Cranston’s New Banner

The sign on the wall reads “No Christians Allowed”—
… Except for the fact that it doesn’t.
There’s a banner in Cranston, replacing the prayer—
The prayer that the Christians said wasn’t.

No “Heavenly Father”, no “Prayer”, no “Amen”
Just a pledge of good will and respect.
So it’s either much better the way that it is…
Or the banner the atheist wrecked.

Thus begins a new chapter; it’s time to move on
And the people are very excited
So the threw a small party, to show they were healed…
But Jessica wasn’t invited.

This verse isn’t so much about the new Cranston banner (which it actually is about) as it is about the reaction to this banner at The Blaze (which is quite different from the reaction at The Friendly Atheist).

Comments at the Blaze have a familiar ring to them–people are sick of God being taken out of our Judeo-Christian society; we are encouraged to embrace all diversity… except Christians; Jessica’s success was really and actually because God was on her side (I am not making that up). Christians should complain that the current banner offends them; Jessica is pondscum (sic); the judge misrepresented the first amendment, cos Congress didn’t put this banner up… It’s all there.

For the backstory on Cranston, here are the cliff notes.

One member of the class of 1963 (donors of both the original and the new banner), Janice Bertino, is quoted: “The community is healed. There is no more controversy.”

Let’s hope she’s right.

Let’s hope they don’t read The Blaze.

That Sunday Ritual

It was late in the quarter—as if in a dream,
I was watching the game, but this can’t be my team,
Cos they’re moving the ball, and they’re picking up steam
There’s a chance that they might even score!
My eyes, as I watch, must be starting to gleam
As I rant and I rave and I cheer and I scream
Now this is what Sundays are for!

I’m ecstatic—as happy as happy can be
With my team up a score, or perhaps two or three,
Though it’s rare that this happens (or happens to me)
And I know that it likely won’t last
The opponents are driving, so soon we will see,
And excitement is making me need to go pee
So I guess that I’d better be fast.

I moan and I groan, and I sniffle and sigh
And I watch with my fingers obscuring my eye
And of course, every weekend, I ask myself “why?”
But of course, it’s in vain that I search
My emotions are chaos, and turned up to high
And each Sunday I’m wrung out, and hung out to dry
But it sure beats the hell outta church!


So there have been a few articles recently about the popularity of the new Sunday Assembly, the “atheist church” thingie. Me, I don’t see the need to emulate a church; rather, start with what people need, and see what can meet those needs. Among the things that bring people together, unite them emotionally, bring feelings of ecstasy and agony…

Of course, not everyone is a sports fan. But that’s the thing–I’m not saying this is something that all people need, just something that brings enjoyment, social interaction, and more, to some people. Fan organizations have come together to donate to charities, to run blood drives… basically, to multiply the good that individuals can do by the power of an organized group. (Yes, they can also multiply the bad, and have a convenient target on a regular basis.) Other than magic, there’s not a lot the church community can do that the fan community can’t (including irrationality–there is no rational reason I should get wrapped up in the game, but I do).

Oh, wait, there’s guilt. No one really cares if you watch the game or not, and Yankees fans aren’t literally damned to the innermost circle of hell. So, yeah, churches have magic and guilt.

And they can keep them.

“Why Don’t Atheists Just Kill Themselves?”

I’d constructed the ultimate sandwich
Perfection in bread, cheese, and meat
But there’s something I don’t understand, which
Has been making it harder to eat

See, although it is surely delightful
There’s a truth that I cannot suspend
That at some point, I’ll reach the last bite full
And the pleasure will come to an end

And my life, too, is not everlasting
And the Reaper will pay me a call
It’s the same, whether gorging or fasting
So why am I eating at all?

Since nothing in life lasts forever
There’s one life, all too brief, here on earth
The argument’s not even clever
That a transient joy has no worth

There are joys in this life to be tasted
There are days filled with utter delight
There is too little time to be wasted
There’s a sandwich—enjoy every bite!

I’m sure you’ve seen it–I only had to type “why don’t ath” when google filled in “eists kill themselves?”, and suggested over 2 million hits for the phrase. Some are pretty horrendous, and are good, moral religious believers suggesting that atheists ought to kill themselves, but it’s the others that I am interested in. Those that suggest that life is meaningless if it is not followed by an eternal afterlife. That life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” (to use Hobbes’s delightful phrasing), and that ending it early would be preferred, were it not forbidden by God. Hell, perhaps the most famous writing in all of literature, Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy, explores the question:
… Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?

