A personal AETV loss

Via email today, I learned the sad news of the passing of Ashlea Doty at the age of 34. When I was host from 2002-04, Ashlea was part of the AETV studio crew. She was enormously good humored, and was one of the four of us who visited a Halloween “Hell House” at a local Pentecostal church the first year any of us did that (my report on that night appears to have been scrubbed from the internets following the discontinuation of GeoCities). After I left the show, she had already drifted away from ACA, but I’d still see her on occasion working as a vet tech at the clinic where I took my dog. She’ll be missed by those who knew her, and to everyone else, remember that every day above ground is a good day. Make them all count.

900′-tall Jesus steps on Oral Roberts

And another one bites the dust. What a card that God is! He tells Oral that Oral will be summarily killed if the money isn’t raised to keep his faith healing center afloat. And so Oral gets the money, and then the center shuts down three years later anyway! Then God waits until the fellow is basically decades older than the average human life expectancy, and kills him then, without a warning or cash extortion attempt of any kind. God, you joker you!

Oh, well, actually, God was never involved in any part of it. Oral was just another huckster who struck it rich exploiting ignorance and gullibility, and enjoyed the sort of long and prosperous life that, if we lived in a just world, honest people would be more entitled to. But I suspect even Oral wasn’t as shady as the federally-investigated Kenneth Copeland, seen below administering a kind of Christian rolfing to the ORU patriarch. If you wish to commemorate Oral’s passing by captioning/LOLing this, we won’t stop you.

Addendum: Here’s mine. Forgive me. (In the event it gets flagged and taken down as “inappropriate,” I’ve taken a screenshot.)


Does Pat Robertson really believe?

Our old buddy Pat has just come out of heart surgery. He’s 79. It happens. He’s making a full recovery. Here’s what the doctors did to save his life.

Robertson, founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network, underwent…a new approach to dealing with atrial fibrillation, called convergence procedure. It involves cauterizing the continually beating heart muscle with heat generated by a radio frequency. It rewires a portion of the heart, in a sense, to correct the irregular beat.

…The technique is less invasive than traditional surgery and more effective long-term than drugs and their many side effects.

In a separate but related procedure, doctors also removed an abnormally enlarged left appendage on Robertson’s heart. They believe the growth contributed to Robertson’s atrial fibrillation.

And here’s who gets the credit.

“Only the prayers of thousands of believing people kept me on this earth,” Robertson said in a statement.

Yeah, I know, typical. Medical science that didn’t exist 20 years ago keeps some old superstitious codger breathing, and he only has thanks for his imaginary friend in the sky and the prayers that presumably winged their way skyward to him. Right. But that isn’t what this post is about. It’s about something else very revealing in Robertson’s statement.

At 79, Pat Robertson, perhaps the leading evangelist in all of American Christendom, is afraid to die.

I mean, think of it. If you really, truly believed in Christianity’s promise of Heaven — a perfect paradise free of woe, strife, pain, fear, sadness, queers and liberals — wouldn’t the prospect of finally getting to go there be the happiest news you could possibly receive? Really, I cannot imagine anything happier. That is, if you really, in your heart of hearts, believed in its existence and in your guarantee of a place there. Not to get into a “No True Christian” discussion here, but it seems to me that, whatever your stripe of Christianity — conservative or liberal, Baptist or Lutheran, Methodist or Presbyterian, Pentacostal or snake-handling wacko — if you genuinely believed in Heaven, then the prospect of death should not only not be fearful, but cause for celebration. A diagnosis of terminal illness should be occasion for a blowout “I’m Goin’ To Heaven” party, a big sendoff to your great reward! All Christian funerals should be like New Orleans funerals, with marching bands and dancing revelers, not tears.

But listen to Pat. He isn’t saying, “Dammit! Here I was, all ready to go to Heaven and be by my Lord’s side for all eternity at last…and you bozos had to go and start praying your little fingers off, and now I’m stuck here! Thanks for nothing.”

No, Pat’s grateful for the medical science prayers that kept him hanging onto this vale of tears just a little bit longer.

