Aggressive Atheist Extremists

Maybe you’ve seen the PhillyCOR billboard recently? Floaty clouds on a blue sky, with the text “Don’t believe in god?” on top, and “You are not alone,” on the bottom. It’s an invitation to disenfranchised atheists to get in touch with local humanist, atheist, free-thought or secular organizations in their areas. And it’s as inoffensive a message as I’ve ever seen from any atheist group. No attack on religion. No invitation to anyone to reconsider their beliefs. Just a note to those who already don’t believe, who think they’re on their own, to encourage them and let them know there are like-minded people “out there” who would like to get to know them and offer them camaraderie and community involvement. PhillyCOR actually even works alongside religious organizations to support charitable endeavors.

So, here again we have the age-old question: Is there any way—at all—that an atheist can express his opinion that won’t be considered an attack on or offense to believers?

The answer, PhillyCOR has now made clear, is “no.”

In an interview with Fox News, Family Research Council’s own Peter Sprigg had this to say about the board:

“This billboard in Philadelphia seems to represent a trend—a new assertiveness, even aggressiveness on the part of atheists.”

You heard right. Putting up a billboard to let like-minded people know you exist—people who often think they are utterly alone—is “aggressive.” The billboard represents—is part of—a trend of “aggressiveness.” Am I to assume that Sprigg has never seen a Christian billboard before? He should come to Austin, where he would be able to see several in a five mile stretch in any direction. And they don’t just appeal to other Christians—they appeal to everyone to come to church, accept Jesus, believe in god, convert to Christianity. Would Sprigg label Christians as a “hyper aggressive” group, then? I’m guessing not—but to be consistent, he actually would have to. If atheists today are “aggressive,” I can’t see how Sprigg doesn’t consider Christians to be hovering over the edge of “dangerous.”

Further, this man who claims atheists are being “aggressive” has the following to add:

“Atheists are very vigorous in promoting the separation of church and state, but with the extreme way that they interpret that concept, you would basically eliminate every mention of god from the public square, and that would amount to the establishment of atheism.”

First of all, it’s not about eliminating the mention of anything from any “public square.” People in the public square, speaking as private citizens, can say whatever they like. It’s people and institutions that are in any way representatives of government that cannot, and should not, promote any religious perspective—including the existence or nonexistence of any god or gods. That’s a little different, and perhaps a subtlety that is lost on people like Sprigg—although, if I am to speak frankly, I don’t believe it’s lost on him at all. I believe it to be an intentional misrepresentation—a strawman—intended to rile religious masses, because Sprigg knows that an accurate representation would not be nearly as compelling and effective in attaining that goal.

Free advice: When someone misrepresents their case, always, always, always ask “why?”

And while I am on misrepresentations, another interesting fact that Sprigg seems to conveniently have misplaced, is that one of the most active entities promoting separation of church and state is a group headed by the Reverend Barry Lynn, who often speaks on behalf of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Since Sprigg’s group is so very interested in separation issues, I can’t imagine he is unaware of this. And yet, he promotes separation as an “atheist vs. theist” issue, in order to launch an unfounded attack on atheists and rally undeserved support to his own agenda to use the government, openly and unapologetically, to promote a worldview that just happens to align with conservative Christian religious ideologies.

Asking Sprigg to not use our government as a vehicle to push his religion onto others is somehow an “establishment of atheism.” I have pointed out before, but perhaps not at this blog, that asking that the government remove “under god” is in no way the equivalent of asking them to add “without a god” to the Pledge. Ensuring everyone, theists and atheists alike, is free from government sanctioned, promoted, or imposed religious ideology allows everyone, theists and atheists alike, the freedom to exercise their religion, or no religion, as they wish, by putting all religious ideologies on the same playing field—a field that is, and ever should be, found exclusively in the court of private practice.

The level of projection Sprigg employs is at least as bad as anything I have seen from any theist so far. He effortlessly scales the heights of hypocrisy as he accuses others of stepping out of line who are not, while he is guilty of absolutely all that he accuses. Ironically, even if atheists were guilty of all he accuses, they would be doing no more or less than their Sprigg-encouraged Christian counterparts, in so far as pushing their agenda via government and posting and promoting their ideology as far and wide as possible. So, how could Sprigg possibly criticize, even if atheists were guilty, without showing himself up as a raging hypocrite?

