How To Convert Dana Hunter

After the diatribe below, we can all stand some laughs.

So here it is. Driving home tonight, I got to thinking: what would it really take to convince me, on a personal level, that God exists? Aside from God descending from Heaven, subjecting Himself to a battery of scientific tests that prove His divinity, and then going around smacking fundies upside the head and saying, “UR DOIN IT WRONG,” then bringing about world peace and harmony after apologizing for letting the lunatics take over the asylum, amazing what people get up to when you sneak out just for a few millennia to play golf the next universe over, terribly sorry, won’t happen again.

That would work. So might this:

1. God knocks on the door. Not a Jehovah’s Witness, not a Mormon, God Himself. Or Herself. Or Itself. Or selves. Or whatever.

2. God has Christian Bale standing there with him/her/it/self or selves.

3. God makes introductions.

4. Christian Bale, after reading this blog and my website, has fallen head-over-heels, but since I blog under a pseudonym and he was too chickenshit to just email, hasn’t been able to track me down to say so in person.

5. God decided to take matters in hand/s and play matchmaker.

6. God then vanishes, leaving us to our own devices.

7. But the beautiful moment doesn’t last, because there’s another knock at the door.

8. It’s a publisher, coming to personally beg me to finish my magnum opus, here’s a million dollar advance, and just look at this marketing package we’ve whipped up.

9. The publisher passes Neil Gaiman on his way down the stairs.

10. Neil has come to invite me to speak with him on writing matters at some prestigious convention.

11. And has already written a blurb for my book.

12. Because God gave him an advance copy.

13. Of a book that hasn’t been written yet.

14. Which has also been read and praised by all of my other favorite authors.

15. Who couldn’t show up personally because they’re too busy reading my second, as-yet-unwritten book, and can’t put it down.

16. Neil then says, And would you and Christian Bale like to have dinner with all of us next week?

17. Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers will be providing the music.

18. Roger secretly worships you, although you understand, he does love his wife.

That, my darlings, is roughly the sequence of utterly impossible events it would take in order for me to, fully, truly and without a single doubt, believe in God.

Christians who wish to convert me: get praying.

Dear Smarmy Christians: Knock it the Hell Off

I’ve been hanging about more in comments threads lately than I ordinarily do, and I’ve noticed an annoying trend: some Christians seem to have an overwhelming compulsion to jump into the midst of a pool of atheists, splash water, and crow, “Hey, look – you’re baptized!”

Knock it the fuck off.

It’s annoying. It’s childish. It doesn’t win anyone over except for maybe your fellow smarmy Christians.

Why the need to twist definitions until they squeal just so you can claim, “Really, atheists, you’re religious and you don’t even know it!”

Case in point:

Personally, I don’t believe that all self-described atheists are all that far away from God, whether they admit to a set religion or not.

I see. So we’re not non-believers, we’re believers-in-denial. Right.

If you have the stomach for it, read the whole thread. (Sorry to be beating up on one of your commenters, Webs, but he was the supreme example ready to hand.) Webs does an excellent job of engaging this bugger calmly, rationally, kindly, and thoughtfully. I’m not that nice a person.

Had I come into that conversation while it was in full swing, I would’ve been hard-pressed not to call this – ahem – gentleman out on his assumptions in terms far less gentle than Webs employed, because, well, I’m me. Diplomatic? Not often. Especially not when I’m seeing red over comments such as, “I mean, the Bible-thumper meanness can be rationalized that they believe they are doing God’s work. I honestly can’t figure a rationalization why atheists are mean to, make fun of, or discriminate against the religious.”

Because humans can be right assholes. At least atheists know they’re assholes. They don’t whimp out by whining, “God wants me to do it!”

There’s also that little point about the religious often being mean to, making fun of, and overwhelmingly discriminating against us. Even when they’re playing nice. And I’m sorry, but atheists are no more saints than the rest of humanity – well, not much - just a tad more rational. When we’ve been slammed over and over and over, well, don’t be so surprised that some of us get snippy.

But I’m not going to spend this post deconstructing this bugger’s remarks. I just want to point out a little something that gets even further up my nose than Robert T. Bakker:

Now, I would never dream of engaging a convicted Lutheran, Evangelical, Jew, or Hindu over who’s religion is the surest shot to God’s favor. I will, however, engage an atheist over the question of Faith.

Maybe he meant that as “I’m genuinely curious about how you atheists get on without faith,” but in the context of this self-righteous bullshit-

It’s just, without a spiritual roadmap, an atheist might be more compelled to act on urges that lead down wrong paths. True, there are Lutherans who gamble, slander, ridicule, hoard, discriminate, and cheat… but they have a doctrine than warns against those activities. What hindrance does an atheist have stopping them from engaging in acts that work against pahalah?

-I’m thinking not.

What this bugger is saying is, it doesn’t matter what religion you are as long as you’re religious. And then he displays the disease of so many Christians who, when confronted by an atheist who is kind, generous, and good, instead of admitting that a non-believer doesn’t need God to have good qualities, proclaims that “atheists aren’t all that far away from God.” He flat-out states we’re religious and just not admitting it.

Newsflash: we’re not fucking religious. We don’t need to be religious to be good human beings. We’re not in denial about being religious. We’re not in denial about God. We’ve reached this point of unbelief after a long and often painful struggle. There’s no denial left: we are not denying God, because it’s utterly pointless to deny something that doesn’t exist.

Do not mistake extreme annoyance at being disrespected for a denial of God.

Do not mistake a rational decision to act in a way that benefits fellow human beings as a tacit admission of faith. Especially don’t do it after claiming you respect our right to not believe. When you pull bait-and-switch bullshit like this, what you’re really saying is that you can’t possibly respect an atheist: therefore, this person you respect must not really be an atheist.

To put this in a context that a Christian might possibly understand: how do you feel when some smarmy atheist pounces on some small admission you make, such as maybe having a different understanding of God than more doctrinal Christians, or having gone through moments of doubt, and gleefully proclaims, “See? You’re really an atheist in denial!”

You’re not. You know you’re not. Now, turn that around, if you can, and understand that an atheist respecting another person’s faith is not a sign that we believe in God but just won’t ‘fess up. Go ahead and believe that God’s really guiding us, if you must – I can’t stop you there – but keep it the fuck to yourself if you’re so fucking concerned about respect.

