Chris Stedman Interviews Dale McGowan

Chris Stedman has an interview with my friend (and boss) Dale McGowan. Dale participated earlier this week in the kickoff event for the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge at George Washington University, representing the secular and humanist community. In the interview, he makes a powerful argument about why it’s important for humanists to participate in interfaith events:
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Stedman on ‘Atheism Without Works’

Chris Stedman’s latest column expresses a position I have come to hold more and more strongly over the last year or so, which is that atheists and humanists need to build communities and engage in service projects that help better the human condition locally, nationally and globally. He makes the argument that Dale McGowan has been making for years:
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Grrr. Stedman.

Bill O’Reilly, as he always does this time of year, was ramping up this War on Christmas nonsense again. He’s peeved at the new billboard display from American Atheists in Times Square.

American Atheists launched a major billboard display on Tuesday that declares Christmas is better without the Christ. The huge 40′x40′ digital billboard is located in Times Square in Midtown Manhattan. Using motion graphics, the billboard proclaims, “Who needs Christ during Christmas?” A hand crosses out the word “Christ” and the word “NOBODY” appears. The display then says “Celebrate the true meaning of Xmas” and offers a series of cheery words: family, friends, charity, food, snow, and more. The commercial ends with a jovial “Happy Holidays!” from American Atheists and displays the organization’s website,“This season is a great time of year for a hundred reasons—none of them having to do with religion,” said American Atheists President David Silverman. “This year, start a new tradition: Don’t go to church. You hate it, it’s boring; you probably only go because you feel guilty or obligated. Instead, spend more time with your family and friends—or volunteer. There are better uses of your time and money.”

Ed Brayton jokes that O’Reilly should have invited him on to talk about it — he would have engaged in some merciless needling that would have annoyed the old windbag. It would have been nice, but no, no way was that going to happen; it would have been even better if David Silverman had been invited on…not only more appropriate, but Silverman is good at standing his ground and punching back. But no. O’Reilly brought on…

Chris Stedman.

He was awful. Well, from my perspective he was awful — O’Reilly seemed to think he was just wonderful, since Stedman was largely agreeing with him. O’Reilly showed part of the billboard, the bit where is it says “Who needs Christ during Christmas? Nobody,” and then cut away to O’Reilly asking Stedman what he thought about it. He replied that they were “not contributing to the destigmatization of atheists,” and later he said that he completely agreed, and he wanted “to see more of yes of atheism than the no of atheism.”

I can guess exactly how Silverman would have responded: by pointing out that the primary message of the billboard was the importance of this season as a family holiday, which certainly is the “yes of atheism”. Stedman either didn’t do his homework or was more interested in ingratiating himself with a far right blustering jerk, and decided instead to see if the snow tires on the bus could bounce over a few atheists.

O’Reilly was pulling his usual schtick, claiming that atheists are bitter, that they sue schools if they have the temerity to let a kid sing a Christmas carol, and whining that Macy’s department store brought in a Santa Claus and didn’t announce that it was Christmas. Why can’t those atheists just leave Christmas alone, he begged.

Most of these claims of atheists hating Christmas are lies, and the criticisms groups like the FFRF levy against schools and other state institutions aren’t that kids shouldn’t be allowed to pray or sing hymns if they want, but that these schools cannot selectively privilege only the Christian religion. Stedman was totally ineffective.

Further, when O’Reilly says “What I’m seeing here is an amazing amount of anger from atheists” and “I don’t really know what they are angry about”, when the angry ranter here is O’Reilly and the atheists aren’t expressing any anger at all, Stedman feebly goes along with it and agrees with the stupid host. I guess he’s hoping for a repeat invitation.

If Stedman and the Harvard Humanists want to put up a friendly, cheerful, unchallenging milquetoast sign, they are welcome to do so, and I won’t have a problem with it. I do have a big problem when a representative of the Harvard Humanists goes on the air to deny the righteous, forthright words of a less weasely organization, and when they are so ineffectual that they can’t even raise a word of rebuttal against the BS Bill O’Reilly lays on so thickly — familiar, tired BS that anyone going on the show ought to be prepared to slap down. It’s not as if he ambushed Stedman with a weird new claim.

Stedman is too feeble, and maybe Ed Brayton would be a touch too acerbic. If they can’t get Silverman to go on, may I recommend Rob Boston, instead? He wouldn’t let the bogosity fly by with a smile and a laugh. Anyone but Stedman.

I think I want these kids to handle O’Reilly.

