Thanks, Vatican! I Feel Ever So Much Better!

I can’t say I’m haunted by niggling fears that God doesn’t approve of astrobiology, for obvious reasons, but there’s great news for those who do: the Vatican says it’s okay to believe in aliens! Rejoice! Oh, joyous day!


VATICAN CITY (May 13) – Believing that the universe may contain alien life does not contradict a faith in God, the Vatican’s chief astronomer said in an interview published Tuesday.


*snicker snort guffaw* What? Oh, don’t mind me. I just have this strange involuntary reaction whenever I see the words “the Vatican’s” and “chief astronomer” juxtaposed. It must be an allergy.


The Rev. Jose Gabriel Funes, the Jesuit director of the Vatican Observatory, was quoted as saying the vastness of the universe means it is possible there could be other forms of life outside Earth, even intelligent ones.

“How can we rule out that life may have developed elsewhere?” Funes said. “Just as we consider earthly creatures as ‘a brother,’ and ‘sister,’ why should we not talk about an ‘extraterrestrial brother’? It would still be part of creation.

I’m sure all of the aliens will be delighted to hear it, especially when the evangelicals follow up your message of brotherhood with a “convert now or die!” P.S.


In the interview by the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, Funes said that such a notion “doesn’t contradict our faith” because aliens would still be God’s creatures. Ruling out the existence of aliens would be like “putting limits” on God’s creative freedom, he said.

Aw, you’re letting God out of His box? But you’d built such a nice one for Him.

Does anyone else feel strange when they agree with what the Vatican post-John Paul II says? I’ve always thought it ridiculous myself, all those silly little limitations humans seem dead-set on imposing on a supposedly omniscient, omnipotent being, but I thought that was just me being an atheist again. And yet, here’s the Vatican’s chief astronomer *HAHAHA sorry* arguing for God’s freedom of expression. The mind boggles.


Funes said science, especially astronomy, does not contradict religion, touching on a theme of Pope Benedict XVI, who has made exploring the relationship between faith and reason a key aspect of his papacy.

The Bible “is not a science book,” Funes said, adding that he believes the Big Bang theory is the most “reasonable” explanation for the creation of the universe. The theory says the universe began billions of years ago in the explosion of a single, super-dense point that contained all matter.

That sound you just heard, you know, the one like a barely-ripe melon hitting the street after a twenty-six story fall, was the sound of an IDiot’s head exploding at the notion of a Christian saying the Bible is not a science book. Oh, wait. That’s the “Apostate church” saying that. Never mind.

This is one reason why, although I poke fun at the Catholic Church and have no problem calling bullshit on them, I still have a lot more respect for them than I do the fundies. They’re actually having a decent go at this whole “science is okay with God!” thing. Dare I say, the Catholic Church has been around long enough to have mostly grown out of its angry, insecure, “convert now or die!!” phase?


The Vatican Observatory has been at the forefront of efforts to bridge the gap between religion and science. Its scientist-clerics have generated top-notch research and its meteorite collection is considered one of the world’s best.


All right, all right. We’re so over that Galileo thing (400 years later), and I’ll grant you, you’re doing some good science. But still. I break out in helpless laughter when I hear the term “scientist-clerics.” I just can’t help myself. Father forgive me.

No, what the Vatican is doing here is respectable and noble and a damned good idea, seeing as how religion may never get kicked to the curb. At least this way science gets a ringing endorsement. I just find it sad that some people need the Vatican to tell them Little Green Men and God go together like cheese and crackers.

Now if only the Church could develop an enlightened attitude toward contraception, we might have a winner. There’s still people who won’t buy a rubber if they think God might get angry, you know.

Ah, humanity. How silly you are.


Scientific Method – Grail Style


“Every Sperm Is Sacred”

Sometimes My Country Makes Me Want to Stab Out My Eyes with a Dessert Fork

I’m so fucking depressed.

There’s too much stupid. My arms are tired. I can’t muster the energy to spank. I’m going to have to rely on my fellow bloggers to beat back the hordes of raging fuckwits for tonight.

Steve Benen over at the Carpetbagger Report got my day off to a depressing start with this stark assessment of Obama’s projected losses in Kentucky and West Virginia. Race may not be the only factor, as Steve points out, but it’s pretty damned hard to discount. Combine race with all the bullshit about him being an elitist urban liberal who believes in principles more than pandering, and it becomes all too easy to understand why Obama’s going to lose the working-class white vote.

They’ll give him a pass for the same reasons my white, working-class Midwestern relatives will: they can’t stand the thought of voting into office a man smarter than they are, and the fact that he’s a black man who’s smarter than they are just adds a whole new dimension to it. I hear racist poison spew from all sides when I speak to them. They don’t always try to cloak it. And I’d hoped they were an anachronism, but it’s become abundantly clear to me that they’re not uniquely ridiculous. There’s all too many just like them, or far fucking worse.

Don’t believe me? Have a look at this McClatchy article.


U.S. Sen. Barack Obama’s race and inflammatory racial remarks made by his former preacher negatively affect how likely voters view the candidate, according to a new poll in Kentucky.

More than one in five likely Democratic voters surveyed said being black hurts Obama’s chances of winning an election in Kentucky, compared to 4 percent who said Obama’s race helps him.

More than half of respondents said Obama’s race isn’t a factor in the upcoming May 20 primary. But many still said the racially charged remarks by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright will play an important role as they decide whom to support.

Among white voters, Wright’s statements were important to 46 percent, compared to only 11 percent of black voters.


Pass me the dessert fork.

Blue NC just made it worse. They tried to show why race wasn’t the main issue in all this. Maybe it’s not, but it’s hardly comforting to read what is. Buried amidst a lot of very good, valid ideas and issues is this quote from Ohiobama, advising Obama how to campaign in Appalachia:


Forget all national issues for a few days and talk about local issues. Find out what those communities want and speak to those wants. Don’t send Oprah or Michelle to those areas; send George Clooney and John Edwards if you can get him. Don’t jet around. Take bus tours with multiple stops in small towns. Pay attention to local history. Visit historic sites. Recruit new voters from the hollows as well as from college campuses. In fact, avoid the college campuses, they stigmatize you.


So he has to send white males like George Clooney to campaign? Avoid colleges because of some fucking stigma? What the fuck does it say about this country when colleges stigmatize a candidate? How stupid do they want the President to be?

I was excited about Obama because, unlike most of our presidential contenders these past many years, he’s actually had a brain and a chance at winning. But I’m starting to wonder if he has any chance of winning once the American Ignorance Machine really gets cranked. Pretty Shaved Ape over at Canadian Cynic certainly didn’t buck me up on that front: he thinks both of our Democratic candidates are “mediocre.” Now how fucking sad is it that Obama isn’t mediocre enough in America’s eyes?

Which one of you buggers snagged my dessert fork? I need that back, thanks so much.

Especially after reading up on the Pledge controversy. Etha Williams at The Sacred Tree of Jeanne Shade quotes a plethora of stupid fuckers spouting off on why people should stand for the Pledge of Allegiance or leave the country.

Newsflash, fucktards: nothing in the bloody Constitution says that you’re supposed to be a bunch of blind fucking sheep bleating empty bullshit about flags and patriotism. Let’s ask Thomas Jefferson what he thinks about blind adoration of the United States of America, shall we?


“I hold it, that a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.”

“To preserve the freedom of the human mind then and freedom of the press, every spirit should be ready to devote itself to martyrdom; for as long as we may think as we will, and speak as we think, the condition of man will proceed in improvement.”