But atheists have no dread of that undiscovered country, so why don’t we just kill ourselves?

I’d answer, but I have pets to play with, food to eat, kids to call, reading to enjoy, poetry (well, verse) to write, music to listen to, football (and football) to watch (Man City is, as I write, up 2-0 over Man United), lesson plans to make, cider to drink, (ok, now it’s 3-0), a book to put together, and much much more. Nasty life indeed.

(FWIW, I do think that suicide can absolutely be rational, and should be an individual’s choice. If a religious prohibition on suicide means someone lives years of misery and pain, wishing they could end it, I don’t count that as a case in religion’s favor.)

(ok, 4-0; I may have to try writing a post during my Browns game…)

Obama Sides With Church, Against State

Obama, the atheist Muslim-in-chief
Is engaged in a stealth operation
By submitting a letter that aims to cause grief
To church and state separation

It baldly attacks the establishment clause
(Which you’ll easily find, if you search)
A town prayer is clearly at odds with our laws,
But the president sides with the church!

The religious don’t like him, but nevertheless
Obama’s the church’s best friend
What he’s doing is wrong, and it’s frankly a mess
And it’s time for the habit to end

It is so nice to run into superb writing on the internets, when so much is so terrible. A must-read piece on the Obama administration’s intervention in an establishment clause case in Greece NY finds this yet another instance in a clear and disturbing pattern:

The intervention by the White House in support of official sanction for religion represents one of the most direct and open federal attacks on the separation of church and state—a core democratic principal of the US republic enshrined in the first sentence of the Bill of Rights—in American history. That the revolutionary founders who drafted the Bill of Rights, inspired by the Enlightenment, considered the ban on any official state sanction of religion fundamental to all other democratic rights is indicated by the fact that it precedes the First Amendment’s guarantees of freedom of speech, press and assembly.

The Obama administration’s decision to intervene in opposition to the separation of church and state is entirely in line with its general assault on democratic rights and its ceaseless efforts to placate and encourage the most right-wing political forces in the country. It follows Obama’s capitulation last year to the Catholic Church and other anti-abortion forces that oppose a provision of his health care overhaul requiring employers to provide contraceptives to their employees free of charge.

It also conforms to the administration’s support for indefinite detention without judicial process for alleged terrorists, its practice of extra-judicial assassinations, including of US citizens, and its defense of state surveillance of the telephone calls, emails, text messages and Internet searches of all Americans and countless millions of people around the world.

The authors (Ed Hightower and Barry Grey) summarize the facts of the case (I won’t cut and paste here; rather, I’ll strongly recommend reading the entire piece, if only to contrast it with the presentation at other sites), then succinctly put it into constitutional context:

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The Fourteenth Amendment extends this ban (“Congress shall make no law, etc.”) to state governments. Municipal governments, such as the town of Greece, derive their authority from state law.

The American revolutionaries understood that there was an inextricable connection between the union of clerical and state power and the suppression of individual liberty. Their view was that separation of church and state was a precondition for democracy.

To cite Thomas Jefferson’s famous quotation: “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.”

Hightower and Grey summarize the Obama administration’s arguments, and rather damningly contrast the current stance to Kennedy’s (1960) deliberate and proper position of independence of government from any religious source.

It’s an excellent read.

Yet Another Place To Tag “In God We Trust”

One task that falls to governments
Of each of our united states
Is regulating new designs
That ornament our license plates.
Some groups are favored: some are not—
You know the trouble this creates—
And governments start taking sides
(in search of votes) in these debates.
Wisconsin, now, will be the scene
As two designs await their fates
Will Madison, this week, approve
“In God We Trust”? The nation waits.

If you want to support the Veterans Trust Fund in Wisconsin, the good news is that there may soon be a license plate you can buy to donate to the group and publicly show your support. The bad news is, if you are an atheist and want to support the VTF, your public support will come with “In God We Trust” on this special license plate.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is taking issue with an “In God We Trust” license plate that soon could be available in Wisconsin.