The real issue here is that Sprigg wants Christianity to enjoy special privilege and treatment from society, as well as from the government, without being able to actually explain why special status is merited. I would never advocate promoting atheism using the government. And yet, if I did, any criticism from Sprigg could be nothing less than stunning, as I’d be doing no more than he and his organization and religion are doing already (and have been doing for quite a long time).

It’s actually competition Sprigg fears—not competition from others asking government to endorse their religious views, too, but the competition that would exist if his own religious view was no longer allowed to use the government as a prop—if it had to exist, horror of horrors, on the same level upon which all other religious views and ideas are now safely relegated—far beneath his own. It isn’t that he thinks it’s wrong to empower and utilize the government to promote religious views at all. His actions illustrate that he very much supports using government to promote religious views and policies. They also illustrate, in no uncertain terms, that his real beef is that he wants his particular brand of religion to be the only one that gets to do it.

Court places liens on Fred Phelps’ church, office

Just caught this bit of news about America’s most hated hater. A federal judge on Thursday placed liens against the Westboro Baptist Church building, as well as its law office. This was done in the wake of a $5 million judgment against Westboro won by the family of slain Iraq veteran Matthew Snyder, whose funeral the scumbags picketed. Even if the Phelpses are driven into filing bankruptcy as a result of this, the article explains they still wouldn’t be protected from having to pay out the $2.1 million part of the judgment that constitutes punitive damages. Efforts are underway to determine what the church and the Phelpses are really worth. Yes, I know you could determine that just by examining the contents of your commode after a massive case of dysentery. I’m talking financially. With luck, they’ll be living under the same bridge soon.

On the whole “being offensive” thing

In my Dawkins report, I discussed the way many Christians — primarily of the conservative stripe — can’t stop whining about how horribly offensive the anti-religious rhetoric of the “new atheists” is, while intentionally ignoring, and even defending, far worse behavior from their own. A perfect example is this odious hypocrisy I read via Ed Brayton’s blog.

Oklahoma representative Sally Kern, not surprisingly a sponsor of the anti-education bill HB 2211, recently had a sickening homophobic hate screed of hers recorded and made public. Is she apologizing? Of course not. She’s a Christian, and morally superior to you, after all. So not only is she sticking to her guns, she’s got the lunatics at the WorldNutDaily (to which I refuse to link, so go over to Ed’s if you must immerse yourself in such filth) concocting a nice little conspiracy theory in her defense as well. Get a load of this. Here they are talking about how the thousands of gays and lesbians whom Kern gratuitously offended with her hate speech are the ones with the problem, and how they’re victimizing her.

Basically, they’re trying to silence her by threatening, intimidating, harassing and frightening her until she can’t take any more abuse. No dialogue, no debate – just crush her.

Only a fundie would think there’s something meriting “dialogue” and “debate” when some foul-tempered, hideous old cow (oh noes, the eebul afeist is calling her naaames!) rants about how gays and lesbians are more dangerous to America than terrorists, that they’re bringing about the downfall of civilization, and who lies about non-existent “studies” that support such idiotic ideas.

From where I’m sitting, the entirety of the “dialogue” and “debate” hate speech like Kern’s deserves can be summed up as, “You’re a sick individual, a disgrace, and a vile liar, and would you please go crawl back under your rock, you ignorant useless bitch. Thank you. Signed, The Human Race.”

That’s their game. It’s despicable, and utterly un-American.

While religious hate is just so praiseworthy and “pro-American,” of course.

In a sense, Kern does a better job of validating Dawkins’ points than Dawkins does. When Dawkins wrote in his essay “Logical Path from Religious Beliefs to Evil Deeds”

Religion changes, for people, the definition of good…. For non-religious people, the behavior of consenting adults in a private bedroom is the business of nobody else, and is not bad unless it causes suffering – for example by breaking up a happy family. But many religions arrogate to themselves the right to decide that certain kinds of sexual behavior, even if they do no harm to anyone, are wrong…. The following quotation from the Nobel prize winning physicist Steven Weinberg has become well known, but it is so devastatingly true that it is worth quoting again and again: “With or without [religion] you’d have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, it takes religion.”