Well, shit. Jefferson wouldn’t have supported the “love it or leave it” wankers. Hey, Etha? Who’ve they got to support them?


“Naturally, the common people don’t want war, but after all, it is the leaders of a country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. This is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country.”

— Hermann Goering, Hitler’s Reich-Marshall, at the Nuremberg Trials


Oh, deary deary me. Seems that some folks have forgotten that there’s a place for dissent in a democracy, and a good reason for it: blind devotion and willful ignorance can, as Etha so beautifully pointed out, have rather severe consequences.

Speaking of willful ignorance, Blake Stacey over at Science After Sunclipse has an example of it that hits like a battering ram to the solar plexus. He reports on the latest battleground over evolution in classrooms – Maine, of all places – and quotes a man who’s a definite contender for Most Fuckheaded American:


Blevins spoke in favor of SAD 59 Chairman Norman Luce’s suggestion, that a philosophy class might provide a better forum for the study of evolution.

“That’s a sane approach,” Blevins said. “The evolution concept is a theory, and not provable. If the science department at Madison High is simply teaching theory, then you ought to leave it in the science department.”

My darlings, I present you Pastor Roy Blevins. He gets to wear the “Fucktard of the Day” hat. Blake did smite him mightily, but alas, this kind of stupid is adamantium. And he’s a pastor. People listen to this stupid bastard. They trust this stupid little twit.

And then they’re going to go vote for the dumbest bastard they can find when it comes time to select the person best qualified to lead our country.

Do you see now why I want my dessert fork back? Sharpened, please. I need to stab out my eyes in such a manner that they’re still intact enough to stuff in my ears so I can drown these assclowns out.

Worldnutdaily: MST1C Edition

When I came across this incredible farce by way of Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars, I was awed. The level of insanity – truly transcendent. I nearly herniated myself laughing.

My first thought was, “Paul, darling – you asked me after my last post about Worldnutdaily, ‘Is Kupelian’s commentary extreme for it? Or is it pretty much just par for the course there?’ Well, here’s the perfect answer.”

My second thought was, “Garrett’s going to howl.”

My third, and by far best, thought: “Fuck writing this by myself. I’m going to get Garrett’s input first.”

Garrett, you see, is my best friend. He is my heart-brother, my boon companion, my partner-in-snark, my confidante going on seventeen years now. He’s also deeply Christian. He belongs to one of the Churches of Christ, which are so Biblically conservative they sing a cappella. On the plus side, they turned out a man like Garrett, who can be best friends with an atheist without worrying about hellfire and damnation, and they didn’t exhort their congregation to go see Expelled. As far as I know, they still haven’t even mentioned it.

When it comes to conservative Protestant Christian matters, Garrett is my go-to guy. It’s not only because he’s got a deeper knowledge of Biblical matters than he’s willing to admit. It’s also because he has a truly amazing sense of humor, and he never fails to deliver biting, insightful snark when it comes to the shennanigans of the frothing fundies.

And he’s always willing to go into the breech with me, no matter how much it hurts. He’s got my back.

We disagree on many, many matters of belief. Bound to, considering one of us believes in God and the other doesn’t. But we’re in perfect accord when it comes to the inanity of the rabid fundies. As he’s said often, he doesn’t much like fanatics of any stripe. This comes in useful when I need a Christian reality check. I can go to him and say, “Garrett, is this how most Christians think, or are these folks a little odd?” If he bursts out laughing, I know “batshit insane” is the right call. If he starts disagreeing with me, I know I’ve got more thinking to do.

He’ll be the first to tell you he can’t speak for “most” Christians. But I’ve found that I seldom go wrong among the moderates when I present his opinions on the faith: they may quibble about the cosmetic details, but they’re rock-solid on the foundations. You know, little details like “Judge not lest ye be judged” and that what it all comes down to, at core, is loving God and loving each other.

So, this Saturday, I made him endure an entire Worldnutdaily article with me. I was going to do a nice little write-up with a few quotes and his insight and my slams, but it’s turned into something of a Mystery Science Theater with One Christian edition instead. For your sakes, I’ll fast forward through the bits without snarky commentary to prevent premature meltdown of vital brain cells.

Without further ado, I present you: Worldnutdaily: MST1C Edition. In Stereo Where Available.

Blood moon eclipses: 2nd Coming in 2015?

Minister uses NASA forecasting to study signals of Jesus’ return
By Joe Kovacs© 2008 WorldNetDaily


[Wait – doesn’t the Mayan calendar say the world’s gonna end in 2012?]

*FF*

A minister who promotes the Old Testament roots of Christianity suggests a rare string of lunar and solar eclipses said to fall on God’s annual holy days seven years from now could herald what’s come to be known as the “Second Coming” of Jesus.

[Sounds like a bunch of lunarcy to me]

*FF*

In a video interview on the Prophecy in the News website, Biltz said he’s been studying prophecies that focus on the sun and moon, even going back to the book of Genesis where it states the lights in the sky would be “be for signs, and for seasons.”

[You know, like spring, summer, winter, fall…]

*FF*

Biltz adds the word “seasons” implies appointed times for God’s feasts and festivals.”When we hear the word feast, we think food. But the Hebrew word has nothing to do with food. It has to do with a divine appointment, as if God has a day timer, and He says, ‘OK, I’m gonna mark the day and the time when I’m going to signal My appearance.'”

[Does this mean He’s gone to the “Getting Things Done” movement?]

In the Old Testament, the prophet Joel states, “The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come.” (Joel 2:31)

[Hey, they stole that from the original Mummy movie!]

*FF*

He says during this century, tetrads occur at least six times, but what’s interesting is that the only string of four consecutive blood moons that coincide with God’s holy days of Passover in the spring and the autumn’s Feast of Tabernacles (also called Succoth) occurs between 2014 and 2015 on today’s Gregorian calendar.

[Oh, my head.]

**FF**

He then started to notice a pattern of the tetrads.

[I’m noticing a pattern here, too.]

*FF yammer yammer Holy Days yammer Eclipses yammer OMG ECLIPSES ON HOLY DAYS!!!1!1!! yammer (and you all just remember that Garrett had to suffer through every. damned. word. FF*

“If you think that this is a coincidence, I want you to know that it’s time!” exclaimed Prophecy in the News host J.R. Church. “There are no more of these for the rest of the century.”

[How do we know that means Christ is coming back?]

*FF*

But Hal Lindsey, a well-known biblical analyst and author of “The Late Great Planet Earth,” [and former star of Barney Miller] says while he hasn’t heard of Biltz’s theory, he called it “pure speculation.”

*FF*

“I see the whole sweep and panorama spinning together in a precise scenario,” he said.

[Here’s my take on prophecy – how do I know Christ is coming back? He said He would. When’s He coming back? I don’t know. He doesn’t know. Only the Father knows. If people would rather play with prophecy than play with themselves, that’s their lookout.]

**FF**

The 25th chapter of Matthew features a parable where Jesus likens His kingdom to ten virgins all waiting for the arrival of their bridegroom.

Jesus said in the story, “ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.” (Matthew 25:13)

Biltz says people need to examine the quote in its proper context.”When He says you don’t know the day or the hour, He’s speaking to the foolish virgins, not the wise virgins,” he explained.

[strangled whisper: forfuck’ssake]

Biltz was also asked about the famous statement in Matthew 24:36 when Jesus was discussing the signs of His “coming, and of the end of the world”: “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.” (Matthew 24:36)

[What did I just say?!]

He responded by referring to the annual Feast of Trumpets holiday, saying Israelites never knew the precise moment it began, “because it was based on the sighting of the new moon.”