“It sends an exclusionary message,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, the Madison-based group’s co-president and co-founder. “First of all, if a non-believer wanted to help out veterans they are going to be precluded from buying this plate. This is obviously an attempt to push religion.”

An attempt to push religion? Of course not… not when viewed from the privileged perspective of a religious majority:

The initial $15 cost of the plate will be donated to the state’s Veterans Trust Fund. Each additional year, a $25 donation will be paid by the license plate owner, with the money going toward the state Department of Veterans Affairs for the care of residents in the state’s veterans homes.

A bill sponsor, Rep. Dean Kaufert, R-Neenah, said he doesn’t think the state’s offering of the license plate is too close a connection or blurring any lines between church and state.

“Nobody is being forced to get one,” Kaufert said. “This is on a completely voluntary basis.”

The state is simply taking the position that anyone who cares enough to donate to the Veterans Trust Fund must necessarily be a good, God-fearing, all-American sort. No one is forcing the unpatriotic, godless veteran-haters to buy a plate.

How could that possibly be blurring a church/state line?

“Christmas and the Religion of Atheism”

There is nothing religious Americans hate
Like the phrase “separation of church and state”
Their claim, if they note the construction at all
Is that Jefferson wanted a one-way wall
Now the latest new step in the desperate dance
Is “religion is one ontological stance”
Thus atheists’ faith in material stuff
Is the same as religion—at least, close enough.
(Though he’s wrong, there’s an aspect he’s clearly neglected—
He’s just made the case that our side is protected:
After all, it’s religion, or such is his claim,
So if one is protected, the other’s the same—
A point I’ve been trying to make all along,
So maybe he’s going to be happy he’s wrong.)

A particularly poorly written essay, “Christmas and the Religion of Atheism” at, misrepresents what atheists want, misrepresents the first amendment, misrepresents both religion and atheism, and ties it all together with a ribbon on top, in a paragraph beginning with “thus…”

He begins (ready your bingo cards):

With the Christmas season approaching, the now predictable protest by atheists against public displays of creches and the like already have begun. The city of Santa Monica (ironically “Saint Monica”) was sued by a Christian group for no longer permitting a nativity display which had been allowed for over sixty years. Elsewhere, in Arkansas, a single parent stopped students from seeing a Charlie Brown Christmas play even though she simply could have opted out her child.

Ah, yes, the “look the other way” argument. Familiar ground. (mark your cards!) Note the “Santa Monica” parenthetic; we’ll revisit it later. Also, note the twist on “public displays”; a church’s yard is a perfect place for a nativity scene, and it is very public. My uncle’s yard is a perfect place for a solemn display of a creche, standing out against his neighbor’s miles of bright lights, illuminated reindeer, and inflatable Santa (Claus, not Monica) displays. A town hall or public school? Not so much; those are owned by all of us, and it is not acceptable for me to put up my display on your property.

Atheists often cite the so-called wall of separation of church and state and the way in which they do so completely turns the idea upon its head. The phrase nowhere appears in the U.S. Constitution, but in a private letter written in 1802 from Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association. “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”

“Separation of church and state does not appear in the constitution” (mark your cards!)… no, it was only the concise way Jefferson described what is in the first amendment.

The problem is that the Danbury Baptists had contacted Jefferson to obtain reassurance that the state of Connecticut, that is the government, could not stop them from worshiping. Thus we have the first point: The primary function of First Amendment of the Constitution (and the “wall of separation”) is to protect religions from the government, not the other way around.

The “one way wall” gambit! (mark your cards!) Oh… readers here will be well aware, that keeping religion out of government is how you protect religion from government. When the power of government is allowed to support one religion, other religions suffer. The first amendment was not designed to protect believers from non-believers; atheists were few, far between, and powerless. No, the first amendment was designed to protect Catholics, Quakers, Anglicans, Congregationalists, Lutherans, etc., from one another.

One might also note that Jefferson was a product of the Enlightenment. This period believed that reason was a pure thing in itself and it alone could prove moral norms as well as do scientific investigation. However, a number of thinkers have since demonstrated that reason left to itself ineluctably ends up in going in circles, even in scientific theories. This fact has demonstrated itself amply in current debates over morality. Reason needs a ground or a starting point. Therefore whether you believe in God or not, you must make basic unprovable assumptions about how the world works and why.