…he was talking about you, Mustang Sally.

Now, back under the rock with you. Here, take your Bible. You’ll need that, since you haven’t got a brain.

Oh gee. Did I offend someone?

Blasphemy is, as they say, a victimless crime

Over in the UK, the population may be predominately non-religious, or at least indifferent to religion, in stark opposition to the way Americans can’t seem to get enough of the stuff. But it’s only been this week that the House of Lords* voted to strike down the nation’s laws against blasphemy. Nice of them to recognize it isn’t 1437 any more. Unless you’ve got a fascistic, Talibanoid theocracy going on, having blasphemy laws in a modern enlightened culture is like attaching a carburetor to your pyjamas: pointless and utterly silly.

Of course, some people are upset at learning the Middle Ages ended long ago.

Prominent Christian activist Baroness O’Cathain launched a blistering attack on the amendment, with particular fury aimed at Evan Harris. Lady O’Cathain maintained that abolition of blasphemy would unleash a torrent of abuse towards Christians.

Huh. I thought blasphemy was defined as making insulting or disrespectful remarks critical of gods, not their followers. As far as hate crimes against the religious are concerned, the UK has its Racial and Religious Hatred Act, a piece of legislation that makes it an offense to incite deliberate violence and hatred towards a person or group of people based on their race or creed. (I know it’s a law that feels problematic from a free speech standpoint, but the wording of it does try to make it clear that it’s only an offense when there’s clear intent to incite harm. I imagine it’s only a matter of time before it’s actually put to the test in the courts. After all, where’s the line between saying something like “Somebody ought to do something about those damn [insert minority here],” and “Kill the [minority]!”?)

One gets the impression that Baroness O’Cathain is merely troubled by the idea of anyone’s criticizing belief at all. As Tracie pointed out a couple of posts ago, it can be awfully hard for atheists to engage Christians in conversation about belief, simply because the minute you make one statement that’s even the tiniest bit snarky (like comparing their god belief to unicorn belief), many of them are so thin-skinned they’ll storm off in a huff right there. Not surprisingly, Dawkins and The God Delusion came up quite a bit in the House debates. The simple fact that atheist books exist, and are actually finding an audience, is enough for some Christians to think they’re suffering “a torrent of abuse.”

Well, let’s talk abuse. What about the people in the past who were actually the targets of the blasphemy laws in question? Ol’ Wikipedia tells me that the last guy to be prosecuted under the laws was John William Gott in 1921, who was sentenced to nine months’ hard labor simply for publishing pamphlets making fun of Christianity and Jesus. So Christians got their knickers in a twist because Gott snarked on their imaginary friend, and he got nine months breaking rocks. Call me crazy, but I consider that pretty damn torrential abuse. “Hey,” you might say, “that was 87 years ago.” Yeah, but I’m sure it still sucked for him.

Anyway, it was clearly time to get rid of the laws, because they were irrelevant and never used anyway. And as for Christian fears of persecution, again, I never cease to be amazed at these. Check your Yellow Pages and see how many pages it takes to list the churches in your city. Go to any bookstore in the US, and see how many shelves are swallowed up by the Religion category. Only Borders that I know of delineates a section to “Atheism and Agnosticism” within that category, and that section usually only amounts to about two or three shelves, as opposed to the fifty or so shelves devoted to Bibles, apologetics, and the usual twaddle from fundies like LaHaye and Strobel and Colson and their camp. But to many Christians, those two shelves for atheism are two too many, and amount to a horrifying all-out assault on their precious faith.

Cry me a river.


* I had to note my favorite comment about this on Richard Dawkins’ site:

Dear Britain, what the hell is a “house of lords”?? Signed, the 21st century.

You don’t take me seriously, but I’m disrespecting YOU?

I found an odd irony in an exchange recently.