“When He (Jesus) says you won’t know the day or the hour, He’s telling you it’s the Feast of Trumpets because that was known as the feast where no one knew the day or the hour that it would begin,” said Biltz. “So it’s kind of like if I told you, ‘I’m not going to tell you when I’m coming, but “Gobble, gobble, gobble,'” [pointing to] Turkey Day.”

[Not even the ANGELS know! Come on!

growl]

Church stressed despite the information suggesting 2015 could be a pivotal time, “We don’t know that that will be the concluding year of the tribulation period … so we’re not setting a date and saying this is a warning. We’re introducing the possibility of a watch.”

[This article is a tribulation!]

*Mercifully, The End*

[I’m sorry, I don’t care what kind of convoluted – well, we can scarecely call it reasoning – you do, “no man knows the hour or the day” seems to trump just about everything else.

All these “Bible-based prophecies” have been historically, uninamouly, across the board, been 100% WRONG! Now, I could be wrong about that, but I really don’t think so.

Biltz – here’s YOUR sign (with apologies to Bill Engvall, of course.)]

So there you have it, my darlings. I think now you’ll see why Garrett and I have no trouble getting along despite our wildly divergent views on faith. And now you have more than just an atheist’s perspective on Worldnutdaily’s worldnuttery: you’ve seen that at least one conservative Christian shudders just as much as we do at their supreme fuckwittery.

Gestures of support for Garrett, who suffered so much for our edification, can be left in the comments. He richly deserves them.

Worldnutdaily Gets It Right – If Held Up to a Mirror

I’m amazed. Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars seems to think Worldnutdaily’s gone right over the cliff, but he got blinded by the crazy. I, on the other hand, was not, due mainly to the fact that I came by their raving lunacy pre-digested, and had a mirror handy.

Observe:


I’m no fan of Hillary Clinton, but holy cow, you’ve got to see this completely unhinged “exclusive commentary” (as always, that means something so stunningly idiotic that no other news outlet would even consider printing it) from Worldnutdaily VP David Kupelian. He opines:


The damage that will occur to America if Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama is elected president will go far beyond what we can rationally anticipate on the policy level.

And since, he says, we can’t rationally anticipate the horrible damage Hillary will do to the country, he proceeds to irrationally anticipate those damages. And he winds up the stupidity machine into overdrive and lets her go.


Poor Ed. His eyes were probably bleeding by the second paragraph. And since I like to keep my irises ichor-free, I’m not venturing over to read the whole article. I have quite enough to play with just with the bits he quoted.

First, let’s read the spewings sans-mirror:


What I’m saying is, the president is like the father of a big family, and who he is and what he is – his spirit – affects everyone, like the sun. It’s a radiant energy that directly shines on people. Presidents invisibly
shape the character and worldview of the country, with a particularly profound effect upon the young, since they are the most impressionable.


Yep. Total batshit insanity, I agree. What else can you expect from the Magic Skydaddy crowd? Most Christians are sane enough to realize that divine right and all of its trappings went out of style when Louis XVI’s head fell in a basket. You wouldn’t catch my Christian friends dead spouting off about the president’s “spirit” and “radiant energy,” for instance. But the raving lunatics who write for Worldnutdaily haven’t evolved that far, and so we get supreme stupidity such as this.

Only… it makes a certain sort of sense. Grab your mirrors, my darlings, and hold them up.

Ooo, no reflection. Could it be… vampires?

Just kidding. I think.

Right. So, let’s take the argument for granted that presidents shape the character of the country. I can just about believe that after watching Bush in action. The nation certainly has a different character than it did in 2000.

We’ll set aside the “radiant energy” and other such psychotic woo. Let’s don’t get stupid, here.

Now, without the mirror, the further arguments of this fatuous fuck are transparently ridiculous:


Just reflect, for a moment, on the bizarre and seemingly inexplicable behaviors of young people we see right now – youths Tasering each other for fun on YouTube. Ubiquitous sexual debauchery at younger and younger ages. The mainstreaming of transgenderism. Body piercing and tattooing at an ever-more pathological level – tongues, lips, eyebrows, deep body parts. Pandemic gang activity and drug abuse. Witchcraft. Satanism. Suicide. (I take readers on a guided tour of this bizarre underworld in the “Killer Culture” chapter of “The Marketing of Evil.”)


Do you, now? Must be a wonderful experience, having you give a guided tour. Much like having a colonoscopy without sedation, administered by a sadist who honed his anal exploration skills in prison. But do go on:


Our colleges indoctrinate our kids with leftist poison while corrupting their morals; our news media are cynical, self-centered and cowardly; the entertainment industry is in the gutter; and even many of our Christian churches are shallow and plastic – not, as they should be, a genuine contrast to the corruption everywhere without. When kids grow up around confusion, corruption and hypocrisy, they are tempted either to conform – and become Stepford clones of the same hypocrisy – or rebel and engage in bizarre, destructive behaviors.

That’s the insanity we’ve got now – despite having a basically decent, if very flawed, man in the White House.

Still with me, my darlings? Excellent. Whip out your mirrors.


That’s the kind of insanity we’ve got now, with a lying, evil, dumbfuck son of a bitch in the White House.


Much better. Our President is morally depraved: ergo, by the Worldnutdaily’s own contention that “Presidents invisibly shape the character and worldview of the country,” the country is morally depraved. Stands to unreason, dunnit?

Let us continue:


But try to imagine Hillary Clinton as president – and Bill as first lady. The toxic cultural/governmental environment would be almost beyond imagination with the elevation of “the queen of darkness” as “father of our country.”

You could expect a radical increase in shocking, self-destructive and criminal acting-out by lost souls lashing out blindly in a desperate expression of revenge toward the contemptible society that could dare elect such a person as president. Perhaps a huge upsurge in mass shootings, such as we’ve seen recently. Or maybe more “bug-chasing” – that’s where people actively try to get infected with AIDS. Maybe homegrown suicide bombers committing horrific terrorist acts – not for Allah, but just for kicks, for non-specific revenge against the human race. No one can say what form it will take, but expect more and more weird, destructive behaviors designed for maximum shock.


Again with the mirrors. This time, replace “Hillary” with “McCain.” I’ll give you a moment to reach your conclusions and stop laughing yourselves sick.

See how much better their arguments work when you ponder the trajectory of the country with another four years of neocon fuckwittery at the helm? It almost makes sense now.

We can now go even further. Were the Worldnutters truly rational, they’d know that the best thing they could do for their cause is elect the most rabid liberal they could find. They think kids take on the character of the society around them, but we know that kids are more likely to rebel against authority rather than emulate it, right? Didn’t we all get our jabs in at our parents that way? If Americans really are the kiddies, and the President the Big Daddy standing in for Magic Invisible Sky Daddy, couldn’t we expect a massive wave of rebellion? Wouldn’t people remove their piercings, burn their ACLU card, swear off Satan and wands and pick up a Bible, just out of spite?

Let’s do what Worldnutdaily can’t, and face facts: this country has started to rebel. Democrats are kicking Republicon ass in GOP strongholds. After eight years of Republicon corruption, lawbreaking, and willful dumbfuckitude, America’s ready to take a sharp swing to the left out of mortal embarrassment. It’s the equiv
alent of walking several steps behind your parents, trying to give the impression you’re not in any way related to these appalling weirdos.

If we’re granting Worldnutdaily’s Kupelian the basics of his argument, then it follows that all of the eeevil shite he talks about didn’t happen despite Bush being in office, but because Bush is in office.