If you wouldn’t challenge a Lutheran or a Hindu or a Jew on their faith, what possible reason can you have for not showing an atheist the same courtesy in regards to their lack thereof?

I really don’t mind being engaged in a discussion about my atheism. What I absolutely have no tolerance for is smarmy fuckers who, instead of engaging in actual debate where there’s actual respect shown for the other person’s position, declare, “Anything you say proves either that you’re really religious, I win!!”

No, you don’t. You declared a hollow victory that has no more meaning than IDiots pouncing on a simplified rendering of the inner workings of a cell and declaring, “See, it looks designed, therefore it is. I win!”

Bullshit. What you show is ignorance. You’ve proven nothing, except to yourself, and pissed off the person you were pretending to have respect for.

Why not take a lesson from Karen, here, smarmy Christians? She’s Christian. And she’s shown remarkable respect for the atheists she’s hanging about with. She hasn’t tried to claim us for God. Hasn’t tried to twist every argument into a victory for God. Hasn’t tried to proclaim that anything we do that’s good and just and moral must necessarily come from God, because it couldn’t possibly come from being human. She and I haven’t discussed what her views on that are. The point is, she respects our atheism. When she says she respects our right to not believe, she truly does.

I think she understands that to tell an atheist they’re not really an atheist is almost as offensive as telling a black person they’re not “really” black, or a gay man he’s not “really” gay, or, indeed, a Christian that they’re not “really” Christian.

What you’re telling me by saying I’m not “really” an atheist is that I’m a lesser being if I am. You’re trying to take something precious away because it’s not worthy to you. And while your opinion does not change what I am, the fact of you even attempting to do so is offensive in the extreme.

We can argue points of evidence. We can explore how we reached our respective positions. There’s plenty to discuss here. But let’s not deny wh
at each of us is just because we’re not comfortable with the facts.

Literal vs. Philosophical: FIGHT!

Admitting I’m an atheist has seriously damaged my research, but not my enjoyment of cheesy martial arts fantasy films. Go figure.

Allow me to ‘splain. Or at least sum up.

I’m deep into research on the soul for the upcoming short story my Wise Readers have valiantly volunteered to vet. That research involves digging into the idea of the tulku, which seemed like a good philosophical idea to riff on. So I’m reading a book on Tibetan Buddhism.

It’s not a great book on Tibetan Buddhism. In fact, it’s shallow and silly. It focuses more on what you might call popular practice than the ideas. I know Buddhism, even the more religious kinds replete with gods and other such things the Buddha would’ve had no truck with, has some excellent philosophical depth. But this book wants to focus more on things like folks staking bits of the land down so they won’t run away.

So here I am, reading this, and instead of thinking, “Interesting – that could be useful for an alien culture, suitably camouflaged,” I’m thinking, “Do people really believe that silly shite? I mean, on a scale of everyday concerns, is this really important to them?”

I’m gonna have to stay away from the popular stuff for a while. Avoid people running around driving stakes through bits of ground so it doesn’t get filched by demons in favor of the stuff that treats such matters as allegory and philosophy rather than as matter of fact. Gah.

I must be an Elitist Bastard. Even with religion research, I prefer the hoity-toity, scholarly, metaphorical, very complicated theological systems advanced by deep thinkers than the stuff practiced by the simple folk. That’s not new, mind, just more pronounced.

And yet I can go to a movie like The Forbidden Kingdom and have absolutely no problem at all with Monkey gods and a lot of extreme silliness. Bronx geek with an unhealthy fascination for martial arts films ends up transported to another kingdom, has to return the Monkey King’s staff? Not a problem! Runs into a Taoist immortal who’s perpetually drunk? Better still! Nothing makes logical sense? Who cares! It’s beautiful and it’s fun and it works in the context of the story, even when it’s cheesier than a truckload of Cheez Whiz.

I thoroughly enjoyed picking up on bits and pieces of myth, legend and philosophy. There’s a lot more Zen in there than you typically run in to in Chinese flicks – a great moment where Jackie Chan’s drunken Taoist character, Lu Yan, is teaching Jason kung fu, and pours him a cup of tea as Jason’s going on and on about all the martial arts moves he knows from the movies. I knew what would happen: Lu would keep pouring.

It’s an old Zen story. A man comes to the Zen master for teaching, bragging about all the things he already knows about Zen. The Zen master nods and smiles and pours tea – and keeps pouring, until the cup overflows and runs all over the floor. “Stop!” the visitor protests. “The cup’s already full!” “Exactly,” the master says. “How can I teach you anything when your cup’s already full? Empty your cup!”

This is exactly what happens in the movie, and it’s a sheer delight.

Lu Yan’s based on Liu Ling, I’ll bet you a dollar to a donut hole. Don’t know Liu Ling? Hang about me for any length of time and you soon will. He was one of the legendary Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove. One story about him says that he was followed around by a manservant who carried a jug of wine and a shovel. The wine was in case he sobered up too much. The shovel was in case he drank himself to death.

Now, that’s a man comfortable with his life!

Seeing as how Wikipedia already butchered my favorite story of Liu Ling, I shall retell it here:

One day, a Confucian friend of Liu’s went to his house and found him nude. Confucians, of course, put a lot of store by propriety, so the friend was a little discombobulated by this unashamed nakedness. They’re sitting there chatting, and the Confucian friend is getting more and more disturbed, until finally he can take no more. “Why aren’t you wearing any trousers?” he splutters.

“The universe is my house. This room is my trousers,” Liu says to him. “What are you doing here inside my trousers?”

I think you can begin to see why I love Taoist philosophy so very much.

And I think that may be what’s missing from that book on Tibetan Buddhism: the playfulness. The spontaneity. The delight in the absurd, the deeper meaning behind the seemingly meaningless. It’s one thing to go around staking down plots of earth in all seriousness. It’s quite another if it’s treated as something of an in-joke. The simple folk may seriously believe those stories about the land flying away if you don’t nail it down, they may believe in the objective reality of the demons and the gods, but that’s just a surface meaning. It’s not, when you get right down to it, what it’s really all about.