On another blog someone asked if atheists can expect fair treatment from presidential candidates who state their religious beliefs are very important to them in their own lives. While I do think it’s possible for a person to value X, but still understand and respect others who don’t value X, I also understand the reason for the question. Some religious people see their views as simply being their own personal choice, and they don’t really extend that outward to consider what other people might choose. Maybe they don’t care what other people choose so long as we’re all getting along OK. But some religious people express real difficulty even understanding how a person could be moral, trustworthy, or honest (with themselves or others) if they aren’t also religious.

Without asking each person, it’s not possible to know how an individual views their beliefs or how they judge others based on the beliefs others may hold. But it made me recollect an online exchange I had, a very brief one, with a theist recently. And here’s why: I was accused of not being objective when I questioned an inference he made. I asked, “…are you claiming [your argument] is a rational justification for belief in the existence of god (any more than it constitutes rational justification for belief in the existence of fairies)?”

The person was pretty obviously offended by my equating his god to fairies. He became defensive. So, I I responded that I wasn’t trying to be funny, that my question was in all seriousness. He never wrote back.

I have no doubt that this person truly felt I was only trying to get a rise. But I can honestly say I never was. He wrote to an atheist list. He knew in advance that atheists do not believe gods exist. Why it would surprise him that I would equate gods to fairies, in that case, and in all seriousness, I cannot fathom. Apparently, I’m supposed to pretend to grant his belief in god a special status over belief in fairies—even when he knows, before he addresses, me that I don’t. And if his arguments support the existence of fairies as much as the existence of gods, I’m not supposed to notice that or ask about it.

In other words, by expressing my perspective of god’s existence, and by not accepting his view as a given, I’m being offensive. If I say that I—honestly—can’t see how fairies wouldn’t be proven just as much as gods by the arguments he’s providing, I’m not being serious, and I’m just being a jerk. But what’s really happening is that this theist isn’t taking MY position seriously. I REALLY do not see the difference between his belief in god and a belief in fairies. And he refuses to accept that as a serious assertion on my part—even though it is asserted in 100 percent seriousness. Am I offended by that? No. After all, I didn’t go to a theist forum to push my view on anyone. What do I care what he thinks? I was just responding and asking what I thought was a fair question about claims he was making.

But, how does this tie into respect? Well, I respected his belief by treating it like any other. He didn’t care too much for that. But if he’d have come to me saying he could prove fairies, and given me the same arguments he provided for gods, I would just as well have asked, “How would this not also prove leprechauns?” And so on. Would it be offensive to compare fairies to leprechauns in that case—just because someone actually believes in them?

If I can’t even ask a question without being considered an ass; if I can’t give my view without being considered an offensive jerk; If my perspective is automatically interpreted as sarcasm and cruel joking, even though it’s not. How is THAT respect for MY belief (or in this case, lack of it)? What if, instead of asking him how his claim for god did any less to prove fairies exist, I had written back and said, “Well, if you’re just going to write to us with ludicrous claims, trying to be funny about ‘god exists’—I mean, what sort of idiots do you take us for? You can go send your joke e-mails about gods existing to someone else’s list you arrogant prick!”

THAT’S respect? I asked a serious question. He blanketly refused to take me seriously. And it appears to me that he is totally incapable of taking my view seriously on any level. Yet, somehow, that makes ME disrespectful of HIS beliefs.

While I’m not concerned about one online theist, I have to wonder how many others feel this way, or how many politicians share this view? That is a concern. Not an offense (to me, at least), but a real concern.

Texas SBOE promoting the policies of lunatic fundie homophobe?

An email sent out today by the Texas Freedom Network alerts us to the latest shenanigans of the Texas State Board of Education, as it’s currently being run by Dan McLeroy, lackey to Governor Rick “Oh, The Evil Liberal Elite Atheists Are Persecuting Us, Now Drop to Your Knees and Pray, Mofo” Perry. I’ll just post the main section of the email in full.

Today we learned that the far-right faction controlling the State Board of Education wants to torpedo new language arts curriculum standards that took teachers and education experts two years to develop. The Texas Education Agency has even been paying a consulting firm $85,000 to help develop those new standards, which govern what more than 4.5 million children learn in Texas public schools.

