I read the Regal Standard so you don’t have to

Dennis Prince is one of those humble Christians who, like the evangelicals who plan to evangelize at the Reason Rally, is determined to intrude on the Global Atheist Convention. His method: he has produced a rag of a paper called the Regal Standard which he’s asking people to buy and distribute as testimony to the godless heathens who will be gathering in Melbourne.

I feel special because Prince has personally mailed a copy of the paper direct to me before the convention, and I have it right here in front of me. All 8 pages of tripe. There’s not much to it — it’s all the familiar nonsense. But here’s what Prince has to say about it:

“It surprised me when I got all the articles together how compelling was the case for God and his greatness. I was delighted and humbled by that. But I know that atheists will raise hard questions — some are insurmountable.”

Oh. There’s a “compelling” case for God here? Let’s go through it, page by page.

Page 1.

The Antony Flew story. Well-known atheist philosopher’s faculties begin to erode in his old age, and under the influence of an evangelical Christian, changes his mind…therefore, God.

The Colton Burpo story. Four year old boy almost dies in a medical emergency, and afterwards begins telling his fundamentalist Christian father stories about meeting a blue-eyed Jesus in heaven, which self-serving fairy tales Dad gathers into a book and sells to credulous Christians…therefore, God.

Page 2.

Continuation of previous stories, and DNA means “Definitely No Atheism. DNA is really complex…therefore God.

Page 3.

The Matthew Parris story. Conservative UK MP and atheist thinks Africans need Christian influence to bring them out of their primitive barbarism…therefore, God.

Page 4.

The Bible argument. The Bible is the top-selling book of all time…therefore, God.

An unsourced survey. Most people go to church because it helps in their relationship with god…therefore, God.

The Lady Hope story. Unfortunately, the story of Darwin’s deathbed conversion are false. He did not convert before he died, but after he died (yes, it really says that)…therefore, God.

Page 5.

The argument from distorted data. 2.5% of the world’s population were Christians in 1900, now it’s 12.5%…therefore, God.

The persecution argument. The Chinese have not been able to exterminate Christianity, and some Muslims have had dreams that led them to convert to Christianity…therefore, God.

Page 6.

The problem of evil. Sure, Christians have tortured, raped, and murdered in the name of God, but so have the Muslims, and besides, they’ve also built hospitals…therefore, God.

The problems of suffering. Why doesn’t God stop all the suffering in the world, if he’s so powerful? He did, by sending Jesus…therefore, God.

Page 7.

God & Sex. God says sex is OK, as long as it is between one man and woman within the bonds of holy matrimony…therefore, God.

Page 8.

Atheist authority. British politician and atheist Roy Hattersley wrote a book about the Salvation Army and was impressed with their dedication…therefore, God.

The promise of salvation. Kneel and pray to God right now and you will go to heaven…therefore, God.

That’s it. I’ve only given the gist of each story in the paper, but really, I think you can see that it is a lot of fluff, and there’s absolutely nothing compelling about any of it.

It’s a bit of a scam. I’m sure some well-meaning Christians will send Dennis Prince some money and get copies of this crap to hand out at the conference, but all the atheists who get it will find it pathetic and laughable, so it’ll be money wasted.

I’m mainly astounded that the two best arguments for the existence of god that this guy could find, judging by their placement in his newspaper, are the ridiculous Heaven is for Real book and an anecdote about an elderly atheist who get wobbly about his unbelief. If that’s the best they can do for evidence, it’s clear that Christianity is dying.

Why I am an atheist – Thinking Shogun

I am an atheist probably since I was 10. I guess it was an inevitable gradual process that comes to be by learning about science and plain old common sense.

A few events I remember that shaped my skeptic mind went on like this:

While learning about the origin of the Universe in the 4th grade, a teacher made the ridiculous mistake of putting in the same level the Big Bang, the Steady State, and none other than the “God done it” hypothesis. I was 9 but even then I knew one definitely didn’t belong there. And while there already was definitive evidence for the Big Bang and the Steady State was long gone, the teacher didn’t seem to know this – nor did she know the answer to my sincere but apparently unconfortable question – If God made it, then who made God?. She was religious as most people in Colombia are (we used to be officially catholic until 1991) and she brought her ideas into the classroom despite them not being on the textbook. Unfortunately I was the only one taken aback by this.

Anyway, she didn’t like me very much and was constantly bothering me about my long hair.

Another thing that happened was realising how much in common the local indigenous myths and other folk tales had with this other story everyone- including myself – seemed to take more seriously. Everybody was just obviously making stuff up to explain what they didn’t or couldn’t know. Once I learned about this and about the other myths and legends from everywhere around the world I asked myself “What if we were colonised by the chinese or some other culture?.

It became evident that any people will create and postulate what they need in order to make sense of what they can’t undestand. In that moment I knew that religions must all be man made.

