where his input was dismissed as “worthless” by a judge. But Rekers still got to keep his fee. That kind of money will certainly pay for a lot of high-end designer-label cock luggage.

Rekers has made his living as a homophobe-for-hire, spewing worthless, unscientific opinions in courtrooms with the goal of destroying peoples’ dreams of a family of their own. And he did it for money. All the while living the life he condemned, smugly convincing himself, I have no doubt, that by punishing others for his own “sins” he was balancing the moral books. Congrats, George, you just leveled up your “Scum” attributes as high as they can go. At least your hunky “Lucien” never pretended to be something he was not!

But…but…it makes no SENSE!

Welcome to Florida, where they hate teh gayz, but are apparently pretty open-minded about furries. The Sunshine State goes out of its way to prevent gays and lesbians from marrying or even adopting (though their adoption ban has been ruled unconstitutional), and yet they just can’t seem to muster up the energy to ban bestiality.

But here’s what I find confusing, even by the standards of wingnut tomfoolery. Aren’t these folks the ones who believe that homosexuality leads to bestiality? Aren’t they the ones telling us that buttsecks and being fabulous is just a gateway drug to boning Fido? I mean, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and our ol’ buddy Pat seem to think so, and many others in the I’m-Not-Repressing-Anything-No-I-Mean-It Brigade agree. So is it Florida’s position, then, that while The Gay is a threat to the very fabric of our society that must be eradicated at all costs, the presumably-ickier kinks it apparently leads to aren’t really much to be worried about? Wouldn’t it follow that if homosexuality really corrupts society, then bestiality would be a total apocalyptic leghump for the whole planet? But if they’re now saying bestiality is a “rare crime” that it would be a waste of time dealing with legislatively, then aren’t they admitting that Huck and Pat and Rick and those guys are (gasp!) wrong!? But how could they be lying to us? They’re good Christians! Gah! Dealing with these people makes my poor head* throb. I need a cookie.


*I mean the one on my shoulders. Geez, you people…

Yes, I know, this is just begging for a joke about teabagging…

…But even I won’t go near it, gang. Wait, I just did. Oh well! And yet, a headline like “Christian Right leader takes vacation with ‘rent boy’” is still funny no matter how many times stuff like that happens. Gee, it’s almost like “Christian Right leaders” are all a bunch of repressed moral hypocrites or something.

Irony meter explosion in 3…2…1…

Okay, so that preposterous, demented d-bag Mike Adams has noticed all the ridicule he’s been getting online, and has, like most deluded narcissists, taken it for validation of his awesomeness. In a new post, he offers the following observation, which deserves an Oscar for Lifetime Achievement in Clueless Projection. Now, remember this is the guy who wrote a trillion-word attack on skeptics that led Orac to call him “a pyromaniac in a straw man factory”… Salient hypocrisy boldfaced.

[Skeptics] also tend to jump to false conclusions about what people are really saying. In my previous article, for example, I never stated whether I believed in God, or whether I was an athiest [sic], or whether I followed organized religion and yet people read the article and they leaped to conclusions, assuming I was promoting organized religion, for example, or that I was condemning atheism.

Actually I never stated my position on those matters in the article at all, but the skeptics leaped to the conclusion that I did. This speaks to their tendency to warp all incoming information and restructure it to conform to the beliefs they already carry about the subject at hand.

ROTFL! You silly little bitch.

Cal-irony-fication

The California Supreme US District Court is currently hearing a case over whether 2008 Proposition 8 (which bans same-sex marriage in the California State Constitution) is itself constitutional. If the court rules that it is not constitutional (by the state’s US constitution), then same-sex marriage would revert to being allowed in the state. This is a pretty important case as many people feel that California is a cultural leader for the entire US–not to mention its sheer size.

There has been a recent side-show as to whether the hearing would be (video) broadcast to the public. One can make an argument that public interest is served by transparency, especially in such an important case. This little debate went all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States that decided today that there should be no such coverage. The 5-4 decision (with the conservative Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, Kennedy, and Alito in the majority) was ostensibly decided on a technicality. Not too interesting so far; but let’s look under the hood, shall we?