And I’m not even sure those Tibetan peasants are so literal. I have to wonder if that’s just the artifact of a Western mind trying to comprehend the Eastern. After all, Western religion got right out of the joyful absurdity business and took things way too literally for far too long. I find that strange, when you look at the New Testament and see how often Jesus taught in parables. If you ever wonder why I tend to giggle when fundies proclaim every word of the Bible is literal truth, there it is: Jesus himself said otherwise. So if you’re using the Bible to prove the Bible… watch out.

After a long and winding journey, we have finally looped around to the point: I can enjoy The Forbidden Kingdom without the slightest hint of annoyance because I know that while there’s serious stuff in there, it’s not meant to be taken seriously. No one is claiming these things happened in actual reality. These are true stories, but in an allegorical, not empirical, sense. This movie is sheer entertainment with a little bit o’ good philosophy mixed in. And there’s no silly Western bugger going, “Wow, people actually b
elieve the story of the Monkey King, and we have to treat it as The Truth, ‘cos it’s their religion.”

Unlike this bloody book.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go track down some bugger who knows what the tulku are really all about so I can tell a ripping good story meself.

*Bonus points to anyone who caught the Mortal Kombat reference in the title.

Talking Past Each Other: A Few Simple Rules For Christians Among Atheists

So much for getting things done tonight. And here I thought I had bags and bags of time, but all it takes is getting caught up in one Pharyngula thread and time goes spiralling down into a supermassive black hole. Research: nil. Work on this blog: nearly nil. Obsession with current discussion: stratospheric. Has been instructive, though, and a few Pharynguloids (is that what we’re calling ourselves these days?) have stopped by, which is always more than welcome.

*Waves madly* Hello, you!

Right, well. In a nutshell for those who haven’t the foggiest what I’m talking about: PZ posted a little notice about an actual atheist being interviewed on a local (MN) Christian radio station, Kenny got his ass kicked in the comments thread (just as he always does, the man’s a masochist), and Karen Simon stopped by to snivel at us for being uncivilized bastards.

That sort o’ thing doesn’t play well to this crowd. Karen promptly got her ass handed to her, and things would have gone very badly for her indeed had she not apologized and explained herself. A fruitful discussion ensued. I’d like to think some progress was made, and will be made now she’s dropped by here. It’s certainly clarified a few things for me, but raised more questions than answers.

To wit: why the fuck do Christians do this to themselves? I understand the ones who come by to proselytize – it’s what they do, they’re like the Borg. But I do not understand why Christians dump their views into the thread and then get offended when the atheists proceed to pick them apart.

It’s an atheist thread, moreover one filled with science-minded atheists who can spot a flaw in logic faster than a shark scents blood. Fuck, we annihilate each other over flaws in logic. What the fuck do Christians think we’re going to do? Pat them on the head and coo over how nice their moderate delusion is? Not bleedin’ likely, guv.

I think, from engaging in this discussion tonight, I begin to see some of the difficulties. We’re talking past each other. For all we’re speaking English, we don’t speak the same language. We’re alien to each other, and alas, very few Christians come into the atheists’ territory willing to play by atheists’ rules.

Do not even begin the “but the atheists aren’t playing by Christian rules!” snivel. We played by those rules for ages, and they got the discussion absolutely nowhere. Our turn.

So. This shall develop as time goes on and I get a chance to observe more atheist-Christian interaction, but here’s what I’ve got for now:

1. Understand that in our house, you will win no converts. Atheists for the most part weren’t born or raised that way: a lot of them are ex-believers, and they’re not going to be talked back into the fold. There’s no argument under the sun you can use that they haven’t heard a thousand times before. Time 1001 will make no damned difference. So just give it up. Shh before you even begin to proselytize. And if atheists mistake your attentions, don’t get all butt-hurt: we run into so many proselytizers-in-sheep’s-clothing that we’re a little gunshy and apt to overreact. You may not have been attempting to convert, but if the atheist takes your discussion as such an attempt, apologize, clarify, and move right on.

2. Be clear about your purpose. I’ve noticed a lot of Christians get mightily offended when they say something, we snark back, and it turns into a shouting match because the Christian can’t tell us what the fuck they’re doing spouting off views not related to the thread to begin with. Explain. Don’t assume we know what you’re here for: we’ve already assumed the worst from the second you mentioned your faith. It’s habit born from long experience. Remember, we’ve probably been dealing with a bunch of incoherent rabid fundies from several threads back, and our patience has probably worn thin long ago.

3. Refrain from demanding proof of God’s non-existence. That’s not what we’re here for. Challenging an atheist to provide proof that God doesn’t exist is just as useless as us demanding you to prove his existence by the rules of scientific evidence. If either one of us could accomplish those feats, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

4. Speaking of proof, the Bible isn’t. Neither are personal anecdotes, fervent belief, or anything else subjective or self-referential. Neither is “but billions of people believe!” Billions of people once believed in a flat earth. Science PWND them. Too fucking bad. If you’re going to get into the proof pissing contest, which you shouldn’t, learn what science means by “proof.”

5. Don’t move the damned goal posts. That’s a ridiculous trick and it’ll get you spanked. If you can’t answer the original challenge, just say so. Don’t try moving the goal posts and pretending you just scored. You’ll get annihilated, and you’ll have deserved it. Evading the challenge is just as bad, by the way. Refusing to answer when you’re the one who started the discussion just makes you look like a coward. Same with being happy to scrum until someone says something you don’t like, and then falling back on the lofty, “I’m so above that, I refuse to discuss it with you” bullshit. If you don’t want to accept the challenge, don’t start it. Period.

6. No snivelling. No one’s impressed by tears, whining, cries of “You’re being so mean!” or “You’re so unfair!” or “You just don’t understand!” We’re not here to sing kumbaya. We’re not swayed by “Bu-bu-but it’s what I believe, and you’re disrespecting that!” arguments. We’re atheists: religion gets no special pleading and no special treatment here, and getting choked up over it won’t help you in the slightest. If you can’t take that kind of heat, you have no business being in an atheist’s kitchen. This extends to concern trolling about bad language, blasphemy, and other such things: you knew what you were getting in to. Your lectures won’t change a damn thing. They’ll just earn you the title of “concern troll,” so if that’s not what you came to be, refrain from snivelling and silly lectures about civility.