Really does seem like Kupelian was looking in a mirror and not recognizing his own reflection when he drooled those ravings, doesn’t it?

Would It Help If I Prayed?

Evangelical Christian: Oh, dear, how awful! I’ll pray for you!

Me: You’re going to get through this. Here’s what to expect, and here’s what you can do. You’re strong. You can make it.

That was my day, sans evangelical.

I work in a call center. There are times when I’m not taking orders or troubleshooting service: I’m playing therapist. It’s been that way for years. Most reps I know avoid that kind of talk, aside from “Wow, that sucks. Anything else?”

Not me.

I take some action, and I really have no idea why. After all, I’m an atheist, which means I have no love for my fellow human beings, no morals, and no desire to help anybody else, right? I mean, you have to be religious to be anything more than a selfish animal.

Funny, but it’s the atheists and other assorted heathens I’ve met who leap fastest when it comes to responding to need. There’s no agenda, just one human being caring for another, doing their best to help, because of empathy. They don’t need a sky daddy telling them they’d better do this or else. They don’t spend their time thinking of how they can use this person’s awful situation to bring them to God. They just jump in and assist, no strings.

And it’s hard.

Hard to sit there on the phone, listening while a person’s pain spills out.

Several years ago, I took a call from a man who needed to order business forms. His voice was dead, flat monotone. After a bit, I couldn’t stand it. Part of me was worried I’d done something inadvertantly awful, another part that my company had really pissed him off, and other bits suspected something worse.

The can of worms had to be opened. This couldn’t go on. Look, I’m a showman on the phone. I once had a woman call her husband to pick up the phone so he could hear how funny I was. If I can’t leave a person with a smile, I’ve failed. So I asked, “What’s wrong?”

Silence. A sigh. Finally, “You don’t want to hear my problems.”

Oh, well, when you put it like that: “Will it make you feel better to talk about it?”

Silence. Then, in a small voice, “Yes.”

“Then tell me.”

He proceeded to spill out the story of his life, which I won’t share here. Suffice it to say a country-western song couldn’t have gotten more morose. The man had suffered tragedy after tragedy after tragedy, and here he was, having to soldier on, ordering business forms.

As I sat there trying not to sniffle too loudly, he said, “Actually, I do feel better.” His voice took on life, and maybe a little hope. We completed his order. At least for that moment, I’d let him put the burden down, provided the sympathetic ear, and let him know about programs our company had to help out. Total strangers, but he’s stayed with me all these years.

There’s power in being there for someone, the unattached stranger, the listening ear, who has no agenda other than to try to make things a little better. I always justified it to my supervisors by saying there’s a good business reason: those people will never forget that our company provided a sympathetic listener when they needed to pour out their soul. They’ll never forget that someone was there for them. That’s how I get away with doing my little bit. It’s not the reason I do it. I truly do care for people. I want to give them the strength or release they need to carry on. Leave burden here. I may be a skinny little atheist, but I can help you carry it.

I did a lot of carrying this evening. And it wasn’t just a simple matter of letting someone speak, with a few sympathetic noises thrown in. This time, it was personal.

Again, no details, just a sketch: I spoke to a woman who had been assaulted over the weekend. She was asking me questions about her service, and the reason for that came tumbling out almost inadvertantly. Evidence needed. Fine. We deal with things like stolen phones. Have the police contact us, and we’ll take it from there.

Could have left it at that, but I whipped out the can opener, because I recognized the tone in her voice. I’d spoken like that once before. So traumatized, so shocked, that everything was unreal. A part of you is conducting business as if this is a normal transaction, and another part of you is screaming, How can this be real? How can the world still be this ordinary? Everything’s different. Doesn’t everything change?

I told her I’d been there. She clutched me like a life raft. We talked about what she was going through. I told her what steps to take, who to contact, what to expect. It gets better, I said, but first, you are going to go through these emotions, these fears. You’ve already done a lot of the right things. Here’s what else you can do. Never doubt yourself. Never blame yourself. You are strong – you’ve already proven that. You survived. You’ll come back from this, and things will never be the same, but they’ll get better. You have the strength to get through. And you have people you can rely on, reach out to, to make this easier.

I listened to what she’d been through, how her life had changed, and cheered her on. Every step she was taking was the right one. She needed to hear someone, a stranger who had walked that path, say these things to her, because she’d started getting crushed by doubt. Never doubt yourself, I said to her. You’ve already done all of the right things. Never let anyone tell you otherwise. You’re doing everything exactly right.

She left me nearly crying. I’ve spent most of tonight thinking about her, and wishing I could have done more, but I know I’ve provided her with the information she needs to get by. She’s not alone anymore. Someone who’s already been there has told her to have faith in herself. Someone who’s been there praised her strength and courage. Having been there, I can tell you that she is incredibly courageous, and that she needed to hear someone say that. No punches pulled: it’s horrible. It will be worse before it’s better. But she’s prepared for the hurdles now. And she knows that this is something she can come back from. She knows there’s a nearly normal life to look forward to.

I could have prayed for her. I would have done it if she’d asked. This atheist has, at times, prayed to a god she doesn’t believe in because the recipient of said prayers needed them. It tickles them: an atheist, praying on their behalf. The prayer goes like this: “God, I don’t believe in you, and I don’t believe you even exist. But this person does, and they needed me to talk to you for them, so here we are. God, I feel like a fool, but if it makes them feel better…”

She didn’t ask. She didn’t need prayers tonight: she needed assurance. She needed options. She needed a map to this horrorscape she’d been dumped in. All of these things, I could provide.

I know too many people who pray as if that’s all that needs to be done. Prayer can be a good thing. It can be a gesture of solidarity, an affirmation of purpose. It can steel you for action and it can help you find the strength you need to take that action. But I see too many people stop at prayer. They’re the kind who would have cut her off after the initial revelation by saying, “How awful! I’ll be praying for you.” And they would have expected that to be enough.

It wouldn’t.

Don’t leave it at a prayer. Take some action. Even if all you’re doing is listening actively, it’s still more than you would have done by just yammering at God.

National Day of God-Bothering

I’m likely to offend some of you here. A few may think that an atheist has no right to opine on prayer. So let me just start by saying: I held many of these views when I was a Bible basher. They haven’t changed much since I became an atheist. Besides, in my cantina, I will speak my mind on the subjects of the day. It being the National Day of Prayer, the subject of the day is prayer.

Prayer annoys the bugfuck out of me and always has.

I remember praying once as a child. My father was late getting home. He had a long commute, the roads had iced up, snow was pouring down, and I was terrified he’d gotten in an accident. My mom was frantically calling people, trying to find out: had his plane taken off? Landed? Had he left the airport? I couldn’t do those things. All I could do was run to my room, beg God to spare my Daddy, and go tearing back into the living room to try to figure out what was going on from my mom’s side of the conversation.

Christians would say it worked. Daddy came home that night. Considering how many other daddies don’t come home despite their daughters’ fervent prayers, though, I don’t think praying did anything more than give me the illusion of doing something constructive.

We started each school day with a moment of silence. I can’t remember how old I was when I found out it was for prayer, but I remember having my head down on the desk and thinking, “But I don’t want to pray.” I never did. Prayer seemed too noisy. I liked just sitting there with my head on my arms in that warm moment of quiet before learning. A minute wasn’t enough, really. I could’ve done with a good hour. If I’d known about zazen back then, I’d probably have taken that moment to meditate. I never saw much point in bothering God daily.

Never saw much point in the Pledge of Allegiance, comes to that, but that’s a story for another day.

So.