The very fact that SCOTUS even heard the case and issued a decision was based on an urgent claim of “irreparable harm” to someone. According to one source, “The Court also found that the high-profile nature of the trial might intimidate witnesses and cause irreparable harm if the rule were not stayed.” However, the dissenting justice wrote (page 24-25): “I can find no basis for the Court’s conclusion that, were the transmissions to other courtrooms to take place, the applicants would suffer irreparable harm. Certainly there is no evidence that such harm could arise in this nonjury civil case from the simple fact of transmission itself.” (This article has a good analysis.) Perhaps a broadcast on YouTube would cause irreparable harm to their cause.

So what’s going on? The religious supporters of Proposition 8 are wanting have their free speech rights to make false and emotionally manipulative claims, but they are crying persecution when it comes to taking responsibility for them. Consider defendant Hak-Shing William Tam, who wrote, “On their agenda list is: legalize having sex with children,” and that, “other states would fall into Satan’s hands,” if gays weren’t stopped from marrying in California. A successful advertising campaign during the Proposition 8 election claimed that homosexuality would be taught in public schools. They want to perpetrate thuggery on gays, but they’re playing the persecution card when it comes to taking responsibility for their lies–and the conservatives on the Supreme Court are backing them up. Apparently, taking responsibility is irreparably harmful to the religious.

The irony is so thick here you could build a church with it. Some supporters of Proposition 8 have gotten harassing phone calls and e-mail messages. I can’t say I feel any pity for these people. They are being subject to much milder versions of the same tactics they have done to gays and others over the years. (Religious readers are referred to Exodus 21:22-25 and Matthew 7:12 for a little morality lesson and some tasty just desserts. I long for the day when the majority of gays vote on the Christians’ right to marriage, just as the Christians have done to gays.) Christian death threats are a common intimidation tactic and the religion has plenty of people who are willing to carry them out. Gays have been subject to (real) hate crimes for years, most of which have been religiously motivated. Christians have made a big business out of persecuting gays. Proposition 8 itself is just part of that business. If same-sex marriage becomes normalized, they will have a much harder time vilifying gays and their red-meat lovin’ constituency will turn to other pursuits and take their tithes with them.

Same-sex marriage in the US will happen eventually, but we can count on the religious fighting unfairly every step of the way.

Christianity and the allure of “cheap grace”

One aspect of religion that has often come under atheists’ critical fire is the way in which it enables the most egregious hypocrisies amongst its most devout adherents. Considering how important Christians will tell you Scripture is to their lives, it’s remarkable how selective they are in their reading of that Big Book of Multiple Choice. The warnings against hypocrisy among believers that comprise most of Matthew 6 would be sufficient to shut up almost the entirety of the American Christian Right, if they were the kinds of people who practiced what they preached.

But I think there is something about religion that’s even more insidious than hypocrisy, and that’s the way it puffs up believers’ hubris, allowing them to think they’re more special and entitled and deserving, even (and especially) without having done anything to earn it. Religion tells people they’re part of a select group, favored over others by God. And yet these are the same people who routinely like to attack unbelievers — and the intelligentsia many unbelievers are part of — as “elitists.” What could be more elitist than believing everybody but you deserves eternity of torture in hell, simply because you belong to the Jesus Fan Club and they don’t?

I’ve been thinking about this over the last couple of days since my attention was drawn to something that hasn’t really turned up on atheists’ radar: the Manhattan Declaration. This is a kind of manifesto that has recently been put together by several prominent conservative Christian figures — among them arch-bigot Tony Perkins and Kazim’s old pal Chuck Colson — as something of an ideological purity test. It begins as follows:

We are Orthodox, Catholic, and evangelical Christians who have united at this hour to reaffirm fundamental truths about justice and the common good, and to call upon our fellow citizens, believers and non-believers alike, to join us in defending them. These truths are:

  1. the sanctity of human life
  2. the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife
  3. the rights of conscience and religious liberty.

Some quick Googlage has revealed that this Declaration has already ruffled the feathers of liberal, progressive Christians, who have quickly called the whole thing out as an effort to enshrine conservative prejudices as “fundamental truths about justice and the common good.” Only the most smug and arrogant bigots could claim with a straight face that a Declaration that openly repudiates GLBT marriage equality is one that favors “justice” in any form. I think that word, to quote The Princess Bride for the 80 billionth time, doesn’t mean what they think it means.