7. No pity. We bloody can’t stand it. Some of you religious bastards seem to think that atheism is some horrible, nihilistic disease. “Poor buggers, they don’t believe in God, how sad for them” drips from your every word. You yourself can’t imagine how one could live a happy life without God, so you think we must be miserable. Newsflash: we’re not. I have, in fact, met far more happy, unconflicted atheists than I have happy, unconflicted believers. We’re free. We enjoy life. We love our families, friends, pets, and all of the other things you take joy in. What you fill with spirituality, we fill with other things. We notice no lack, and we don’t appreciate being treated like poor victims who don’t know any better.

8. Don’t take it personally. When we’re tearing apart your argument, we’re not attacking you. We probably like you just fine, especially if you’ve contributed something useful to the discussion. But your arguments about God, well, they’re going to suffer. Be prepared for it, and do try to give as good as you get. We respect someone who engages us openly, honestly, and holds their own to the best of their ability.

9. Absolutely under any circumstances never ever bring up that old “atheism is a religion too” chestnut. That’s one of the dumbest things you could possibly say. Absence of belief is not a religion. We don’t have “faith” in the non-existence of God. That’s just one of those whiny, snivelly things religious people do to try to win arguments, and all it does is make you look like a total fuckwit. If you’re here to earn any respect at all, do not shoot yourself in both legs by that snooty “atheism is religion” crap. And if you even beg
in to start with the “but you’re really agnostics” bullshit, I shall give you such a smack.

10. A ready wit, a good sense of humor, and a willingness to give as good as you get are essential. Display those things, and the acrimony will probably go right away. Have fun with this stuff. Especially here.

11. We can agree to disagree. My best friend and I do it. We don’t waste our time trying to change each other. He’s religious, I’m not. That’s the way it is. We agree to disagree on that point and move right along to the points we do agree on, which are legion (see his take on the Worldnutdaily, for starters). The point is not to win, but to play the game. Find points of commonality, achieve some understanding of each other’s views even if we heartily disagree with those views, decide how we’re going to work together for a better world without crowding each other too badly: these things we don’t need to be in full agreement for. We don’t need to have the same world view to be in harmony. Hell, we don’t even need to be in harmony, when it comes right down to it. But we do need to concede the war as unwinnable, sometimes, and get past that fact.

12 (not 11 again, sorry bout that). Finally, there’s the door. I hope you can stay, I truly do. I hope we get somewhere in our dialogue. But not if you’re miserable. If you’re deeply offended, outraged, upset, shocked, and battered, and you can’t stand how mean we are, and you’re angry at our outrageous blasphemy and godless ways, there’s an exit. You don’t have to be here. If we’re getting nowhere, you can go somewhere else. Have a nice day. We really do wish you well.

*Karen should keep in mind that while this post was inspired by the Pharyngula thread, it is not aimed exclusively at her, but at all Christians who mix it up with atheists. She’s not the only Christian who’s gotten off on the wrong foot on an atheist blog, and she shan’t be the last. This post will hopefully help them understand why we get so pissed at what they consider inoffensive behavior. And if any of them are offended by the rules, they should consult Rule #11 forthwith.

It’s Two-for-One-Day in the Rejecting Rabid Reverends Department

This amuses me to no end:

For months, John McCain has faced questions about his associations with radical religious televangelists like John Hagee and Rod Parsley. And for months, McCain refused to disassociate himself from the extremists, even going so far as to defend the hate-filled rhetoric. McCain said Hagee had been “taken out of context”) and repeatedly say he was “honored” and “glad” to have their support.

Yesterday, after the latest revelations that Hagee believed Hitler was fulfilling God’s will, McCain gave up.

Senator John McCain on Thursday rejected the endorsements of two prominent evangelical ministers whose backing he had sought to shore up his credentials with religious conservatives.

Mr. McCain repudiated the Rev. John C. Hagee, a televangelist, after a watchdog group released a recording of a sermon in which Mr. Hagee said Hitler and the Holocaust had been part of God’s plan to chase the Jews from Europe and drive them to Palestine.

Later in the day, he also rejected the endorsement of the Rev. Rod Parsley of the World Harvest Church of Columbus, Ohio, whose anti-Muslim sermons were broadcast on ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Thursday.

I wonder how this is going to look in frothing fundie circles? Can’t look good to them that McCain dropped their pathological pastors like hot rocks just after ABC news started running segments like this:

I especially loved how ABC juxtaposed all of McCain’s smarmy praise and inane defense of this shite with Pastor Parsley’s ravings. Verily, ’twas a work of art.

Tristero said it best when he said:

But here’s the best part:

Hagee also issued a statement saying he was tired of baseless attacks and he was removing himself from any active role in the 2008 campaign.

Good idea. Memo to all christianists:

Go thou and do likewise.

Amen, brother. A-fucking-men.

An Atheist’s Long Ramble About Religion

As I’m about to dive into the night’s fiction work, I’m reminded of one of the bajillion reasons I left church behind.

The attitude of the church I went to so briefly could be summed up thusly: “I don’t know much about God, but I’d say we’ve built a pretty good cage for him.” (Oh, how I wish I’d actually seen that Simpson’s episode rather than merely hearing it described!) Not that the people I went to church with would’ve admitted the first bit. They were absolutely convinced they, and exclusively they, knew everything there was to know about God.

One of the things they knew was that every other religion not only had it wrong, but was pure evil to boot.

I wish I’d had Rowan Atkinson’s delightful A Warm Welcome to quote back then: “And finally, Christians. Ah, yes, I’m sorry – I’m afraid the Jews were right.”

I never could get the niggling sense that nobody had the exclusive claim to the truth out of my head. The life of a bleating sheep was never the life for me. You see, I had this terrible penchant for reading history and thinking subversive thoughts like, “Wow. The flood myth shows up in Ancient Sumeria – somebody’s been plagarizing.” And, “Kung Fu Tzu came up with the Golden Rule before the Jews. Interesting, that.” And, “What’s wrong with Allah? He’s God, too – says so right in the Qu’ran. Look – Abraham and Jesus are even in there!”