Why? Does he really believe in Heaven after all? Really believe, deep down inside…?

Matt Dillahunty has often argued on the show, and I agree, that most Christians, when backed against the wall, are more agnostic than they’re willing to admit. That, in all likelihood, they do not truly believe that which they profess to believe about God and Christianity’s promises. It’s not a new argument. David Hume made it. But it’s moments like these, interesting little moments when a Christian leader of Pat Robertson’s stature reveals in a public statement that death frightens him, that make the point far more effectively and eloquently than we atheists can.

I know many of you have heard of the Kübler-Ross model of the “five stages of grief”: denial, anger, negotiation, despair and acceptance. Look, none of us really wants to die. It’s part of our evolutionary hardwiring, that innate instinct for self-preservation. But when you don’t have the deceptive promises of religion hampering you, as an atheist, you find that you tend to get through these stages rather quickly when contemplating your own mortality. I have not really met any atheists wracked with existential despair over the fact that one day they too shall pass. Not to say there are none, but there are fewer than you’d think for a group of people who are skeptical of an afterlife. This fact often flummoxes Christian apologists, who are often overconfident in thinking that exploiting fear of death will make witnessing to atheists a cakewalk.

The problem with religion is that clinging to a belief in a heavenly afterlife effectively stymies the process at the “bargaining” phase. You spend your entire life in a desperate, daily attempt to please a God, in the hopes that, while he certainly won’t stave off physical death, he will keep you “spiritually” immortal.

I don’t think that the fear of death is necessarily the #1 selling point for religion. But the desire to avoid death, to believe that when you die you don’t, and that you’ll see all your departed loved ones once again on that rainbow bridge, is most assuredly something that religion puts in heavy rotation on its playlist of promises. And for some believers, I guess it can work. Until that moment that death is no longer abstract, but looming.

Well, it’s nice to know she’s not nuts or anything

By now this story, about some pathetic cult member who has pled guilty to the starvation death of her infant son provided the charges are dropped once he comes back to life (a condition I imagine the DA’s office gleefully agreed to), has made the rounds. It would be easily to laugh at this kind of arch-stupid irrationality if it weren’t for the fact it claims the lives of innocent victims. Here’s a poor little kid who died because the adult charged with his care was a deluded idiot, in the thrall of similar deluded idiots. The cult she belonged to was something called “One Mind Ministries”. Replace “One” with “No” and you’re a little closer to the mark.

It’s also tempting to comfort yourself with the reassurance that, at least, this is the sort of thing that takes place in lunatic fringe cults, and fortunately mainstream religion, risible as it is, doesn’t go around killing and hurting its kids as much. This is the point where it’s helpful to be reminded of the tens of thousands of kids sexually molested by benign, trusted, avuncular Catholic priests, and the numerous cases of parents, not belonging to some wacko church obviously on the farthest of far-out fringes, arrested and charged with killing their kids by refusing to take them to doctors for easily treatable illnesses, preferring “faith” healing and prayer instead.

Unreason kills. Period. That one form of unreason happens to gain mainstream acceptance over others makes it no less an example of unreason, and no less dangerous. It’s time to deprogram, not just extremist nutjobs like Ria Ramkissoon, but the whole frackin’ human race from this insidious thing called religious faith.

Off-topic, but…


Danger Man and The Prisoner are two of my favorite classic TV shows. The Prisoner, especially, was a surreal odyssey that managed to be some of the most socially relevant television, then as now: an allegory about maintaining one’s individuality and integrity in a world determined to buy you, own you, corrupt you, sell you, or just plain throw you away. I had always entertained the quaint fantasy of working with McGoohan on a film at some hazy point in the future, but knew it would be quite impossible due to his advanced age. Oh well. Prisoner DVD marathon tonight!

Double damn!

I was never such a big Star Trek fan as all that. But when you consider Ricardo Montalban’s guest slot on one episode became one of the iconic characters of the series and inspired what is still the only one of the feature films worth repeat viewing…well, that’s not a bad legacy.

Ray’s idea of justice…

Ray wrote:

“…would you want Dahmer to go to Hell? Or are you quite happy (assuming that you are an atheist) for him simply to be dead.”