Basically, the highfalutin language of the thing does little to disguise the fact that it’s a huge anti-gay-rights and anti-abortion petition, and it takes a Bushian “with us or against us” attitude that is nothing less than a gauntlet thrown down to all those liberal Christians who haven’t toed the Hate Line to the satisfaction of their conservative betters.

Surfing the blogosphere, I come upon this post by blogger Hugo Schwyzer — who, as an avowed pro-GLBT liberal feminist Christian, is about as far from the fundies’ notion of ideological purity as a guy can get — where he takes the Manhattan Declaration to task for being little more than a reactionary pushback against the tendency among the younger generation of modern Christians to reject right-wing fundie obsessions with “pelvic morality” (basing culture war talking points on sexual and reproductive issues to the near exclusion of everything else) in favor of broader moral concerns — saving the planet, helping the needy — that are generally of interest only to those damn latté sipping libs. Schwyzer makes an astute point about the “cheap grace” enjoyed by fundies whenever they beat their chests and pontificate over such narrow-minded issues: that these are fights they love precisely because they have nothing at stake.

Here’s the thing: fighting against abortion and gay rights is, in the end, cheap. It requires no particular personal sacrifice or reflection on the part of those who claim these are the top issues. Men who will never get pregnant; heterosexuals who have the privilege to marry those whom they love — they surrender nothing precious to them by fighting tooth and nail against reproductive and glbtq rights. The struggle against global poverty and the struggle to save the planet from environmental degradation, on the other hand, make radical claims on all of us — particularly on the affluent in the West, whose unsustainable consumption patterns are directly linked to human and animal suffering. Fighting against climate change and poverty require that the wealthy transform their lifestyles; fighting against gay rights requires nothing more than censorious and self-righteous indignation.

Bam! — direct hit, below the waterline. But I’d caution Schwyzer not to forget that, in a very real way, “cheap grace” is at the heart of all Christianity, not just the version practiced by wingnutty Sarah Palin and Carrie Prejean fans. Christianity presents believers with this odd notion about morality, sin, and fate: that, merely by virtue of being alive, a person is a worthless sinner damned to eternal agony because of the Fall; but hey, not to worry, because Jesus took all of that punishment upon himself, poor chap, and now by virtue of his sacrifice, you’re good to go, and all you need to do is make sure (at some point before you die) you publicly high-five Jesus for taking one for the team, accepting him as your savior. So, we’re damned, but we’re not, and eternal salvation is ours simply by the rough spiritual equivalent of clicking a confirmation email.

So right from the outset, Christians are more or less raised in the extremely confident belief that all the heavy lifting for their own personal redemption was already done 2000 years ago. Their own efforts require no personal sacrifice at all. If this is not cheap grace, what is?

The very thing that Christianity tries to sell as its most morally and spiritually profound element — salvation by proxy — in fact cheapens the entire notion that in life, self-respect, the respect of others, and an enduring reputation as the kind of good person whom the rest of us should want to emulate, must be earned. The whole notion of salvation by faith and not works (which, admittedly, might be more favored by conservative Christians than liberal ones, though I think God, if he’s up there, ought to do his job right and clarify matters) gives Christians the ability to think pleasingly of themselves as among the saved elect, regardless of how they might actually behave in their lives. The popular Christian bumper sticker “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven” conveys egotism, not humility, as it’s basically saying, “Yippie! I’m a Christian, and I never have to change, never have to better myself, never have to take responsibility at all.” The very hypocrisy Matthew 6 rails against is enabled by Christianity’s entire salvation mechanism. How else could so many arch-scumbags (insert names here, but off the bat I think of Kenneth Lay and Jim Bakker) preen with such pride while living the sleaziest, most immoral lives they could manage?

So, while I’m always pleased to see liberal Christians who aren’t afraid to take on the Right Wing Noise Machine (a thing we have pointedly challenged them to do for a decade on AETV), I’d caution Schwyzer and his liberal Christian brethren not to overlook the cheap grace at Christianity’s very foundation. But to be fair, perhaps the fact that guys like him, at the very least, do try to live decent lives of higher personal responsibility, supportive of the real meaning of terms like “justice” and “equality” that the wingnut
s simply treat as pious catchphrases, means they’re more aware of it than they might like to admit.