Chris Stedman on O’Reilly

Chris Stedman was on Bill O’Reilly’s show a couple days ago talking about the entirely fictitious “war on Christmas.” It’s a good thing he’s the one on that show and not me. There’s no way I could be on O’Reilly’s show without provoking him. I’d insert “falafel” and “loofah” into the conversation as many times as I could. And I’d tell him that this segment is so great that I’m sure he’s going to win another Pulitzer prize for it. And you know O’Reilly and his fragile ego and temper. He’d go from 0 to red-faced, spittle-flecked rage in about .8 seconds. And then I’d wish him happy holidays.
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Rick Stedman, meet Barbara Streisand

Remember David Marshall? Christ the Tao? The last thread he commented in was this one, where he was his usual bumbling pretentious self, if you need a prod to the memory. He recently had a debate at Adventure Christian Church with Phil Zuckerman, the sociologist, and was creamed. The church then refused to release the video of the debate…until now.

Dear Friends,

Earlier this month our church hosted a debate featuring Dr. David Marshall speaking on Christianity and Dr. Phil Zuckerman, sharing his views on secular humanism.

The night was designed to provide a platform for each to debate their views on civil society. We hoped to encourage a sharing of thoughts and ideas between Christians, atheists and the surrounding community.

After the debate, I honestly thought the video posting was my choice to make, and I was floored to learn that our decision not to post it was considered by some as evidence of close-mindedness. I apologize for not posting this debate earlier, and now that we have clearly heard from both presenters, we are posting the debate.

I hope that the conversation about civility can continue and might return to the civil tone in which it began.


Pastor Rick Stedman

So he was surprised that people pressured him to release the video. How disingenuous, especially given that before he revealed it, he had posted several one-sided rebuttals. And now he has the gall to whine about ‘civility’! You gotta give it to get it, guy.

So here it is, the video Adventure Christian Church was embarrassed to show.

If he’d just quietly released it from the very beginning, probably no one would have noticed. I suppose we should thank Stedman for doing such a fabulous job advertising it.

Ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer

Tezcatlipoca, god of hurricanes

It happens every time a natural disaster occurs: the ghouls creep out of their crypts and get national press coverage for their rationalizations. One example: Rick Stedman, generic Christian pastor and apologist, has emerged to ask a stupid question.

When hurricanes like Harvey devastate so many lives, where is God?

That’s a really good question—one which I’ve heard whenever a hurricane, tornado, or tsunami wreaks havoc—and it deserves an honest, though maybe surprising answer.

No, it’s not a good question. Where is Harry Potter? Where is Dread Dormammu? Where is Aquaman? These would also be stupid questions, because they are fictional characters, and we know exactly where they are: in the pages of books and comic books. They’re not going to emerge when a catastrophe strikes.

The only people who ask that question are religious apologists. It never occurred to me, for instance. This is the kind of question people ask when reality comes up and smacks their mythologies in the face, and they have to figure out an excuse for why their all-powerful superhero didn’t show up to help out. The rest of us…nope, we have known all along that nature isn’t necessarily our friend, that good and evil don’t apply in the cosmic scheme of things, and we have no expectations of beneficent super-beings feeling obligated to ride to our rescue.

As you might expect, though, Stedman is going to give us his stupid answer to his stupid question, and — big surprise — it’s not going to be surprising at all. His excuse is that his God was there, expressing himself in the charity and kindness of human beings in the face of adversity, because, apparently, people are incapable of recognizing the importance of their friends and neighbors and family, or even strangers, unless they are possessed by a supernatural entity. Whenever you see someone doing something nice, that’s God, not actually that person acting ethically. I think it might be part of that odious Christian doctrine that says we’re all evil sinners who deserve Hell, except Jesus somehow ‘saved’ us. How the idea that goodness is a manifestation of God could be compatible with Christian versions of Free Will that say our actions are our choice, so evil is our problem, not God’s, I don’t know.

It seems simpler to me to cut out the imaginary phantasmal middle man and credit human beings themselves with the good and evil they do, but then, I’m not soaking in Christian dogma.

Then there’s also a purpose to God unleashing hurricanes on us:

In a world that assumes there are no objective rights and wrongs, tragedies recalibrate our moral compasses and remind us that some things are always right.