That’s actually quite an admission in that last sentence. For someone who thinks objective morality can only be grounded in god, admitting that this is an unprovable assumption is big.

Thus atheism is every bit as much founded upon a belief system just like any deistic religion. The difference is that its central doctrine is that matter is the ultimate reality, not a deity. Consider this telling quote from Harvard evolutionary biologist Richard Lewonton, an atheist: “We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism.”

Actually, no. I know atheists who are not materialistic monists, but a-materialists. I know others who do not take an ontological stance at all, but pragmatically assume an unspecified monism (dualism being logically incoherent). Atheism simply does not require an ontological commitment to materialism.

As for reason needing a grounding point… there is no need for that grounding point to involve a god. I have also seen the argument that it is less unbelievable for Platonic ideals to exist than for God to exist (they are simpler entities, after all), so even if you need grounding that exists separately from our experienced universe, that does not logically imply a god. Oh, and wouldn’t it be nice if the Lewonton quote could continue for just a couple more lines? Selective editing? (Mark your cards!)

Atheists often arrogate to themselves titles like “freethinkers” or “brights,” implying that they are smarter those who believe in a deity. But the Lewonton quote hints that there is an “unreasonableness” to denying realities beyond the merely material. This has been amply demonstrated in any number of books such as Robert J. Spitzer’s “New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy.” Spitzer cites numerous respected cosmologists who point out that the mathematics used to describe the workings of the universe practically demand a Creator. A number of these cosmologists have been converted from atheism to belief in a deity by the force of the evidence. (And a number of biologist have been converted through their study of the human genome.)

“Freethinkers” as a term is roughly 400 years old, so that makes it older than Santa Monica. If you get to appeal to history for that name, so do we. But “freethinker”, of course, does not automatically mean smarter, just not bound to a particular dogma. The author of the essay is a member of the Catholic church, as identified with dogma as McDonald’s is with the Big Mac. His writing is not free from that dogma. (As for “Brights”, I thought that was a bad idea from day one. But of course, disliking the “brights” label does not get me kicked out of atheism. No dogma, see?)

“A number” of cosmologists have been converted, as have “a number” of biologists. (Mark your cards!) Of course, a number of believers have lost their faith over the course of their education. In the US, it is a virtual certainty that the number of scientists who have lost their faith is considerably larger than those who found it (there are simply a much vaster number of former believers to lose faith than former non-believers to find it); I would wager that not just the number, but the percentage, tips my way as well. Yes, some of the names that have migrated (or Flew) to religion are well-known. In part, though, they are memorable because they are so few.

Thus the current efforts by some to push religion completely out of the public sphere are faulty on several counts. Secular viewpoints are not “neutral,” are not necessarily more reasonable than some religious viewpoints and making them the standard of public policy is not in line with the intent of the First Amendment. But in the end it should be patently obvious that the more we have pushed religion out of public culture, the more coarse our society has become.

You can recognize a non-sequitur in religious writing–it begins with “thus”. Note that the author has proved that an ontological stance (which need not be held by atheists) is a religion, and thus cannot be made public policy, because it, as a religious view, is protected from government meddling. While religion (of which the ontological stance of materialism is but one example) is protected from government meddling, and therefore can be made public policy (at least at Christmas, because reasons).

Piecing Together The Fragments Of The Past

From fragments sifted from the dirt
We piece together what was here
An image forms, a poor mosaic;
Some details never will be shown.
The evidence of daily life—
A broken lamp, a shattered vase,
A stairway worn with countless steps,
The profile of a woman’s face—
These buried pieces, lost to time
We may discover, quite by chance
While off in search of something else—
An accident of circumstance.
So, too, it seems, with memories;
Forgotten, lost, for decades hidden
But then, while on another search
They spring to present mind, unbidden.
They feel complete, in every way,
As if no more than hours old
But how much is illusory?
It could be quite a lot, I’m told.
We reconstruct our precious past
And fill in gaps, the experts say,
To fit our present narrative
And lead to what we feel today

I found this verse—well, half of it—
I’d written several years ago;
I’ve reconstructed what I meant…
Or maybe not. We’ll never know.