Point being, I enjoyed other religions immensely, and it irritated the bugshit out of me when some self-righteous little fucker would tell me that all of those other religions were just myths, or worse, lies told by Satan.

“I’ve read Job,” I’d say. “Satan and God seemed pretty tight. Oh, and did you know that in the Old Testament, Satan means ‘adversary’? That’s all Satan is – not the ultimate evil, just a speedbump.”

They never liked that much. Can’t fathom why.

Even as a child, I’d think unChristian thoughts, such as, “Why is the Bible supposedly true, but all the Greek and Roman religion’s just myth?” No one could ever prove to me the “truth” of one over the other. (Evangelizing Christians in the audience, open your Bibles and find the “shake the dust from your sandals” verse. You’re gonna need it if you start trying to prove the truth of God over all the other gods ’round here. I’ll sic Woozle on you, see if I don’t.)

Religion, as far as I could tell, made smart people stupid. They got so obsessed with proving God literally true and the Bible infallible that they tied themselves into complicated knots trying to explain away the innumerable contradictions in the Bible. It’s amusing, to be sure, but pathetic. Their God, it seems, was incapable of using allegory as a teaching tool. I once saw a thirteen-year old annihilate a Bible literalist. Twasn’t pretty. Someday, I shall tell you that story.

Christians who see the Bible as allegory fare a lot better, and their God looks a lot smarter. Come to think of it, that’s true for just about everybody’s gods and holy stories, isn’t it?

So. The claims to exclusive truth, the pathological fear of other religions and ideas, and the penchant of calling anything that didn’t fit a terribly restricted worldview “evil,” all of those things cemented my determination to never ever again make the mistake of joining a congregation. I felt I was missing out on a lot of interesting shit by letting these silly buggers dictate what I could and could not know, and I was right.

I mean, imagine what the next few days’ research would look like if I were restricted to the fundamentalist Christian view of things? Actually, come to think of it, there wouldn’t be a next few days’ research. I wouldn’t have the Ahc’ton as heroes, now, would I, because reincarnation ain’t part of the bargain.

I wouldn’t be slogging my way through Aristotle’s De Anima right now, and wouldn’t be making a beeline for research on the Tulku next.

I wouldn’t have Shiva Nataraja dancing on ignorance on my shelf. I wouldn’t be wondering just where the bloody hell Green Tara ran off to… shit. Oh, there she is, right beside Shiva. And there’s Ganesha. Hello, you.

Had I stayed with that very restrictive brand of Christianity that I flirted with for a few months way back when, I would still be writing insipid, theologically safe tripe if I was writing at all. Sure as fuck wouldn’t be writing a series of books that draw very heavily on Buddhist, Hindu, Taoist, and Norse themes. Would’ve never experienced the pleasure of “Thou art that,” and a thousand other truly breathtaking mythological themes. Good and evil would have been in black and white rather than the fascinating shades of gray I get to wrestle with.

Yes, I have a lot of religious symbols and themes for an atheist. Being an atheist allows me to filch from whomever I like, guilt-free. These ideas are powerful. They’re interesting. They’re frequently fun.

Some religious folks accuse atheists of wanting to do away with all religion, and some atheists certainly lean that way. I’m not one. What I’d like to see vanish from the world is the pig-headedness of religious folks who think their religion is the one-and-only, and want to make sure everybody else thinks exactly the same. That’s a tragedy, to me. That’s an impoverishment and an offence against God. I’d be pretty pissed if I were the omniscient, omnipotent Divinity that kept getting stuffed into little cages, my power and variety denied. After all, if God is all, God really is all: every single human religion, past, present and future, has a little snippet of the Truth.

That’s the conclusion I came to as an agnostic, anyway, before I woke up one day and realized I’d become an atheist somewhere along the way. But I’m an atheist who loves what religious ideas say about life, the Universe and everything, about being human, about the power of ideas. And I’d like to see a world where those ideas have perfect freedom to coexist. Some religious folks seem to feel the same way. They’re just as fascinated by other ways of belief as I am. They appreciate them, welcome them, threaten nobody with hell for preferring one path over the other, and those are the religious folks I’d like to see come into power.

Would certainly be a world filled with a lot less fanatics playing silly buggers, now, wouldn’t it?

No Ray Comfort and his bananas. No DIsco. No Expelled.

…..Come to think of it, I’d lose a major source of my daily entertainment…..

Thankee gods I’d still have politicians to bash.

Click on the Ray Comfort link, my darlings. Seriously. Just swallow any liquids before you do so. Trust me, your computer will thank you for it.

Robert T. Bakker Just Got Right Up My Nose

That’s right. That Robert T. Bakker. The dinosaur guy. The one who gave me all sorts of delicious ideas when I was using dinosaurs as the springboard to building a better dragon.

He got so far up my nose tonight he made my brain recoil.

Brian Switek at Laelaps interviewed Dr. Bakker several weeks ago. I didn’t read the interview. I was saving it for later, like an expensive bottle of wine: I was busy with the IDiot schlock at the time, Expelled was getting ready to come out, this blog was just a wee thing that needed constant feeding, and, well, I wanted to read it when I could actually savor it.

And then I dropped by Pharyngula today, and discovered that Robert T. Bakker’s been hating on atheists.

Even Dr. Bob.

Dr. Bob said this about us:

We dino-scientists have a great responsibility: our subject matter attracts kids better than any other, except rocket-science. What’s the greatest enemy of science education in the U.S.?

Militant Creationism?

No way. It’s the loud, strident, elitist anti-creationists. The likes of Richard Dawkins and his colleagues.

Dr. Bob, don’t take this the wrong way, because I love and respect you for your palentology and all of those awesome books on dinosaurs without which I couldn’t have built a better dragon, but… fuck you, okay?

Fuck you and your Pentecostal bullshit.

Not only have you jumped on the “atheists are anathema” bandwagon, but you’ve got to throw your lot in with anti-elitism, too? You, a learned man? You want to use “elitist” as an epithet?

You disappoint me, sir.