The Dallas Morning News is reporting that the State Board of Education’s chairman, Don McLeroy, wants to throw away that money and all of the hard work put in by Texas teachers and education experts. McLeroy is instead promoting an alternative curriculum – one developed more than 10 years ago by a far-right activist more interested in promoting the religious right’s agenda in public schools than making sure Texas schoolchildren get a sound education.

That activist, education gadfly Donna Garner, has promoted her alternative curriculum ever since the state board and then-Gov. George Bush’s education commissioner rejected it in 1997. Now McLeroy and other far-right members who control the state board have breathed new life into Garner’s efforts.

In e-mails to supporters, Garner suggests that her standards are the solution to a host of ills in public schools. She is particularly critical of the use of “multicultural authors” in classes, contemporary literature she deems as inappropriate, and a perceived promotion of the “gay lifestyle.” Her proposed standards even includes specific reading lists – lists that would allow the state board to censor the works of any authors the religious right doesn’t like.

Even though education experts and the board have spent two years working on the revision of the language arts curriculum, McLeroy sent Garner’s alternative to board members just a few days ago! That last-minute surprise prevents parents, teachers and even board members from giving the 100+ pages in the document the thorough review it should get. This is a classic bait-and-switch tactic the religious right has used often in the past.

Now, I support TFN, but I like checking these things out for myself. I Googled Garner, and was disturbed by what I came up with.

I found what I think might be the program TFN is warning about, that Garner endorses, here. Garner declares that she’s more interested in “classrooms where the teacher, an authority figure, teaches curriculum that is academic and knowledge-based, and students are tested primarily through objective testing (i.e., right or wrong answers). The other camp supports classrooms where the teacher is the facilitator who emphasizes a performance-based, constructivist curriculum (e.g., projects, discovery learning, inquiry-based learning) which is subjectively assessed.”

Certainly I support the notion of making sure kids get facts first and foremost. But if Garner is the Christian-right agent provocateur the TFN is making her out to be (and which seems to be the case the more I learn), then my own dealings with average creationists lead me to wonder exactly how accurately she’s portraying the dichotomy between how she’d like to see students taught, and how students actually are being taught. Garner’s tendency to use emotionally laden language like this also sends up red flags:

Texas teachers have been led by the TEA into utilizing failed fads such as whole language, teacher-as-facilitator, holistic scoring, self-esteem movement, inventive spelling, group grading, outcomes-based-education, fuzzy math, rain-forest algebra, block scheduling, open concept, portfolios, integrated curriculum, year-round schools, subjective scoring, etc. The public is disillusioned with the public schools and rightfully so. Parents are tired of their children being used as guinea pigs in education experiments.

Just what in tarnation is Garner babbling about when she throws out terms like “rain-forest algebra” or “inventive spelling” or “holistic scoring”? Once this kind of rhetoric starts getting tossed around, I have a hard time taking anything the person is saying seriously. And even good points about making sure kids get the best education they can get washed overboard once the crazy comes out. I was a student in Texas public schools from the fifth grade on, and I can’t ever remember learning “rain-forest algebra” or being told I could just make up my own spellings to words. I’ll be the first to admit our public schools are in major need of a firmware upgrade, and that lazy policies like “teach to the test” do nothing to get a child excited about learning, instead resulting in the indifferent, assembly-line processing of mediocrity that only cares that a student does well enough to pass with a C- and go away. But bizarre rhetoric tends to cloud good solutions.

Now we get to the more disturbing stuff. I discovered that someone who may or may not be the same Donna Garner posted to a Christian-homophobe hate site. The email on this article is different than the one Garner uses on the Lone Star Foundation page, but that doesn’t mean anything; I have at least five email addresses, two of which I never even use. I was inclined to believe it was the same Garner, as I then found this article in which she goes off on illegal immigrants, titled “This Is Not Being Racist,” but which is also inexplicably titled “Promoting Homosexuality in the Public Schools” in the header. Maybe she meant to write the one, then chucked it and wrote the other instead.