Since he’s censoring many of my responses, here it is:

I’m not Alex, but I’ll answer.

I’m satisfied that Dahmer was imprisoned for the remainder of his life and, unlike some of my liberal friends, I’d have been content to see him put to death by the state (a position that Dahmer is reported to have shared), though I generally oppose capital punishment on the grounds that the legal system isn’t structured in such a way that we can satisfactorily prevent unjust executions.

I also wouldn’t want to see him tortured, and certainly not forever. I don’t think that’s justice, it’s revenge. He was beaten to death by a fellow inmate and some might consider that justice, but that’s a very simplified view of justice that I don’t share.

Interestingly, Dahmer is reported to have repented and accepted Christ as his savior. I have no idea if this is true, and neither do you, but it does raise two points:

1. If it is true (and if your religion is true) then any decent Christian should oppose the death penalty and, instead, prefer to give convicts as much time to repent and avoid hell as possible.

2. If it is true (and if your religion is true) then Jeffrey Dahmer is in heaven, right now.

Do you think that’s just? Clearly not, as you just used him as an example of someone that you feel most people should want to see sent to Hell.

You also mentioned Hitler. Hitler was, according to his public and private statements a devout Catholic and whether or not you accept that, you must accept that you don’t know his ‘heart’ and aren’t his judge, and that it’s at least possible that he, too, could have been saved – even if only during his dying breath.

Your religious views have nothing to do with justice because they aren’t based on punishing the wicked and rewarding the virtuous. There is no system of merit associated with salvation by grace. To you, salvation is a matter of capriciousness. A death-bed conversion is more valuable to your God than a life spent as a good person.

So, your dichotomy is false on several grounds. As an atheist, I don’t have to simply be “quite happy” with the death of a murderer – I can be satisfied with a proper implementation of justice that denies the murderer liberty and, on occasion, life. Also, as an atheist, I never have to rationalize blood lust as justice or be dissatisfied that justice might be overturned by the whim of a divine dictator. I can, instead come to a proper understanding of justice that isn’t bound by bronze-age myths.

How I wish, how I wish you were here

You know you’re getting older, not only when all the favorite bands you grew up with are suddenly thought of as “classic rock,” but when their members start dying on you. Now we’ve lost Richard Wright of Pink Floyd. Major bummer. And all this time I’d been sure Keith Richards was the guy well and truly overdue for a visit from the reaper.

I don’t know if there’s a “great gig in the sky,” Rick, but if so I’m sure it’s a far better place to be than what the pious are trying to sell me. Thanks for all the music. Shine on.

Nick Mason, Dave Gilmour, and Rick Wright

A thumb to suck, a skirt to hold

That was Isaac Asimov’s blunt dismissal of religion. And its appropriateness is never more evident than in this pitifully sad article currently on CNN.com, in which the point is made that “when it comes to saving lives, God trumps doctors for many Americans.”

More than half of randomly surveyed adults — 57 percent — said God’s intervention could save a family member even if physicians declared treatment would be futile. And nearly three-quarters said patients have a right to demand that treatment continue.

When asked to imagine their own relatives being gravely ill or injured, nearly 20 percent of doctors and other medical workers said God could reverse a hopeless outcome.

Here’s the utility of religion spelled out: it continues to persist, more than anything, as an anodyne against the fear of death. Say what you will about its role in building a sense of community for its followers, or the repeated testimonials from believers about God giving them a sense of direction and purpose in life. What it boils down to is that religion is mostly used by people to manage their most profound insecurities and fears. And nothing is more devastating than the loss of a loved one, except perhaps, for some people, the prospect of their own eventual death.

In a sense I can understand the desperation here. There are harsh truths few people have the courage to face. But where I think believers would tell you that their faith gives them the courage to face those truths, I see the opposite in play: they’re clinging to their faith like a drowning man clutching at a reed, to justify their ongoing denial of truth, simply because facing it involves taking an emotional body blow that the thin shield their faith provides really would buckle under the force of it. And they know it, deep down.