First off, I’m sick to death of the “atheists are the enemy” schtick. Creationists are the enemy. We atheists are allies, no matter how much you may dislike our views and our expression of said views, and, yes, our “elitism.” After all, no atheist is going to come in and shut your museum down because it doesn’t pander to our dogma. No atheist would kick your science out of schools, put you out of a job, and ridicule you because your knowledge of science doesn’t match a fairy story told by belligerant goatherders three thousand years ago.

You know who’s your enemy, Bob? Militant creationists.

Those fuckers were attacking science long before we loud, strident, anti-creationist atheists jumped into the fray. And you’d better be gods-damned glad we’re drawing their fire, because you know who’d be taking the bullets if we weren’t?

That’s right. You.

It’s bad enough we have to take rancid bullshit from the IDiot set, but then people like you, religious scientists, turn around and fire away. We take shit from every religious bastard in the universe. Forgive us for getting tetchy. Excuse us for biting at the hands raised against us rather than slinking off with our tails between our legs.

What’s wrong, Bob? Because I’m sure at some level, you know it’s absolute bullshit to think that if the atheists went away, the creationists would withdraw from the field, too. Do we gleeful unbelievers threaten your faith? Is that what led to this:

Dawkins performs clip-art scholarship with the History of Science and Religion, a field that over the last several decades has matured into a rigorous discipline with fine PhD programs, endowed professorships, well-funded conferences, edited volumes luxuriously printed by Oxford, Harvard, and The Johns Hopkins Press. With footnotes.

PZ already took you apart on this one, so I won’t do it. I’m just saying that your whole response to the critics from your original wrong-headed comment came across as the rantings of a terrified theist. And it’s pathetic.

You spend nearly the entire response frothing about “The Brights.” Are you fucking kidding me? I’ve been pretty deeply immersed in atheist circles for a while now, and I had no idea what the fuck Brights were until John Pieret put them down in a comment on this blog. Apparently, enough pathetic souls are hanging on to the silly notion to keep you in material, but I have news for you: the vast majority of atheists aren’t “Brights.” So spending nearly a full article ranting about how Darwin wouldn’t have been a Bright is just a joke.

And it’s not like anybody gives two tugs on a dead dog’s dick what Darwin was, aside from the IDiots who have a huge stake in him being an atheist. He could have been a rabid fundie, for all we care. It’s his science that’s important, not his religious beliefs. What, we’re supposed to be ashamed to be atheists because Darwin wasn’t? That kind of shit may be important to Christians, who seem to have a pathological need for arguments from authority, but we atheists don’t care, aside from the chortle it gives us when religious buggers’ arguments from authority go horribly awry (Einstein, anybody?).

Then there’s all of the whining about how we just haven’t read the science wuuuvs religion, and look, it’s got footnotes! literature. You go on and on about Dawkins not having enough footnotes in The God Delusion. You veritably sneer at the fact. You go on and on with the Harvard, the PhDs, the “luxuriously printed volumes….” Who’s being an elitist snob now, Dr. Bob?

I could spend a long time writing up a series of treatises for you, richly footnoted, even, explaining just how and why it is that threatened Christians look like such raving ‘fraidy-cats when confronted with an atheist who’s not silent about their views. I could, and if necessary will, demonstrate that creationists didn’t need strident, loud atheists to try to destroy science. But you already know all of that. You just don’t want to admit it. And I’m not going to take precious time away from my writing right now to whip up a scholarly treatise for a man who should know better.

Although if you come here and bitch to me, I’ll do it. Don’t make me pull out the Super-Deluxe Paddle with Footnotes and march you out to the woodshed, my boy.

Because, you see, in the end, this is just an annoyance and a disappointment. I expected better of you. I expect better of all Christians who have a brain that they employ for tasks other than apologetics. But I’ve learned that my expectations often won’t be met – something about atheists seems to turn you into raving lunatics – and so I can forgive you.

I’ll continue reading your books and articles and even interviews, although now I’ll be wincing in anticipation, wondering when you’re going to get sidetracked by that “atheists are the enemy” bullshit, and that’s just sad, because you’re a brilliant man and your paleontology is first-class. I mean, for fuck’s sake, you were largely responsible for one of the most incredible shifts in understanding ever. I know. I was there. I got raised on the din
osaurs-are-cold-blooded gospel, and then along came a heretic, and what do you know? They weren’t so cold after all.

See, Dr. Bob? See what heretics can do? We apostates and unbelievers, we shake things up, we change things, we can drive things in a whole other, entirely wonderful direction.

And I think you’ll be surprised when the loud, proud atheists force Christianity to a new level. Between the fundies who want to keep the faith static, and the atheists who don’t actually threaten to do away with it entirely but sure as fuck demonstrate that a happy, complete life can be lived God-free, you Christians are going to have to achieve a whole new level of faith. But you’re not going to get there knocking over straw men like Brights and snivelling about how Darwin wouldn’t have been one, oh, no.

You are a brilliant man. I know you are. That interview you did with Brian, aside from the silly comment about atheists being the real enemy, that was stellar stuff. That was a tour-de-force. So turn some of that savage intellect away from the whining and crying and engage us, for fuck’s sake. We’re not going to talk you out of God, and you’re not going to talk us in, so how do we reach both the faithful and the faithless? How do we defend this wonderful science of ours from the shitheads who want to do away with it no matter how many Christians say science and religion are bosom buddies? (And you do realize that’s useless, right, because in the militant creationists’ eyes, you’re no more a Christian than I am.)

The floor is open, Dr. Bob. Let’s get a dialogue going. Let’s stop sniping at each other and turn the fire on the fuckers who want to take science down.

Atheists are standing by to take your call.

Mitt Romney Gets Something Right – And So Much More Wrong

As I was spelunking the internets tonight during dinner (chicken tikka masala, if you were wondering, purchased from the same Indian restaurant Bill Gates enjoys, mmm), I came across this little gem on the Bad Idea Blog: a little speech by Mitt Romney entitled “Freedom Requires Religion.” (.pdf)

No need to reach for the airsick bag. It’s not as odious as you might think, given the title.

For one thing, Romney’s rethought a few things since his wanna-be Kennedy speech about religion and decided that atheists deserve freedom, too:

Several commentators, for instance, argued that I had failed to sufficiently acknowledge the contributions that had been made by
atheists. At first, I brushed this off – after all this was a speech about
faith in America, not non-faith in America. Besides, I had not enumerated the contributions of believers – why should non-believers get special treatment?