In the Americans for Truth (gag!) post, Garner talks about her experiences dealing with Wal-Mart, where she warns all red-blooded American apple-pie eating straight folk that, using Wal-Mart’s search engine, “I typed in the words ‘gay and lesbians.’ In the top, lefthand corner, it states, ’576 items found for ‘gays and lesbians.’ Wal-Mart still has some cleaning up to do before it can say it is not supporting the gay and lesbian agenda.” Oh yes, the empire is sure to fall!

In my effort to make sure that the teacher Donna Garner was the same person as the homophobe Donna Garner, I narrowed my Google search to “donna garner homosexuality,” and this article at Baptist Press essentially confirmed it, in which it’s written that…

Donna Garner, a retired English teacher, is an example of a leader in the grassroots effort to help Wal-Mart live up to the family friendly description the company gives itself…. One of Garner’s main concerns is that adolescents can easily stumble upon the homosexuality-promoting books and be drawn into a lifestyle that is proven to be detrimental to their health. “I have extensive medical data to show how very dangerous the homosexual lifestyle is,” she told BP.

So that pretty much nails it then. The Donna Garner who writes so passionately about improving students’ learning skills — only to overplay her hand with weird rants about presumed hippy-dippy new-age teaching techniques that are supposed to be state-approved — is the same hateful homophobe who thinks a store merely offering products to a certain segment of their clientele involves some kind of organized push to force teens everywhere into sodomite gangbangs. Apparently Garner missed the shelves in Wal-Mart that are stacked to the ceiling with delusional monkeypoo like this. Wal-Mart stocks more fundie drivel than any other major retailer I’ve ever seen. But for Garner, even that’s not good enough. It has to be all Christianity, all the time, with no room allowed for anyone “unsaved.” And they say gays are the ones with “an agenda.”

For the record, I did an “entire site” search at WalMart.com for “gay and lesbian,” and got 37 results total. “Gay” alone got 153, and “lesbian” got only 43. “Homosexuality” only got 5, and “homosexual” a mere 3. “Christianity” got 1,829 results, and “christian” got 4,385. (“Atheist” only got 6, and half of those were lame Christian attempts at rebuttals such as the fake Antony Flew book.) So where’s the big “gay agenda” promotion, Mrs. Garner? Or are you still threatened by the fact those search numbers are any higher than zero?

Here’s another stupid rant on a website with the hilariously inappropriate name of belogical.com (well, you know, Socrates was a cat), in which Garner continues her vendetta against Wal-Mart and bolsters it with such asinine nonsense as this:

Race and ethnicity cannot be changed; they are inherent. Homosexuality can be changed and is not inherent. The proof is that thousands of homosexuals have walked away from the homosexual lifestyle and are now happily married heterosexuals. No one has ever met a person who was born an Anglo and who has changed himself into an Afro-American. Putting homosexuality under the same umbrella as race/ethnicity is a ploy developed by the homosexual movement to give legitimacy to their terribly destructive sexual practices, and Wal-Mart and HEB have bought into the lie.

“…Terribly destructive sexual practices.” Remember, in the mind of the Christian homophobe, being gay is about nothing more than fudge-packin’, day in and day out!

So I guess I have to join TFN in opposing any influence Garner may have on the course of education in Texas. Even if her ideas about teaching were entirely valid, that fact that she’s such an obvious and unrepentantly frothing bigot and hatemonger — and one who validates her hate with brazen lies — frankly disqualifies her from any respectful consideration. She needs to be relegated to the fringe and ignored, where she can spew her bile without splashing it on decent folks.

But then, that idiot McLeroy ought to be out on the fringe too. And look where he is. Looks like education in Texas is going to be a bigger battleground than we originally thought. And you thought it was just about evolution!

The MySpace kerfuffle

The atheist blogosphere erupted with indignation earlier this week, and quite justifiably, when it was revealed that the massive social networking site MySpace had summarily deleted the 35,000-member-strong Atheist and Agnostic Group without so much as a by-your-leave, even though the group had violated none of the site’s terms of service. This is seen as rampant religious bigotry and it probably is, although two groups I belong to, “Atheists” (4,828 members) and “SkepticSpace” (989 members) are still alive.

So I’m not sure what’s going on here, but it does seem as if the big group was targeted by angry Christians who complained loudly enough to force the deletion. If so, it just makes the fact that Christians still whine about being the ones censored and persecuted and “expelled” all the more egregiously self-serving and dishonest.

