Definitely not safe for work

A reader sent me a link to a site I hesitate to reference, just because I know some people will be aghast at the exposed mammalian flesh and weird exploitation of women…but it’s got tentacles everywhere, and molluscs, and even a few arthropods and a giant salamander. The title, Tentacles of Desire, and the list of organisms tells you what it’s all about. If you’re easily offended or squeamish about slime or freaked out by perverse fetishes, don’t go there!

Otherwise, though, just consider it a celebration of biodiversity.

A logo for the godless: an impossible assignment?

Norwegianity has put out a request to design an appropriate logo for all of us godless heathen bloggers. There’s a certain religious deathcult that uses an instrument of torture as its immediately recognizable logo—it’s very simple, clean, easy to draw, and they’ve made it their own. You see one of those things on a website or on a necklace and you instantly know to a very rough approximation the predilections of the owner. Why can’t we have something like that?

You might be thinking the very idea is ridiculous, since freethinkers are such a diverse group, but you know, Christians also encompass a very wide spectrum of beliefs on so many issues, and that hasn’t stopped them. It would be great to see somebody with some graphic talent come up with something we could all use.


There is a tradition of using the pansy (pensée) as a symbol, but it isn’t exactly easy to render. The Invisible Pink Unicorn is cool, I think, but really just mocks silly beliefs. American Atheists has a trademarked symbol, a stylized atom, which really ought to be the symbol for Scientism or something, and I’d rather see a symbol that isn’t specific to just atheism. I ran across one site with a simple idea, which might work; I’d have to think about it. It’s an asterisk, which looks a tiny bit like a pansy, and has that open wildcard vibe to it.


Anyway, the kind of thing I would be looking for is something simple, fairly abstract, easy to render, and that wouldn’t antagonize deists, agnostics, or atheists. It should be positive: no crucifixes with a slash through them, for instance. It shouldn’t be weird—no flying spaghetti monsters, please—it shouldn’t be ugly, it shouldn’t be in-your-face and gloating, it should be unobtrusive. It ought to be the kind of symbol that if it were done up as a piece of jewelry, it would be tasteful. Remember, even if you do come up with a nice logo, the hard part is going to be getting a critical mass of unbelievers to adopt it and build a recognizable association with it (and be warned, no matter how gorgeous and elegant and clever an idea you come up with, there will be a solid cadre of the godless who will resolutely refuse to have anything to do with it, on general principles and intrinsic cussedness…which is OK.)

Talk about it in the comments, doodle up stuff and send it to me, and if there is any response at all, I’ll put up a gallery of ideas later. If we’ve got something good, I’ll use it on my site, maybe Mark will join in, and we can get the ball rolling.

We’ve already got lots of suggestions in the comments. Here are some that are easy to render with html:

Book Antiqua : * ∞ Ω ○ π ∅ ⊛ ☉ ☈ ♮ σ α Φ

Bookman Old Style : * ∞ Ω ○ π ∅ ⊛ ☉ ☈ ♮ σ α Φ

Century Schoolbook : * ∞ Ω ○ π ∅ ⊛ ☉ ☈ ♮ σ α Φ

Goudy Old Style : * ∞ Ω ○ π ∅ ⊛ ☉ ☈ ♮ σ α Φ

Lucida Grande : * ∞ Ω ○ π ∅ ⊛ ☉ ☈ ♮ σ α Φ

Times New Roman : * ∞ Ω ○ π ∅ ⊛ ☉ ☈ ♮ σ α Φ

There are also suggestions for combinations (an asterisk inside a circle, for instance—the default renders as a 6-lobed asterisk, unfortunately), or others that would need a professional artist to do—a spiral or a nautilus shell or a torch, for instance. We’ve also got one suggestion for an upraised middle finger, which is rather sweet, but since it’s from a Christian we have to ignore it. Keep ’em coming!

And now a suggestion from Carl:


No fair! Carl could draw a swirly dog turd for us, and it would look good.

Two more suggestions from Manxome One:

Attached are what popped into my head upon reading your post about a godless logo.

The first is a stylized lowercase a with a period ( A, period!), which happens to look somewhat like a question mark on its side.

The second is the same idea, only the a is a highlighted portion of a stylized infinity symbol.


Here are some nice renderings of the asterisk in a circle idea from Lucas:


There’s something I like about this. They remind me of echinoderms!


Oh, how I would love to subvert this stupid story you can find in every cheap beach trinket store along the Washington coast.

And another design from Nick:


More suggestions have come in overnight. I’ve added alpha and phi to the line of text symbols above, and here are some more graphical ideas:

John Pieret sends us a pansy:


Node_3 submits a rough draft of a galaxy:


A natural symbol:


Here’s an interesting design:


Just for laughs (no way is this appropriate!), here’s a
cute suggestion:


What next? Hank Fox has a few suggestions in the comments. I’m going to be a bit elitist and say I don’t like the idea of a poll; clicking a button doesn’t require much thought or commitment, and is also easily abused. What I propose is to let the discussion here go on a few more days, and then I’ll pull out the ones that get the most interest (the asterisk, the circle, the natural symbol, pi, something with DNA, the empty set are all strong contenders right now), and I’ll ask their defenders to send me a summary of their support. I’ll put up one more post on it, and ask for comments yay or nay, and I think what I’ll do is weight the ones from people with weblogs who’d put the symbol in some prominent place more heavily. That’s what we need to get this to work, is people who will use the symbol.