But upon reflection, I realized that while I could defend their absence from my address, I had missed an opportunity…an opportunity to clearly assert the following: non-believers have just as great a stake as believers in defending religious liberty.

If a society takes it upon itself to prescribe and proscribe certain streams of belief – to prohibit certain less-favored strains of conscience – it may be the non-believer who is among the first to be condemned. A coercive monopoly of belief threatens everyone, whether we are talking about those who search the philosophies of men or follow the words of God.

We are all in this together. Religious liberty and liberality of thought flow from the common conviction that it is freedom, not
coercion, that exalts the individual just as it raises up the nation.

I might be more inclined than your typical atheist to feel he really means it for one reason: our Mormon neighbors used to let us drink beer.

Page, Arizona is one of the most religious places I’ve ever lived, and the bulk of its religious folk are Mormon. I find the religion ridiculous and it’s missionaries pathetic, but I can’t deny that my Mormon neighbors were decent bloody people. We hadn’t had neighbors so kindly since living among the mostly-godless in Flagstaff. We threw block parties, at which my dad drank beer and they drank soda (reformed LDS, the branch of it that can get away with caffeine), and they never cared that my dad and I were heathens. Aside from the occasional missionary bleating at my door, I never heard much about religion out of the Mormons. Probably because they have missionaries for that.

One of my friends did give me the Book of Mormon once because she wanted me to understand her faith better. I tossed it on the couch and didn’t give it another thought until my big calico cat came in, looked at it, puffed up and hissed, walked waaaay way around it, and sat down staring me in the eye with a “What are you going to do about that evil thing?” look on her face. I trust my cats. I got rid of the book.

Anyway. Aside from my old calico thinking that the Book of Mormon was evil incarnate, Mormons for all their foibles have, on the whole, been less obnoxious than the more enthusiastic sects of Christianity, such as those energetically attempting to crowbar IDiocy into the nation’s schools. And so it doesn’t surprise me that Mitt Romney came down on the side of freedom from belief as well. The more churchy Mormons I knew in Page were snooty as hell and much holier-than-thou, and there are some branches of the Mormon tree that are, shall we say, too fucking twisted to make good lumber, but Mitt reminds me of those neighbors who had absolutely no problem with people being different than them, and didn’t think it would sully their perfection to be seen in the presence of people who drank beer and said “Fuck” a lot.

Like my old neighbors, Mitt proved he has a rational brain, employs it, and thus we can have a basis for conversation. He said what many of the Christians who work cheek-by-jowl with such apostates as the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State and the ACLU say: there’s a place for everyone at this table, and religious freedom benefits us all.

It’s in the next bit of the speech, answering further criticisms of his previous speech, where he fucks up.

The more controversial assertion, however, was that freedom requires religion.

One critic dismissed this idea by pointing out that there are countries in Europe which have become godless but nevertheless remain democratic. But I was not speaking about Europe’s recent experiments in state secularism, I was speaking about America and the larger family of
free nations; and I was not speaking about a moment of time, but rather about a span of history. Would America and the freedom she inaugurated here and across the world survive – over centuries – if we were to abandon our faith in God?

I don’t believe so.

Oh, Mitt. Mitt. Where oh where did that brain go? Rotted out by religion, I see.

If Europe survived their loss of faith, and saw freedom and democracy flourish, America would survive just as well, you silly shit.

He yawps on for a good several paragraphs about all of the buggers who’ve yawped about the importance of religion and freedom before. I grant you, some views of religion were important to freedom – then. Back when everybody was a God-botherer and kings ruled by Divine Right, of course freedom had to be defended by saying rights were given to humans by God. Only way to trump the king, wasn’t it?

We hardly need that kind of justification now. We have a long humanist tradition to draw on. We have reason, law, and when it comes down to defense, an atheist can shoot a gun as accurately as a Christian, and may shoot just that little bit straighter for not having an afterlife as a consolation prize. I can guarantee you that if some fanatical buggers came in guns a-blazin’ to take our freedoms away, we’d all be getting armed in a hurry.

Not having God doesn’t mean we don’t have the conviction and the passion to champion freedom. Quite the contrary. Freedom is all the more precious when the alternative is enforced belief.

And you want to talk about bastards likely to take freedom away, I have news for ye: religion has been the enemy of freedom far more often throughout history than it’s been it’s bosom companion. Don’t you tell me how much religion loves freedom, Mitt. It loves it only so long as it needs it.

So when you say shit like this:

Nor can we overlook the fact that people of faith have a unique appreciation for freedom. Because the practice of religion requires
freedom, liberty is especially precious to people of faith. They are willing to sacrifice much to protect it.

I say, “So the fuck what? So are we. You’ve proven bugger-all on the ‘freedom requires religion’ front, matey.”

And when you conclude with some inane personal an
ecdote explaining why freedom requires religion, well, I’m sorry. I know it’s your deeply-held conviction, but I just have to laugh my ass off:

There is one more reason why I am convinced that our freedom requires religion.

One day as a boy when a sermon at church was unusually boring, I asked my Dad to give me a dollar bill so I could look at something more interesting. On the back, there is a curious picture of a single eye surrounded by rays suspended over a pyramid—the great seal of the United States.What’s that, I asked? My father explained that it was the eye of God, and that the Founders believed that He watched over the affairs of this nation. And I later learned that the words on the
seal were from Virgil – Annuit Coeptis – “God has favored our undertakings.”

That’s it? That’s your compelling reason? God’s eye is on the dollar bill, previous presidents prayed, and that’s evidence God blesses America and freedom can’t survive without religion?

Maybe in your world, boyo, but in mine, freedom actually survives a fuck of a lot better without religion. But since you were so kind as to give us a place at the table, I expect we’ll return the favor. At least you’ve got the general idea: it’s freedom, not coercion, that’ll keep this nation great.

Adventures with a Christian Desk Mate

Mellowness has overcome me. I’m thoroughly baked, the breeze is blowing and the frogs are singing, the fountain serenades and – well, I should clean the damned cat box, and this room needs a thorough scrub, but life is still beautiful.