I went through a brief period in high school where I fell under the sway of a charismatic church, and I prayed. But it bothered me. What was I praying for? Didn’t God have enough to do without listening to me whine? And why the hell were these other people so proud of themselves – “I prayed for a red car, and God gave it to me!!” I’d think, No, He fucking well didn’t. You wanted a red car, you shopped, you financed, and lo! you have a red car. Good for you, you fuckwit. I’m sure God was happy to grant that prayer while kids starved to death in Africa.

The longer I stayed in the church, the more annoyed I got. It seemed that trivial prayers far outnumbered the weighty. We’d pray for people to find God (He’s right there, dumbass. It’s not like He’s hard to find), pray for this or that gotta-have-it thing of the week, pray for rain, pray for sun, pray pray pray for more more more. Prayer, in fact, was reduced to something like this: “God, please gimme this. You’re awesome if you do. Thanks!” We all sounded like teenagers, wheedling the latest in prestige items from a parent with a mixture of pleading, promises, and provisional praise.

Didn’t God get a bit tired of all this shit?

Time passed. I soon broke with the church over their shallow obsessions, discovered that the vast majority of American churches were no better, struck off on my own, and for reasons that will someday become clear, turned agnostic. I didn’t pray anymore, unless you count the idiom of “Oh, God, please make it stop” counts. As I hadn’t addressed the envelope, I doubted those pseudo-prayers ever landed in God’s mailbox. I sincerely hoped not, anyway. I was certain He got enough junk mail as it was.

It was during my agnostic phase that I had a dream:

In the dream, it was night, and I was on a train travelling up the Pacific coast. I’d wandered into the empty dining car to watch the trees go by in the full moonlight. And I was just starting to wax really lyrical on the sight when a man who looked a bit like Danny Glover walked into the dining car. At three in the morning.

Here he is, in a suit, carrying a briefcase and a cup of coffee, and there I am, standing there in jeans and a heavy metal t-shirt.

I turned and looked at him. He set his coffee down on one of the tables and sat beside it, one hand on the briefcase, the other over the top of the cup to keep its contents from splashing out while the train jigged its way down the tracks. He smiled at me. And it was a smile of such serenity, such love and contentment and peace, that I knew instantly that all of those folks who worshipped God as the Great White Father were in for a shock.

And yes, I did think, “Oh, my God, it’s God.”

And I felt like a runny-nosed little kid. And I wondered if my sneakers were untied. And I started to feel ashamed, but he kept smiling, and I knew I was just fine exactly as I was. Oh, the relief! I sat down in the booth opposite, and wondered what a heavy-metal agnostic chick and God talked about in a dining car at three a.m.

I never did find out. Right at that moment, I felt a breathtaking rage rise right up through me. It came from below. It surged up through my shoes and thighs and bottom and roared its way through my body like an andesitic eruption. I’d never felt so much vicious hate, such incandescent anger, in my entire existence. And it was all focused on God, who was still sitting there with one hand over his coffee cup and the other over his briefcase, smiling at me.

A few very important things struck me at that instant. I realized that God was bumming around in mortal guise, very vulnerable. That alien animosity I felt was Satan, getting ready to use me to kill God. And I didn’t think I could stop it.

I fought to keep it contained. Begged God with my eyes and my mind to please do something, don’t let this happen, don’t let me be the instrument of your destruction. You know what the fucker did? Sat there smiling. He wasn’t going to do jack shit to save himself. It was up to me.

So I got pissed. Maybe the lazy bastard deserved a good smiting, if He wasn’t going to help this poor helpless mortal, but it wasn’t going to happen through me. The rage and the hate nearly scoured me away, but fraction by fraction, I fought it down. Pushed it out. Get thee behind me, Satan, because God may not be lending a hand but my will is more than enough here. And slowly, sweating, shaking, I won that battle.

I sat there glowering at God. God sat there smiling at me. I was about to open my mouth to ream Him for a lazy, useless bastard when His smile changed. Pride and love poured over me like premium tequila. He gave me this satisfied little nod. Of course. He hadn’t lifted a hand to help me because He’d known I could do it all by myself. He’d had complete confidence in me all along.

That felt amazing.

Needless to say, I woke up a little bemused, and maybe a wee bit more agnostic than usual. I’ve often thought of that dream over the years, when people have bragged about the results of their prayers, how God had helped them. Bullshit, I’ve wanted to say. God won’t lift a finger to help you. Why should He? If you believe He created us, it shouldn’t be much of a stretch to understand that He gave us the power to help ourselves. It’s up to us to use it.

We’re not children anymore, utterly helpless to do anything but pray. There comes a time when you can’t go running to Big Daddy for every little thing.

I can’t understand that mentality. I truly can’t. The religious sorts talk
about their omnipotent, omniscient God, they pray for things, and they expect results. How self-absorbed is that? How petty, how weak.

I see people who ignore the gifts they’ve been given. If you’re a believer, you believe God created the universe and all that’s in it. Then why not believe that God expects you to use all of those things you’ve been given to make your own way? Is He really such a control freak that He can’t let you stand or fall on your own?

Does He really give two shits if you get that promotion or not? When Jones is praying for God to smite Smith, and Smith is praying for same, how is God supposed to answer? Why the hell pester Him over the petty bullshit?

I thought it when I was a Christian. I thought so as an agnostic. I think that even more so as an atheist: why should God help you when you’re perfectly capable of helping yourself?

And doesn’t it mean more when you accomplish it yourself?

The devout pray-ers don’t seem to think so. “Let go and let God!” they say. Willful helplessness. Determined to stay a child forever. And I don’t think that serves God or human beings.

I don’t pray anymore, of course. But if I did, I wouldn’t be praying for the petty things. I wouldn’t be praying for handouts. I’d be praying, “God, I’m about to try this. I hope it works. Wish me luck.”

Because He’s not going to do it for us. It’s up to us. Prayer is not a good substitute for action. Ask those parents whose kids have died because they won’t summon medical help, but prayed for a miracle instead. Look, God gave you the miracle. It’s called a hospital. How stupid of you to reject it.

Praying for world peace is a nice sentiment. It’s not going to create it. People going out and working themselves to exhaustion might.

Praying for an end to hunger, to disease, to pollution, won’t do half as much as engaging in the science and the activities that can solve those things.

I’m an atheist. I don’t pray. That doesn’t mean I believe prayer has no place. It’s a great and useful thing for the faithful, if put to good use. It’s a mission statement. It’s a focus. But it’s just empty words if you don’t follow up, right?

On this National Day of Prayer, you can pray for handouts. Or you can pray, “God, we’re about to try something big here. Wish us luck.”

And then join up with us atheists, and let’s get stuff done.

Update: PZ Myers has less kind things to say, and the Minnesota Atheists have declared this the National Day of Reason. I likes! I celebrates! The National Day of Reason it is!

Intolerancia

En Tequila Es Verdad is proud to present a brand-spanking-new feature: Intolerancia. And when I say spanking, I mean spanking: this is where we’ll take a whirlwind tour through the world of intolerant religious fuckwits and lay the smackdown upon them. They claim they are holy. We shall leave them holey. Ah-ha-ha.

Ahem. So:

Today’s smiting of intolerant bastards.

For those of you still convinced that extreme evangelicals don’t pose a threat to your own self, think again:


FORT RILEY, Kan. — When Specialist Jeremy Hall held a meeting last July for atheists and freethinkers at Camp Speicher in Iraq, he was excited, he said, to see an officer attending.