A lot of atheists are deleting their profiles, which I can’t imagine will hurt MySpace in the tiniest. After a lot of thought on the matter I’ve decided to keep mine up, but add the complete text of the Secular Students press release along with a comment voicing my own condemnation of MySpace’s apparent religious bigotry in a nice large font. Two days later they haven’t deleted me, which leads me to think there was some personal targeting going on and there isn’t (so far) some wholesale campaign to rid MySpace of the godless.

Lots of people slag MySpace, and I can see why, but I’ve actually found it quite useful. Mainly I’m using it to promote the documentary I’m working on (and working on and working on), and have so far “networked,” as it were, with lots of folks in indie film. I’ve also discovered a buttload of good bands I’d never have heard of otherwise. When my friend Hollye ran her cat shelter, she raised about $300 in Paypal donations through her MySpace page. So yeah, for all that it’s cheesy — no matter how big MySpace gets, it will probably never live down the rep it’s gotten in the media as “that teen site” where all the pedo stalkers hang out — I have no reason to think it sucks. Like anything else, it’s all in how you use it. (And to everyone who’s likely to raid the comments with glowing endorsements of Facebook, I must say I find that site completely boring and useless. I have a profile there but have almost never had a reason to log onto it.)

I’d suggest that if you’ve still got a MySpace page, then deck it out with proud proclamations of your atheism and your disapproval of the Atheist and Agnostic group’s unwarranted deletion. As MySpace is a privately owned (by Rupert Murdoch, surprise surprise) enterprise, I don’t see that anyone involved with the deleted group could have recourse to legal action or anything, but IANAL on that score. Just use your freedom of speech and use it loudly. We’re here, we’re godless, get used to it. If they delete you, well, it’s not like you’ve lost an investment or anything. And it will just prove that the site is run by reactionary, stupid religious bigots after all.

Westboro scum slapped with $11 million judgment

Filthpig Fred Phelps and his gang of funeral-picketing ghouls have been ordered to pay the family of Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, killed in Iraq, nearly $11 million in damages as a result of a lawsuit brought by the slain veteran’s father.

Naturally, they will appeal, as the judge in the case fully (and, one assumes, cheerfully) admits that the award “far exceeds the net worth of the defendants.” Hell, that would be the case if Snyder’s family had been awarded a sack full of cat turds. Still, there are two ways to deal with Phelps and his disciples, it seems. Either walk up to them when they’re at their next picket and shoot each of them in the head (which, I suspect, would be frowned upon as overdoing it even by everyone who doesn’t like them), or keep bleeding them white with these suits until they can’t even afford to keep a vehicle to drive them all to their latest hate rally. Yeah yeah, free speech, whatever. If it’s their free speech to be dispicable swine, then I say it’s everyone else’s to counter them however they see fit. Remember, this kind of thing — hate speech, I mean — doesn’t so much take place in a “marketplace” of ideas as in a boxing ring. Phelps is free to don his gloves and jump in for a few rounds. But he shouldn’t snivel and whine if he gets TKO’d.

Let’s hope the appellate court has the decency to uphold the award, and isn’t swayed by the “but it’s our religion!” argument to rationalize antisocial behavior intentionally designed to inflict pain and suffering.

A sterling example of the moral bankruptcy of religion

Recently, Richard Dawkins wrote a piece called “Logical Path from Religious Belief to Evil Deeds.” In it, he proposed that the reason religionists can consider themselves morally superior to absolutely everyone who doesn’t share their beliefs is that religious belief “changes, for people, the definition of good.”

This is how, for example, the 9/11 terrorists were able to do what they did, and still believe themselves and their actions to be as “good” as it was possible to be. This is how psychotics like Fred Phelps and Donald Spitz can do what they do — the former staging his unspeakably vile protests and the latter claiming to be a “pro-life” champion while lionizing a murderer of an abortion doctor on his website as an “American hero” — and think they are the paragons of all that is good in the world. If there’s one concept religion — especially as practiced by Christians and Muslims — perverts beyond all hope of recognition, it’s the rational understanding of good and evil. To a believer, if you’re doing it for your God, it’s good, even if it’s the most backwards and disgraceful of bigoted beliefs, or the most inexcusable of crimes, including mass murder. It’s classic Orwellian doublethink.