The California Supremes issued a spectacular ruling that put gay marriage ahead by decades and is causing the right-wing radio hosts to blow vessels. FSM has put in an appearance in Tennessee. I’ve read some damned fine submissions to the Carnival of the Elitist Bastards, and, well, it’s hard to work up a good head of steam in these circumstances.

So instead of bashing the stupid, I want to tell you all an amusing story from my callow youth.

I worked at one of the best call centers in the Universe. We offered one of the best paying jobs in Flagstaff, so we had a – dare I say it? – elite workforce. Many of my best friends to this day are the ones I met there: wonderful, wise, witty and wicked folks one could have wide-ranging, intelligent conversations with. The corporate office liked our numbers, so they let us have free reign to do as we willed. That meant that creativity, innovation, and near-autonomy were ours. We used and abused the privilege. Odd people like myself thrived.

One could feel free to stamp their personality upon their desk, and I had done with mine. I’d printed out nice little posters for myself. One was a quote from the Tao Te Ching:

Look, it cannot be seen – it is beyond form.
Listen, it cannot be heard – it is beyond sound.
Grasp, it cannot be held – it is intangible.
From above it is not bright:
From below it is not dark:
An unbroken thread beyond description…


Under heaven all can see beauty as beauty only because there is ugliness.
All can known good as good only because there is evil.
Therefore having and not having arise together.
Difficult and easy compliment each other.


I had a quote from the Qu’ran:

When the sun shall be darkened,
When the stars shall be thrown down,
When the mountains shall be set moving,
When the pregnant camels shall be neglected,
When the savage beasts shall be mustered,
When the seas shall be set alight,
When the infant girl buried alive shall be asked
for what crime she has been slain,
When the records of men’s deeds shall be laid open,
When the heavens shall be stripped bare,
When Hell shall be set blazing,
When paradise shall be brought near,
Then each soul shall know what it has done.

I had a poem from Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman: The Kindly Ones:

All around me darkness gathers,
Fading is the sun that shone;
We must speak of other matters:
You can be me when I’m gone.

And I had this delightful ancient poem Gaiman quoted in The Sandman: The Sound of Her Wings:

Death is before me today
Like the recovery of a sick man,
Like going forth into a garden
after sickness.

Death is before me today:
Like the odor of myrrh,
Like sitting under a sail in a good wind.

Death is before me today:
Like the course of a stream,
Like the return of a man from the
war-galley to his house.

Death is before me today:
Like the home that a man longs to see,
After years spent as a captive.

I didn’t yet have George the Gargoyle with his red flashing eyes. He came later, and it’s probably a good thing for his sake, considering what my desk mate did to the little 8 1/2 x 11 homemade posters.

The bane of working the night shift in a crowded call center is that you get to desk share with the early morning folk. It wasn’t generally a problem, unless you ended up matched with Gail “OMG You Got a Pencil Mark on the Desk!!1!111!” T. I wasn’t paired with Gail, and so didn’t have to worry about her ever-encroaching collection of kitschy ceramic angels and her penchant for leaving severely obsessive-compulsive notes. But I started to notice a pattern: I’d come in, and my little posters on my half of the cubicle would be crooked. Odd, that. I didn’t think much of it until I noticed the growing collection of tack holes where someone hadn’t been paying attention staking them back to the wall.

Well, I couldn’t well have tattered corners, could I? I left a kindly little note saying to leave the posters alone. The holes continued to accumulate. Dishevelment continued. I left a rather more annoyed and sternly-worded note saying that if I found one more extraneous tack hole, we’d have to have a chat about respecting others’ property.

A few days later, I get called in to an Inquisition.

My desk mate, it turns out, was a rabid Christian, and quotes from the Tao Te Ching and the Qu’ran gave her blessed little heart palpitations. And instead of simply saying so, she decided she needed to bring in the heavy artillery: two managers and the HR supervisor.

She was seriously terrified that if she confronted the evil heathen with her discomfort, I’d do something horrible. Seriously.

The supervisors let her speak. They couldn’t say anything themselves. They were trying too hard not to laugh. They knew me, you see, and they thought the whole thing ridiculous beyond words.

The quivering Christian launched into a speech you could tell had taken days for her to gather the courage for, about how Christian she was, and how it disturbed her to look at my little posters, and on and on. She was pale, sweating, and shaky, with a distinct quaver in her voice, and there I was, sitting there listening to a whole lotta “I’m terrified to even glance at a world view that’s different than mine” schlock with rapidly growing disbelief. I’d never thought anyone could be that fucking terrified of a few poetic words.

As I said, I was young and naive.

She finally wound down. Silence fell. And then I said, “Look, there’s a simple solution here. Get a big poster and put it up over mine every day. I’ll just set it aside so I can have my own stuff when I get in. And I’ll be sure to put the tacks through their original holes when I replace it.”

The supervisors nearly clapped. The Christian looked pole-axed. She’d never expected a heathen to come up with a reasonable compromise. I don’t know exactly what her church told her about people of other faiths, but it must have been richly detailed and completely bass-ackwards.

The next day, when I come in, there’s this ginormous poster up over my wall with the most insipid fucking poem in the universe on
it. You know, the kind of touchy-feely plebeian poem that makes real poets want to vomit. The kind of thing that only offends people with taste, because it’s meant to be as bland and ecumenical and inspirational as possible. Someday, someone needs to explain to me why it is that devout Christians have no fucking taste.

After that day, peace and goodwill descended upon all, except when I’d catch a glimpse of that crime against poetry upon taking it down for the day. Everyone in the call center agreed: my quotes kicked her poem’s ass. And I’d won all the brownie points. My supervisors saw me as the mature one, the peacemaker, while my Christian desk mate had proven herself an immature little git. There’s a certain contempt well-adjusted Christians have for their brethren when the brethren’s acting like whiny little brats that’s worse than any contempt an atheist can show.

That episode was my first introduction to the world of grown-ups who were too God-blind to grow up. It started me on the never-ending quest to answer the “What the fuck are they so afraid of if their God kicks so much ass?” question.

And I pass the story down to you, my darlings, because it’s always useful to know that a good copy of the Qu’ran or the Tao Te Ching will make all but the most determined evangelicals flee upon contact.