But minutes into the talk, the officer, Maj. Freddy J. Welborn, began to berate Specialist Hall and another soldier about atheism, Specialist Hall wrote in a sworn statement. “People like you are not holding up the Constitution and are going against what the founding fathers, who were Christians, wanted for America!” Major Welborn said, according to the statement.

What’s this to do with you? You’re not in the military, so it doesn’t matter, right? Wrongo. Let me just put it this way: how happy are you about the idea that a bunch of frothing lunatics have access to the heavy weaponry?

I think we all know what happens when crazed religious fundamentalists get their hands on armies. ‘Tain’t pretty.

And if that didn’t put a chill rushing down your spine, try this:


But Mikey Weinstein, a retired Air Force judge advocate general and founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said the official statistics masked the great number of those who do not report violations for fear of retribution. Since the Air Force Academy scandal began in 2004, Mr. Weinstein said, he has been contacted by more than 5,500 service members and, occasionally, military families about incidents of religious discrimination. He said 96 percent of the complainants were Christians, and the majority of those were Protestants. [emphasis added]

A special note to you good Christians in the audience: the fundamentalists’ Christianity isn’t yours. Let them get in power. Let them clear out the atheists, pagans, Muslims, Jews, et al, and then they will come for you. I guaran-fucking-tee it.

PZ Myers and John Lynch both have good takes on this New York Times piece. Drop by and take a gander.

So, moving on, then. What are all you all doing on May 1st? I can tell you one thing I won’t be doing: praying.


The National Day of Prayer is Thursday, May 1. I oppose it. I believe religious leaders should call people to prayer, not government officials. I believe religious services should take place in houses of worship, not government buildings.

Alas, the federal courts do not agree with me. Thus, we have a National Day of Prayer. Of course it has been taken over by obnoxious fundamentalist Christians who sponsor exclusionary programs that promote their narrow brand of Christianity.

Of course. Having a heart attack from not surprised here. But Morbo doesn’t stop there, oh, no. He has to go and grind some salt into the wounds:

If we have to have a day like this, it ought to be interfaith. But the National Day of Prayer Task Force, a private group run by Religious Right honcho James Dobson’s wife, Shirley, tells its volunteers not to let anyone near the microphone who has not signed off on a fundamentalist statement of faith.

That statement reads in part:

“I believe that the Holy Bible is the inerrant Word of The Living God. I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the only One by which I can obtain salvation and have an ongoing relationship with God. I believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, his virgin birth, his sinless life, his miracles, the atoning work of his shed blood, his resurrection and ascension, his intercession and his coming return to power
and glory.”

Jews and other non-Christians can attend the event. They just get to stand there and be window dressing for the Jesus-athon.

Oh, yes. Truly inclusive, that. Maybe The National Day of Prayer Task Force can call up Major IllWelborn for some troops. Nothing like spreading the word of God with the barrel of a gun, is there?

Finally, by way of Dispatches from the Culture Wars, I present you with a pristine exemplar of the brain rot that can occur when you believe that faith = detatch completely from reality:


This has to be one of the strangest lawsuits I’ve ever heard of. A woman named Joyce Marie Edwards filed a lawsuit in Federal district court in Connecticut – representing herself – against the Federal government, and specifically the Supreme Court, claiming that the Court’s ruling against mandatory school prayer violates the Declaration of Independence and has caused all kinds of bad things.

Apparently Edwards was a volunteer at a local school in her hometown and was told that she could not preach to the kids about Christianity.


Hoo boy. I need a drink before I can even touch this stinking pile of rotten logic. Firstly, where the fuck in the Declaration of Independence does it mandate school prayer? I looked and could not find a single mention of school or prayer, let alone both together. Secondly, what fuckwit thinks you can go bring a case against the Supreme Court without a lawyer? Butterknife to a gunfight, anyone? Thirdly, WTF?

And it gets better. The ever-sharp John Pieret has more detail on her complaints, and he tears her down like a cardboard house in a rainstorm:


Examples from the decision should make the difference between “exposing” the children to something and what Ms. Edwards was doing
clear:


First, while a presenter was discussing the Native American belief in the healing properties of certain stones during a school field trip, Edwards stated “that the only thing I found to truly help me stop doing bad things and healed me was receiving Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior (by reading the Word of God, the Holy Bible).” Second, while distributing candy canes to her oldest child’s class, Edwards stated the
students “could read the Bible and find out
what the white and red mean and why this gift is first for the Jewish people, and then for everyone else.” (References omitted).


Not so strangely, as a result of these incidents, Edwards was precluded from participating in any activities at Booth Hill School during regular school hours by the school principal.


Smart principal, that. I’d be of the opinion that the children would be better off without exposure to the batshit insane, too. Thankfully, this suit was thrown out by the courts, or I would’ve lost all hope of recovering our government from the clutches of the crazed religious.

We do not need people like these dictating how citizens of this country should think. There’s no thought involved, just knee-jerk intolerance of any but the most narrow interpretation of Christianity and a frightening degree of certifiable insanity. I’m all for letting people have their religion, but, for fuck’s sake, there are limits. Freedom of religion does not extend carte blanche for one religion to annihilate the others.

Here endeth the post. The smiting of the intolerant goes ever on.

Fuck Your Framing

I’m remarkably pissed right now.

I generally enjoy Dispatches from the Culture Wars. Ed Brayton’s got a sharp wit and a sharper pen. He calls bullshit with concision. And he’s merciless with a variety of right-wing hate merchants. So I went over there tonight expecting the usual incisive posts, not a flame war over framing and an incredible degree of bullshit from… Ed.

But this isn’t about Ed. This is about the smarmy little fuckers who want us atheists to shut up and play nice with the pious.

For those of you coming late to the party, a bit of history, as I understand it. A bloke named Matt Nisbet has decided that science needs to bow and scrape to religious sentiment. It needs to defang itself in the interest of not scaring away all the godly folk. He calls it “framing.” Another bloke named Chris Mooney, who used to be well-respected, has turned into a toadying worshipper of this framing. And they both like to beat up on people like PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins because they’re vocal atheists and that might scare the timid religious folks away.

I haven’t been keeping up on that drama. I read a few posts by both of the gents in question and found them smarmy suck-ups with no balls and fewer morals. I’ve heard Mooney’s not that kind of man, that he’s actually a grand defender of science who’s done great things. I have no idea if that’s true, simply because his recent work has been pure fucking swill and I can’t stomach it.

Right? Now that you’re up to date, let me ‘splain what’s got me steaming like a pan of water on the sun.

Ed put up a post saying that Expelled wasn’t much of a success. Mr. Mooney dropped by to say this:


Hi Ed,

If you compare Stein to the single most successful political documentarian ever, Michael Moore, then no, Ben Stein hasn’t beaten
him after one week.

In other words, if you define success as something virtually impossible to attain, then no, Ben Stein did not succeed.

He got his ass soundly handed to him by many of the commenters, as well he should. If ever a man deserved to take his balls home in a baggy, it was him. You do not preach to a bunch of independent-minded scientists to shut the fuck up and let the big boys do the framing, and then fail to frame. You don’t post a defeatist claim that Expelled succeeded wildly and then come by to belabor the point on the blogs of people who believe otherwise. He seems to have developed the same desire for martyrdom that the IDiots have. I dropped by his blog to make sure I wasn’t treating him unfairly, and got a blast of “oh, poor me, I’m fearfully mistreated!” whining worthy of the Republicans. Chris – here’s some pearls, and I’m sure the neocons will be happy to budge over on the fainting couch so you’ve got room, dear. Have a good lie-down and stop fucking bawling.

Jesus H. Christ.