What, apart from people’s innate fears, keeps this practice of clinging to hope of miraculous divine intervention in the face of very real tragedy alive? Well, the fact that, on occasion, people do bounce back for any number of reasons from death’s door. And these rare occasions are justification enough for the religious mind. All it takes is one cancer patient branded terminal to go into remission instead, and the instant that person’s family starts braying about God’s miraculous cure, a million other people going through the same pain are cruelly given false hopes, only to see them dashed more often than not. It’s exactly the mentality of people who habitually play the lottery: “Sure, the odds are pretty long, but you never know.”

I remember a caller to the show back when I was host, a nice young woman who asked what we felt about such a hypothetical cancer patient, and if such events were or were not a good reason to consider the likelihood of God. I replied that I would have even more moral qualms about a God like that existing, as I would be troubled by the thought of why God would choose to save one dying mother, but not all the other dying mothers and fathers and children who were doubtless languishing in that hospital’s very same oncology wing, with family members keeping vigil by their sides with just as much pain in their hearts. Why not grant miracle cures to everyone all at once? It would hurt no one, relieve many of their emotional suffering, and give believers much stronger evidence of miracles to point to when talking to the unconverted. The caller admitted she hadn’t thought of it that way.

I think it’s good to see doctors (and frankly, if I’m ever hospitalized, I sincerely hope not to get any of the ones in that 20 percentile) dealing realistically with patients’ families in their stubbornness about godly intervention that isn’t coming. While it’s important to be respectful — no, not of the irrational beliefs, but of the very real pain and confusion that’s feeding them — it’s doubly important to guide these people towards an acceptance of the reality we will all have to face in our lives, that our loved ones die, that we too will die. As one woman interviewed in the story, who tragically lost her children in an accident, begrudgingly admits, “I have become more of a realist. I know that none of us are immune from anything.” It’s terrible she had to go through such an awful experience to learn such a lesson. I guess that’s why they’re called lessons.

Take each day as it comes and appreciate it to the fullest. If it’s a particularly shitty day, make an effort to do something to make it slightly less shitty. Take a walk in the park, jam out to your favorite album, hug a dog, excuse yourself from the presence of people who are being assholes to you. You don’t get to do this one again, and no miracle will be coming to let you hit the reset button. If nothing else, at the very end, you can say to yourself and to those who don’t want to see you go, “Don’t be unhappy. I lived.”

What will it take?

Christians often ask atheists the above question. What kind of evidence would it take to convince us of God’s existence? I’d like to turn the question back to them. What would it take to convince them that maybe God is just a product of their imaginations and wishful thinking?

Allow me to preface this with an unambiguous statement. People dying is never funny (well, okay — except for Pauly Shore), and posts like this are not meant as a “ha ha!” to believers in any way. But there’s a disconnect here that I’d really like explained to me.

Short version: Busload of evangelical Christians is swept off a bridge in San Salvador by a swollen river, at least 30 die. Was God looking out for those people? Did he sit back and let them die for a reason? How do believers square this kind of thing with the Problem of Evil? Really, I’d like to know how Christians process an event like this in such a way as to continue to permit themselves their beliefs in a loving heavenly father. Do these kinds of events — tragically affecting those whom you’d think God would be most inclined to protect — ever bring Christians a moment’s pause? Or is that all it is: a pause, before the rationalizations kick in? Or is there a convincing argument to be made in defense of God here? Doesn’t it seem like these kinds of situations would present God with exactly the opportunity for miraculous intervention that would silence the atheists of the world immediately with direct empirical evidence of his loving grace?

Why abandoning reason is, like, bad

In the news today:

Two children and their mother lived for about two months with the decaying body of a 90-year-old woman on the toilet of their home’s only bathroom, on the advice of a religious “superior” who claimed the corpse would come back to life, authorities said Friday…

She said she propped Middlesworth on the toilet and left the room to call [Bishop John Peter] Bushey, who told her to leave the woman alone and pray for her, the complaint said. He said he had received signs that God would raise her from the dead with a miracle.

A mind is a wonderful thing to waste, eh?

So…where did they go to the toilet all that time? No, I don’t want to know.