Frieze fragment

Frieze fragment – image: Cuttlefish

So, yeah, I literally found the first half of this verse, in the back of a notebook I was using in Greece. I must have written it after visiting one of the many archaeological museums or digs we went to (the above image is, I believe, from Pella). The verse stopped after the word “Forgotten”, which (as you can see) is immediately after the shift from literal to metaphor, and a bit of an ironic place to have to reconstruct from. Some of the museums had pots that were considerably more filled-in than original shards; some were nearly complete. Sometimes you knew, or believed you did, exactly what the artist or crafter had in mind; other times, the effect was equal parts their imagination and your own.

Did I complete the thought I had started over 5 years ago? Probably not. Maybe. I’m a different cuttlefish than I was then.

Nike of Paeonius

Nike of Paeonius – image: Cuttlefish

Heh… if I were cruel, I’d link Schubert’s “unfinished symphony” as the autoplay music for this post.

Finally, A Pick-up Guide That Works!

How to pick up women (with science)“, by Dean Burnett, over at the Guardian.

Since the dawn of humanity, when virile men were knuckle-dragging troglodytes untouched by evolution
They needed to pick up women, and looked to experts for a solution
These pick-up artists (or in some special cases, artistes)
Took pity on the manly beasts
And told them that women would respond to certain subtle cues
That experts use.
For millennia, men have tried to use these artists’ information
With little to no success, but with a fervor brought about by desperation
Imagine, now, their joy at discovering a new set of techniques in which they can put their reliance
That uses science!
So, troglodytes, it’s time for you to abandon useless pick-up schools
And follow these rules!

(having read the url, I was reluctant to click–but since it was sent to me by my pal Kylie, I knew I could trust it. And so can you. Well worth reading. My favorite technique is “the Skinner”, harnessing the tremendous power of operant conditioning)

One Letter Makes A World Of Difference

Does God Exist? The theist says
He does, but what is meant by “God”?
Belief has different forms and ways
And “theist” is a false façade—

The problem with the answer is—
Which god? The question won’t define.
It serves as a projective quiz
We each fill in the blank with “mine”.

While theists think a god exists
Which god that is, they can’t agree.
These gods can fill up endless lists
Still none of them’s the god for me.

“Agreement” seems a specious word
When treating many gods as one
Agreement? No. The thought’s absurd…
And as for me, I’ll stick with “none”.

Today’s verse is inspired by a (presumably) well-intentioned but (demonstrably) poorly executed opinion piece at the Iowa State Daily. I’d have commented there (and thus never have had reason to write the verse), but they won’t accept contributions unless a real-world name is attached. I’ve spent 5 years cultivating a pseudonym; my real name would be meaningless to them (yeah, my pseud is probably meaningless to them, but they can at least follow a trail of breadcrumbs and read here). Anyway, the piece jumps off the rails in the first three sentences:

Does God exist?

Theists believe yes. Atheists believe no.

And moves from there to equate the two sides as equally making a claim of belief.

What a difference one letter can make. What if the author had asked “Does a god exist?” With that indefinite article, the false consensus of “theists” is punctured. “Theists” is an artificial group, a strange bedfellows assortment of traditional others, competitors, and enemies, but united by not being atheists. Not by “believing in God”, as polytheists are theists too, as are a good many people who would not identify their particular god as the capitalized “God”. My goodness, the first commandment would not be necessary if all gods were one God.

And atheists are not those who don’t believe in God; they are those who don’t believe in a god. They are the privative, none-of-the-above belief category. It is not a belief, it is the “none for me, thanks” drink preference. It’s the “I don’t run” answer to “what’s your distance?”

The problems (and there are many) in the rest of the piece all fall from this initial improper stance. When you take your first compass reading, get it right; the rest of your journey depends on it.


The billboard, up just down the block
Has left us in a state of shock:
Its “shocking” message? Here’s the gist:
Atheists… exist.

Not much of a story here–the fun part is behind the scenes. An Austin TV station’s website has their story of one of the local atheist billboards. It’s a nice enough story–the representative atheist is well-spoken, the representative Christian is concerned…

But, for those of you who clicked through, did you notice the URL? The article title, now, is “Atheist Community Building Support with Billboards”… the URL, though, includes the phrase “atheist-community-building-support-shocking-billboards”. That’s right, “shocking”.

Yup, they bear the radical message “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.”