But that wasn’t what got me outraged. That’s tangenital. What’s really gotten up my nose here is the little fuckers who’ve taken it upon themselves who decide who speaks and who doesn’t. Commenters and bloggers who like to tell folks like PZ that they should engage in some enlightened self-censorship:


Now PZ is probably getting a lot of negative newbies at his blog this weekend, and this was on the front page for a good portion of it. Now imagine what some of the moderate Christians who are new to his site think when they see that post.

So I throw out this question to every one. Could PZ have framed this post better? I think if he had said “Parents – don’t send your children to THIS Christian school”, that the moderate Christians new to his blog would have agreed with him entirely.

You know what, Doctorgoo? No, he fucking well couldn’t. It’s not PZ Myers’s fucking job to muzzle himself. He has not been annointed the Supreme High Science Ambassador. He is a vocal atheist who couldn’t give two shits about framing. He’s one of the loudest and clearest voices speaking against religion’s hypocrisy and evil. It’s beyond ridiculous to expect him to switch to a fruit-basket offering, smiling, conciliatory atheist just because you think that maybe if he did that the fundies would start thinking of him as actually a pretty nice guy. I have news for you, all of you, who want us to “frame” things in a nice and inoffensive manner: you don’t know fuck about fundies. An atheist who whispers sweet nothings into religion’s ear is just as demonic to them as one who blasts them at every opportunity.

Don’t hand me this bullshit about framing. Do not stand around wringing your fucking hands talking about how we should all be nice to each other, even to the bastards who are doing their level best to destroy science and impose their fucked-up fundamentalism on the rest of the country.

We got to the state we’re in because we were nice and conciliatory and tried desperately hard not to offend people.

It’s time to go on the fucking offensive.

And if you think that’s not so, why is PZ hands-down the most popular blogger on ScienceBlogs?

It’s time for the non-believers to start screaming. It’s time to come out with fist and fang. These people see moderation as weakness. And the folks on the sidelines, they hear the loudest side. The sweet voice of reason doesn’t rise above the din. But people come out swinging for science, and suddenly there’s more than the religious freaks to watch. There’s something fascinating going on.

And you know what? They learn a little science.

I’m so fucking through with treating religion with kid gloves. My ideas and philosophies get trampled and spat upon and derided, and you want to tell me and people like me that we should be nice? Bull fucking shit. I’m not pummeling the moderates. You know my stance. But this bullshit about atheists needing to step aside for religious folk, that stops now.

If religion’s too fucking delicate to take it, that’s its problem. The Christians I know, they’re not afraid of contentious atheists, and you know what? I respect them a fuck of a lot more than those fainting violets who think they’re teh awesome in God but need to hide behind snivelling “no fair” arguments the second someone says the least little thing not nice about it.

It’s not fucking fair. It’s not supposed to be fair. You go into a lion’s den, you’d better fucking expect teeth. You’d better enjoy danger. PZ’s not going to moderate himself for a few folks with delicate sensibilities and a “can’t-touch-this” attitude toward religion, and it is beyond insane for his fellow free-thinkers to expect him to. Maybe, just maybe, instead of asking PZ, Dawkins et all to don muzzles, the more religiously inclined scientists could take theirs off and join the brawl.

Oh, and Ed? No hard feelings. I still respect you. But you’re making an ass of yourself running around demanding apologies for poor Mr. Mooney. He’s a big boy. He can wipe his own tears and maybe earn back some of the respect he lost when he became a pandering whiner.

For a more level-headed view of the need for a good fight, see Greg Laden, Nullifidian, and Blue Collar Scientist. You’ll get a more reasoned opinion from me later. This was the initial eruption. This volcano has not yet begun to explode.

Gone Splat

I’ve gone splat against the wall, my darlings. Today’s been so full of outrageous political bullshit that I’m overwhelmed, and I’m too tired to digest it. Feels like that closet you’ve been chucking stuff into for decades, and you’ve just watched some program on freeing yourself of clutter. You troop off to that closet, fired with zeal, yank open the door, go “Oh my fucking god, where do I even begin?” and slam the door again. Only in my case, the stuff came out like a tsunami and smashed me into the drywall. Owies.

So I’m going to sit here, eat cheesecake, and ‘splain why that big red A is hanging about the place. You’ve been duly warned. If you’d rather indulge in some meatier fare, you could try Carpetbagger’s “Senator Hothead,” wherein the question is asked, “In the event of a crisis, do we want a leader known for his rage-induced tirades and unstable temperament?” Or skip over to the New York Times, which has finally noticed that Bush authorized “The Torture Sessions.” Glenn Greenwald has a “Major revelation: U.S. media deceitfully disseminates government propaganda,” which I skimmed for Happy Hour. He’s not as nice as I was. Secher Nbiw asks the “10 Debate Questions John McCain Will Never Be Asked.” And I can always recommend Digby’s Hullaballoo as a smorgasboard of outragey goodness. In fact, while I was pulling the link for that one, I saw Tristero’s taken to telling the young ‘uns that “Torture Is Always Immoral.” I couldn’t agree more.

Can’t get enough of Expelled-bashing? Try Thoughts in a Haystack. There’s a plethora of great stuff up just since yesterday. It’s the go-to place for a good, hearty laugh at IDiot’s expense. And Evolving Thoughts has a wonderful little fable that meshes beautifully with my own views, so of course I adore it.

Right, then. Don’t say I didn’t give you alternatives.

I’ve recently reconnected with some cherished friends from long ago. We haven’t talked in years. Last they knew of me, I was headed down to the Valley of Death the Sun to get myself a degree. I was officially agnostic, I talked a lot about the voices in my head (yes, my characters do chatter at me), I didn’t give two tugs on a dead dog’s dick for politics, I’d been leaning toward a strange amalgamation of Zen Buddhism/Taoism with a smattering of Odin, and I was officially agnostic.

Next thing they know, I’m up in Seattle with a big red atheist A splashed in the sidebar of my blog, bitching about politics and creationists.

My, how things have changed.

I am, indeed, officially an atheist now. It was a little hard to deny after I calculated my God Delusion Index and came up with a 5. I answered exactly one (1) (uno) question Yes:


5. Do you believe that a deeply contemplative act such as prayer or meditation can result in knowledge or understanding not attainable through ordinary thought?


I don’t believe, I know. Read too much about altered states of consciousness, I have. Studied Zen Buddhism and actually sort of understood some of it, didn’t I? Get into that “zone” where I’m not writing a story, I’m taking dictation, right? Even heard stories of scientists struggling with thorny physics problems and not getting the answer until they stop thinking and fall into a reverie. I’d go look up the particular story I have in mind, but I’m sitting here with some cheesecake, yammering at you lot, and I can’t remember the book it’s in, so it’ll have to wait.

But all of that’s human. And that’s what I realized. For all of my love for mythology, fairy tales, bizarre (to Westerners) philosophies, I’m not a believer in anything but the human imagination.

Somewhere along the line, I stopped looking for the divine. Stopped caring so much whether it existed out there or in here. I’ve become an odd creature, able to believe six impossible things before breakfast, but simultaneously knowing they’re nothing more than imagination. That doesn’t make it any less delightful. That doesn’t mean I love the stories less.

If anything, it’s more incredible. Actual existing supernatural beings would be a yawn. No more fantastic than the chair I’m sitting in. Bo-ring. Rather diminishes humanity in the bargain, if you ask me.

But imagination, now. That’s really something. That’s huge. That’s us. We did that. Incredible.

Let me just tell you a little story. There’s a point to it, I promise.