Finally, I learned about Evolution and really understood what it meant for our supposed “special place in the cosmos”. My biology teacher insisted that while it’s true that we’ve evolved, we are somehow appart from the rest of all species. I knew this was rubbish, I’m an ape and so are you – deal with it.

Somehow feeling at the same level than a snake, a gorilla, a fish, or all those bugs that creeped the hell out of me back then, made me realise how incredibly fortunate I was to exist along them, and have the joy of sharing this precious time in this incredible world with the company of my family and friends, and to not waste my time with superstitious nonsense.

This, among many other things, is what lead me to the conclusion that reality is all there is and matters, so learn and appreciate all you can about it. And that’s why I’m an Atheist.

…and also not an astrologer, not a witchcraftist, a vicious antihomeopath, also not a ufologist, well… you get the point.

Thinking Shogun
Colombia

Jesus heals cancer in New Zealand

There is a church in New Zealand that has a genuinely repulsive billboard: it boldly claims that “JESUS HEALS CANCER“. It’s a lie, of course: they have no evidence of such a power. In an interview with the smiling, cheerful, blithely fuckwitted pastor, he openly admits that the congregants who were “healed” were receiving modern cancer therapy, and that he tells them to stay on it while receiving their magical pretend healing, and not to get off it until the doctors actually verify that they are in remission — so it’s another case of doctors doing the real work, while Jesus just steals the credit.

Do watch the whole video. The television announcer is actually good and critical, which is such a surprise to see for those of us accustomed to the glib gladhanders of American TV. He brings on someone from an organization called Consumer NZ, though, who is a bit slimy and evasive and keeps making excuses for the church.

Oh, man, and at the end of the video, the idjit pastor is doubling down and adding a tally of cures to his billboard.

Confession: Yes, FtB has been stacking the place with diversity

From the very beginning. Intentionally. It was my very first demand when Ed Brayton proposed building this network: that we make a special effort to bring in good bloggers who weren’t old white dudes like us. That wasn’t a handicap at all, because there is no dearth of diverse godless authors with all kinds of backgrounds, so we just had to pick the cream of the crop from a wide pool. So like Jason says, not one of us is a token.

It does create some amusing situations, though: like where this network is accused of being a hivemind and an echo chamber — sometimes simultaneously with being accused of making affirmative action hires. Yeah, ’cause Greta and Mano and Ian and Maryam and Sikivu are just talentless hacks we brought in to fill a quota, rather than great writers we were thrilled to bring on board (and we were also thrilled to get the other old white dudes, too, every one of them). One virtue of all that is that whenever someone accuses us of being an “echo chamber” I can roll my eyes and immediately recognize that I’m dealing with a moron.

Jason explains why we’re doing this at length, but I have a shorter answer, a single phrase that is appropriate for a militant atheist: combined arms. I pushed for people who aren’t like me on this network because I am fully aware of the obvious weakness of stacking our army with nothing but artillery: we need infantry and armor and sappers and engineers and cooks and air force and gunboats and communications experts and spies. We aim to conquer, you know.

We’re currently planning to slow down and consolidate the network for the near future (although there will be a few additions coming up soon), but we’re always on the lookout for new members to complement the ones we’ve got: if you know of a good godless blog that provides a different point of view and also has a record of sustained excellent writing, feel free to let us know. We may assimilate them someday.

Knitting souls with an approved wanton sounds like fun to me

It’s been a while since I said this, so it’s time for a booster shot: I really hate “framing”. It’s a sell-out that leads to people making their opponents’ arguments for them, as they try to bend over backwards to see it through the oppositions’ eyes. It’s far, far better to see your own position clearly and try to explain it well to others.

I was reminded of that by this excellent point made by Amanda: that in the process of trying to reach a subsidiary goal, making contraception available to all, many liberals are conceding a larger, more important point to the conservatives and buying into their dogma that sex is evil.

All that said, I want to be clear that it’s not enough to be outraged at the anti-contraception shit and take it as a given that it’s way out of bounds. I mean, it seems obvious that it is, but without an aggressive counterattack from the left, right wingers may gain ground in their attempts to redefine the over 99% of women in the country who have sex for fun and not just for procreation as sluts. We need to frame our arguments as a full-throated, unapologetic belief that sex is good, women are good, and women’s right to enjoy sexual pleasure without shaming or government interference is good. Unfortunately, I’m not seeing enough of that. Instead, the most important argument—that a woman has a right to be a sexual creature and that sex is good—being abandoned by all sorts of liberals and feminists. The most common form this concession takes is well-meaning, and often person conceding the argument that women who have sex for pleasure are somehow less-than don’t intend to concede it. But that’s nonetheless what they’re doing. That concession looks like this:

"Some women aren’t even taking the birth control pill for contraception! They need it for cramps/endometriosis/etc."