This fact has been made clear once again by the latest blatherings of the mentally ill Ann Coulter. Yes, I’m sure all of you are poised to roll your eyes and go “come on!” at my choice of such an easy target. After all, Ann has never said a sane (let alone sensible or remotely factual) thing in her entire manufactured career. Isn’t pointing to her idiocies like shooting fish in the proverbial barrel?

Well, maybe. But that doesn’t invalidate the basic point, which is this: Ann is a deranged and hate-filled individual. And yet, she embraces Christianity quite fervently, a religion whose proponents repeatedly insist is all about love. But notice: Christianity, contrary to another claim of its adherents, does not in fact give Ann a foundation from which she can understand just how vicious and ignorant her beliefs are, and change them for the better — which is what it would do if it were a belief system founded upon sound moral precepts that provided comprehensible moral guidelines for living. Rather, it simply gives her a comfort zone from which she can continue to hold those beliefs, and then label them moral.

Look at this truly bizarre exchange between Ann and CNBC host Donny Deutsch. On Deutsch’s show last Monday, Ann made some of the most outlandishly anti-Semitic remarks to be publicly aired since April of 1945. And yet, with all apparent sincerity, she insisted that these statements were in no way anti-Semitic or the least bit hateful.

COULTER: Do you know what Christianity is? We believe your religion, but you have to obey.

DEUTSCH: No, no, no, but I mean –

COULTER: We have the fast-track program.

DEUTSCH: Why don’t I put you with the head of Iran? I mean, come on. You can’t believe that.

COULTER: The head of Iran is not a Christian.

DEUTSCH: No, but in fact, “Let’s wipe Israel” –

COULTER: I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention.

DEUTSCH: “Let’s wipe Israel off the earth.” I mean, what, no Jews?

COULTER: No, we think — we just want Jews to be perfected, as they say.

DEUTSCH: Wow, you didn’t really say that, did you?

COULTER: Yes. That is what Christianity is. We believe the Old Testament, but ours is more like Federal Express. You have to obey laws. We know we’re all sinners –

DEUTSCH: In my old days, I would have argued — when you say something absurd like that, there’s no –

COULTER: What’s absurd?

DEUTSCH: Jews are going to be perfected. I’m going to go off and try to perfect myself –

COULTER: Well, that’s what the New Testament says.

Wow, huh? Now, keep in mind, as part of the very same exchange, Ann is able to say this with perfect conviction.

DEUTSCH: You said — your exact words were, “Jews need to be perfected.” Those are the words out of your mouth.

COULTER: No, I’m saying that’s what a Christian is.

DEUTSCH: But that’s what you said — don’t you see how hateful, how anti-Semitic –

COULTER: No!

DEUTSCH: How do you not see? You’re an educated woman. How do you not see that?

COULTER: That isn’t hateful at all.

DEUTSCH: But that’s even a scarier thought.

Once your brain stops reeling, you may be given to wonder just how a person can hold such 1984-ish, contradictory attitudes and not have one’s head explode from cognitive dissonance. The answer is: religion. Religion redefines “good” to accommodate, legitimize and justify whatever the believer already believes. It is not a rational process in the least. If it were, then yes, it would impossible to make the pronouncement that, compared to you, an entire race of people is imperfect (and, by unavoidable extension, inferior), and simultaneously think that that is not only not a hateful comment, but one that embraces diversity. The moral and intellectual wasteland that is religion is never made more clear than when some religionist openly and proudly espouses these “war is peace, freedom is slavery” attitudes, and then gets all agog with confusion and denial when someone points out just how demented and hateful and just plain wrong they are.

If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a million times: religion provides no basis for a system of morals. It simply provides a smug sense of superiority for its adherents, in which the word “moral” is applied to the flock, and “immoral,” “imperfect,” “sinner,” and other divisive and harmful sobriquets are applied to everyone on the outside, irrespective of actual deeds.