Many years ago, in Flagstaff, I took a smoke break and walked outside. I was busy lighting up and looking at the pine trees in the lot next to our building, soaking up the sun and thinking of absolutely nothing. And something caused me to turn around. Some sense of being watched. I look over, and I see the gray cinderblock walls through a mist of rain. And they’re shading into stone. And there’s a very young man with longish black hair sitting there, against the side of the building, huddled with his arms wrapped around his knees. The rain is dripping from his hair, and I’m still standing in brilliant, dry sunlight.

I just stand, and stare, shocked. I think I recognize him. I haven’t thought of him in years. “Nikki?” I finally say, and my voice is thin, full of the same sort of disbelief you’d feel upon turning around and seeing your travel-phobic friend somehow behind you right in the middle of Rome.

He looks up, slowly, and nods. Just once.

“I guess it’s time to write you, then.” It never matters how shocked I am. Snark is second nature.

He smiles at me, the rain streaming down his face, and then a squirrel dropped from one of the trees and gave me a jolt. I looked back, and he was gone. But the image never faded, and a character I thought had no place or purpose in my world was suddenly central.

Crazy, isn’t it? But things like that happen to authors. Other people see Jesus in their toast, we see our characters in random places, so real and immediate we could touch them, feel living flesh beneath our hand. It doesn’t matter that they come from so deep in our imaginations we’re not conscious of their residence there. To us, they’re real. And that’s why I understand people clinging to gods. To them, their god is real. To each our own.

That still does not give them the right to try to convert me. Doesn’t give them the right to pass judgement. Let’s be clear, there. I’m not going around preaching the advent of Nikki, the autistic wunderkind and trying to force him into the classroom, so I’d appreciate the same courtesy in return. People have a choice in what fiction they read, and it’s a very personal choice what fiction they choose to believe.

People may get the impression, reading the rants on this blog, that I have no patience for religion. And often, I don’t, because religion gets pretty obnoxious. It’s not the faith itself, so much, but the way people react to it. They push, I push back. It’s the way of things. That shouldn’t give the impression that I’m out to end religion. I don’t want to end it any more than I’d want some complete bastard to come take my characters away from me. Unless, of course, I start forcing their literal truth on folks.

Faith ha
s done some incredible good as well as incredible evil. I’d like to see less of the evil and more of the good, actually. We’ll talk more about that sometime, but for now, I just want to give you two words: Mother Theresa. Yes, I honor those whose faith leads them into a life of sacrifice and service for the poor and sick. I appreciate them, and I wouldn’t want to see them go, any more than I want to see biology crippled by misguided notions of piety.

I understand how comforting faith is. Another story, brief: on September 11th, 2001, when I’d just seen the video of the Towers crashing down, I remember standing with my hand on a cubicle wall feeling as if the entire world was ending. The future fell away in a gaping, black chasm. Some people reach for gods in those moments. I just heard the voice of one of my main characters, saying with calm conviction, “We survived. Dana. We survived this. Don’t worry.”

I know she’s not a voice from the heavens. I know she’s a voice from deep within me. And that doesn’t reduce the power of that moment one iota. It still resonates. I wouldn’t have made it through that day without the certainty her voice gave me. And she was right. We did survive.

Do you see what I’m saying, you religious folks? Science doesn’t threaten God. As long as you don’t cling to the need for your gods to be objectively real, science can’t touch them at all. Science hasn’t done shit to kick my characters out of my head. They’re still in there, taking up space, saying outrageous things at inopportune moments and making people who’ve never encountered a writer before reach for the nice white jacket with the long sleeves and fashionable buckles.

Science can never minimize the power of the human imagination. The only thing that can do that is insisting that everything in our imagination has to be really real. We place such severe limits on its power and scope when we do that. I did my characters the same discourtesy, once. I nearly smothered them. Then I became an atheist, and they can breathe again. I can feed them with all sorts of new ideas, because they’re not limited to the idea I had ten years ago. Heh, look at that, they’re evolving, and they’re better than ever.

So that’s it, in a not-so-tiny nutshell. The whole reason for that A. It’s there because I have a God Delusion Index of 5 and a universe in my head. It’s there because I refuse to limit my very human and extremely entertaining imagination. It’s there because I don’t need to be anything more than a human being evolved by chance, in a cosmos that’s revealed by science to be more awesome than anything I ever imagined.

It’s there because it sets me free to experience it all.

*Update: Really did go splat, there. Forgot the title. My, oh my.

Pomp and Pope

I’ve been to a Catholic church exactly once. It was embarrassing. Stand, kneel, confusedly try to follow everybody’s lead, fuck up royally by trying to follow them up for Communion (a grubby non-Catholic such as myself doesn’t get to participate in cannibalism). It seemed like a lot of work. And people I knew as total bastards five days a week at school suddenly transformed into altar boys? Puh-leeze. But at least that last bit was fun. It’s always cute when your classmates are mortally embarrassed in white dresses.

So that’s it. The sum of my direct experience with Catholicism. I’ve known Catholics, of course. Read up on Church history. Seen the art. Heard about the scandals. I remember seeing Pope John Paul II on television, and liked him. He seemed decent enough, not batshit insane per se, remarkably down-to-earth for a dude in a funny hat and a robe. And at least he didn’t wear bright red shoes. He wore brown ones.

Needless to say, I’ve not been keeping close tabs on the current Pope’s visit. But it’s been nibbling at the edges of my consciousness. Hard to avoid, especially when PZ Myers bends him over a knee for a sound spanking.

And I’m catching up on the week’s Daily Show and Colbert Report, and there’s quite a bit of bright white robe shining out from my television. So I started doing some digging.

Here’s the first thing I came across:

“Official merchandiser of the 2008 U.S. Papal Visit.”

You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.

And this man is going to come lecture us on materialism? This is rich.

The man who’s said this:


VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday criticized “materialistic” ways of celebrating Christmas, pressing the Vatican’s campaign against unbridled consumerism.

and this:


“People continue to die of hunger and thirst, disease and poverty, in this age of plenty and of unbridled consumerism.”

has an official merchandizer. And has a personal cobbler. And a fucking papal helicopter that he flies between the Vatican and his summer residence. Summer residence? Oh, yes, he’s got a summer house, too, did I forget to mention that?

But this is the man who wants us to believe. He wants us to believe that “reason without faith leads to materialism and selfishness.” Somehow, it’s okay for him to preach to us about the evils of our culture and our belief – and most particularly the non-believers among us. He speaks of living a life in Christ. What was it he said to our Catholic leaders? Oh, yes:


“Indeed a clearer focus upon the imitation of Christ in holiness of life is exactly what is needed in order for us to move forward. We need to rediscover the joy of living a Christ-centred life, cultivating the virtues, and immersing ourselves in prayer. When the faithful know that their pastor is a man who prays and who dedicates his life to serving them, they respond with warmth and affection which nourishes and sustains the life of the whole community.”

And I’m sure that Christ would agree that expensive red shoes, clothes with plenty of gold embellishments, a helicopter, and a summer house are all vital accessories to a life in Him. What better way to preach peace, love and charity, to convincingly argue for a life in faith instead of materialism and consumerism, than to do it while imitating Christ’s love for the trappings of power and glory?

Let’s see what Jesus has to say:

Heh heh heh whoops.

“Democracy can only flourish, as your founding fathers realized, when political leaders and those whom they represent are guided by truth,” you said. Well, you’ll forgive me if I take your meaning of “truth” with a huge block of salt, and turn to truth guided by evidence instead. I prefer my truth without hypocrisy, as did the man you claim to serve.