See, God killed those people and destroyed their homes and livelihood sorta like how he tortured Job: it’s a test to help them see what is right and what is wrong. It really makes it crystal clear that when someone kills your dog and your aunt, turns your home into a mudhole, blows up your workplace, and spews chemical poisons all over your neighborhood, it reminds us that there is an objective good and evil, and if your moral compass is properly calibrated, you ought to realize that the omnipotent agent (if there is one) who spawned that death and destruction to wake us up to the nature of what is good and evil is Himself an evil mofo, and we ought to stop making excuses for him. Right? If your moral compass is still so fucked up that you scribble out apologias the deity you love, then presumably you are now in need of a colossal natural death strike on your home to straighten you out.

I don’t think even that would help Stedman, though. He’s drunk so much Kool-Aid he’s oozing Purplesaurus Rex and Incrediberry out of his pores. Look at this bullshit:

Families wept over the death of loved ones, just as Jesus wept near the tomb of his friend Lazarus. Could our tears and sorrows be reminders that death was not part of our original design, that we were created to be like God—immortal?

I have never in my life grieved over the death of a loved one because it reminds me that, oh yeah, I’m supposed to be God-like and Immortal, and gosh, the loss of this loved one sure is a painful prod to make me think of how I got stiffed out of my Cosmic Destiny by that Eve chick. I’m not crying for them, it’s for getting cheated out of my supernatural inheritance.

Jebus, but I despise Christianity.

And then he has to top it off by sniping at evolution.

(Think about it: if atheistic materialism is true, don’t you think we would have become used to death in 3+ billion years of life on planet Earth? Wouldn’t we have settled the case that human deaths are par for the course and shouldn’t trouble us more than the death of a plant or pet?)

Any time a Christian says something along the lines of If evolution is true, then…, you can predict that they’re going to say something that reveals the depth of their ignorance.

It seems to me that if evolution would predict anything along those lines, it would be that successful lineages would evolve mechanisms to promote survival and to resist death, even inevitable, ubiquitous death. Getting “used to death” is such a weirdly narrow anthropomorphism, since most organisms are going to lack the awareness that is behind the concept of “getting used to”, and because we would expect that successful organisms would resist death.

But then, maybe this is part of the Christian experience. They get used to the unutterable boredom of having to sit through miserable church services every week, so they imagine that is what life is all about — getting accustomed to the intolerable. That’s what they think their imaginary afterlife is all about, too…an eternity of repetitive, predictable slavery. They expect they’ll get used to it. Rick Stedman will help them!

The Pros and Cons of Antitheism

Well, since every other atheist blogger is debating whether or not antitheism has merit, I guess I better throw in my two cents.

When I first became an atheist, I was in the Chris Stedman faitheist camp. After seeing so many angry atheist trolls online, I didn’t want to join their camp. Plus, shortly before deconverting, I was (loosely) involved with the liberal Christian scene, so I knew not all Christians were fundamentalists. In fact, I still have progressive Christian friends who are just as passionate about social justice as I am, like AnaYelsi Sanchez (for whose blog I wrote a guest post). So while, like Tony Thompson, I will never break bread with people who think I shouldn’t have basic human rights, I have no problem partnering with progressive believers for secular social justice work.

And yet when it comes to religion as a system and an institution, I don’t see any reason why we still need it.

Christopher Hitchens once said, “I challenge you to find one good or noble thing which cannot be accomplished without religion.” I tried, but couldn’t. Community? You can find that at a bowling league. Music? Go to a local Open Mic Night. Wisdom? Try the library. Wonder and awe? Look at the stars at night. Morality? Try either John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarianism or Virginia Held’s The Ethics of CareThere is literally no need for religion in the 21st century. That doesn’t mean religious people are fools; most of them just don’t know you can have a fulfilling life without a god.

Plus, even though I’m happy to work with progressive believers for secular social justice work, progressive religion still has a lot of fucked up theology. For example, a lot of my progressive Christian friends love to quote the parable of the sheep and goats, and while it’s a nice story on the surface, I’ve seen way too many progressive Christians turn it into another form of shame. I can’t tell you how many blogs posts I’ve read from Christians flogging themselves because they deliberately walked away from a homeless guy on the street. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve lied to homeless people and said I didn’t have any spare change, and then felt guilty about it. However, Christians don’t see it as failing to help a fellow human being; they believe they actually failed the Creator of Heaven and Earth. Talk about extra pressure!

So does that make me an antitheist? I don’t know, and I really don’t care. I find labels like “antitheist, “faitheist,” “firebrand,” and “diplomat” to be superficial. I just do whatever I can to make the world a less shitty place. Sometimes it includes calling out religion’s bullshit, and sometimes it’s working with a religious person for a common goal. Sometimes it’s having conversations with people who disagree with me, and sometimes it’s telling them they’re full of shit. Make of it what you will.