Every time you say this, a right winger wanting to imply that women who have sex for pleasure are sluts gets his wings. This statement and all variations on it feeds into the right wing claim that a) contraception is not health care and b) that women who have sex for pleasure are so indefensible that you have to lean on off-label uses for a contraceptive drug to justify its existence. It also does absolutely nothing to defend the non-pill contraception that’s covered by the health care act, such as IUDs or sterilization. Plus, that gives them an easy out, which is to say that they’re fine with insurance covering pills that are prescribed for non-contraception use, but just object to prescriptions for women who use them to prevent pregnancy.

It’s a very political argument to make, very short-sighted and damaging in the long run, but I can understand why people do it. You’ve got an immediate political battle to win, the defeat of a bill that strangles access to contraception. So you take the typical approach of your everyday social primate with a theory of mind: you imagine the world through your opponent’s eyes, and then you try to frame your arguments to take into account his or her values, to find reasons that they would find compelling. Unfortunately, what it accomplishes more than anything is to make particularly odious attitudes commonplace…and it makes the next fight harder.

Our problem isn’t a few bills in state legislatures. It’s the whole deeply imbedded, constantly reinforced notion that good women are sexless and chaste, while bad girls are the ones who enjoy sex and actually have sex with more partners than just the one man who owns her. That’s why those right-wingers are getting their wings: because every time we implicitly accept that premise, we dig our progressive goals a slightly deeper grave.

And oh, how deeply this poison is infiltrating our culture! The other night, I was watching Much Ado About Nothing, the Branagh version. I very much like part of the story — the banter between Benedick and Beatrice is wonderful — but another part, the relationship between Claudio, a dashing soldier, and Hero, the beautiful young bride-to-be, is horrifying. Claudio is tricked by the villain (played by Keanu Reeves, unbelievably) into thinking that Hero was playing around with another man on the side…and then he waits until the hour of the wedding to publicly shame and humiliate this woman he supposedly loves with all of his heart.

CLAUDIO

Sweet prince, you learn me noble thankfulness.
There, Leonato, take her back again:
Give not this rotten orange to your friend;
She’s but the sign and semblance of her honour.
Behold how like a maid she blushes here!
O, what authority and show of truth
Can cunning sin cover itself withal!
Comes not that blood as modest evidence
To witness simple virtue? Would you not swear,
All you that see her, that she were a maid,
By these exterior shows? But she is none:
She knows the heat of a luxurious bed;
Her blush is guiltiness, not modesty.

LEONATO

What do you mean, my lord?

CLAUDIO

Not to be married,
Not to knit my soul to an approved wanton.

It’s a terrible scene, full of Shakespearean viciousness, and all of the contempt and hatred falls on poor Hero for her supposed licentiousness. And then, of course, the true villains are exposed and her true and good chastity vindicated. The resolution was just as appalling as the accusation, because it simply endorses Claudio’s behavior, that it’s perfectly reasonable to scorn and despise a woman if she’d ever shown passion for another human being.

Just once, it would be nice if the heroine turned out to be a lusty, experienced sexual partner and the moment of revelation, in which the horrible accusations are shown to be base and dishonest, didn’t involve showing she was innocent of the crime of sex, but instead involved the man realizing that he loved her anyway, and that there was nothing wrong with a woman enjoying sex…and realizing that the wedding night was going to be phenomenal (for him, if not for her; in the play, Claudio also brags about his abstinence, so I suspect he’s going to be a bit of a disappointment.)

But no, we keep perpetuating this view. We keep supporting the men and women and religions and other institutions that make sure young people are ignorant and ashamed — we look the other way or don’t even see it as a problem ourselves, but it’s really just another kind of child abuse. Let’s keep the children terrified of hell, ashamed of their bodies, and disgusted by their sexual feelings…because, by god, that’s how our parents raised us, and no way are those little brats going to grow up to find joy in what has been denied us!

I favor making contraception available to all because I think everyone should be able to have happy, safe, consensual sex. It’s also a nice bonus that some forms of contraception alleviate menstrual problems or side-effects like migraines, but it’s dishonest and bad framing to pretend that those are the real reasons we should encourage sex education, or insist that health insurance cover prophylaxis, and every time we sweep the most important issue of happy sexy time under the rug, we are pandering to the prudish conservatives.

And don’t get me started on that abortion slogan of “safe, legal, and rare”: I want abortion to be safe, legal, and available as often as women need or want it.

Why I am an atheist – Doug Mackie

I rumbled Santa and religion before I was 6 and I really thought until I got to high school that everyone knew both were tosh but just Yes, Virginia pretended for kids.

I thank my parents for *never* mentioning *anything* to do with religion. I think they had faith of some sort but they were determined that I should make up my own mind.

I have no idea if *any* of my teachers were religious and I thank them for their profound professionalism. It honestly never occurred to me that people really believed any of that stuff when the things in my school and local library books were so much cooler.

I am atheist because I was allowed to make up my own mind. This was one of the many advantages of growing up during the 70′s in New Zealand.

Doug Mackie
New Zealand