Another volley of entries…from GodfreyTemple:


Pencils with erasers:


And how about atheos?


Bill Ingebrigtsen, Rethuglican

I live in the 11th Minnesota senate district, and I’m represented by a Democratic incumbent, Dallas Sams. I am not a fan of Sams; he’s one of those pro-life moderate Democrats, not particularly progressive (although he did make the effort to squelch an anti-gay marriage act), and if there’d been an alternative candidate at the Minnesota caucuses, I would have pushed for them over Sams. I will be voting for Sams on November 7th, though—I won’t even hesitate.

His opposition is a Republican, Bill Ingebrigtsen. Ingebrigtsen has been sending ads—expensive-looking (he has raised twice as much money as the incumbent), glossy, full-color ads—to my house all week. Ingebrigtsen has annoyed me with the implicit racism of his campaign. Ingebrigtsen is a thug.

One of the ads was a collection of mug shots, mostly of minorities, all labeled as “on parole”…apparently, thanks to Dallas Sams. Anyone remember Willie Horton? This was Willie Horton times ten.


Oooh, scary. Better vote for Ingebrigtsen—he wouldn’t ever consider the particulars of a case, or worry about the rights of convicts, or allow the perfectly legal, reasonable process of parole to be carried out. Once you were convicted of anything, forget it—lock ’em up, throw away the key.

Another was a green-tinted, grainy picture, as if taken through night-vision goggles, of a group of dark-skinned people climbing over a wall. Stopping illegal aliens is Bill Ingebrigtsen’s #1 priority! It didn’t look like a sight I’d see at the Canadian border, though; maybe it was Iowa.

Another was astounding in its hypocrisy. He piously deplores the rising cost of college educations, ignoring the fact that it is his party that is responsible for the trend away from support for public institutions, and blames the problem on one horribly irresponsible proposal. Can you guess what it is? There’s a theme here, you know.

That’s right: illegal immigrants. Those damned undocumented aliens want to take your tax money to educate their children, which means you’ll be subsidizing the tuition of brown people while paying exorbitant amounts of money for your kids to go to school. What prompts this fear is that Dallas Sams supports the Minnesota DREAM Act. This truly radical proposal says that children of undocumented aliens who had attended two years of public school in Minnesota and who were enrolled in a Minnesota university would qualify for residency and be charged for in-state tuition.

That’s it.

Bill Ingebrigtsen thinks that if you are a Lutheran who grew up in a white, prosperous suburb of Minneapolis, you are more of a Minnesotan than if you grew up in a rural town where your parents were recent immigrants brought in to pluck chickens at minimum wage for one of the poultry factories in the area. He seems to believe that it is to our state’s advantage if we keep these newer residents of our state poor and uneducated.

That’s all he babbles about: the threat of a Mexican invasion of Minnesota. It’s true that we do have a growing Hispanic population, as our rich factory farms try to bring in more and more cheap labor to do the dirty and dangerous work. It seems to me more to our interests to bring these new people into our communities as full partners, rather than treating them and their children as outsiders who must be ostracized and blocked from becoming even more involved members of our society. But no…that’s not the kind of thing that comes to the mind of a thug.

Democrats may lose in the next election

The Republicans have a secret weapon, one that is going to be unstoppable, and probably means they are going to dominate both houses of Congress. Phil has discovered (via Randi, who also has another useful item) the most potent electoral tool in the Republican arsenal—better than fear and hate, even more powerful than Diebold—I’m telling you, this thing exceeds the awe-inspiring awesome awesomeness of magnetic “support the troops” ribbons for your car. It’s the Presidential Prayer Team. Sign up, and you will get specific instructions on exactly what to tell God. After all, if we can get a million Americans to tell Him that He needs to protect the sacred institution of marriage from the NJ Supreme Court, He’ll know to ignore the uncoordinated pleas for mercy from those backward primitives in Darfur (where, obviously, God has been doing a bang-up job.)

The Presidential Prayer Team harnesses the power of the Internet and popularity of e-mail to communicate with our members. You will receive up-to-the-minute prayer requests and information. PPT is widely recognized as one of the most innovative and effective users of electronic communication in Christian ministry today. The prayers of PPT members have had an untold impact on America for good and for God.

Oh, yes…untold impact. I quite agree with that. I’m also impressed that sending email to Christians is considered innovative and effective—do keep it up, keep those prayer wheels turning. This is a great way to actually accomplish something.

I have to confess, though, that as an atheist I didn’t really understand why this service was necessary. Don’t Christians pray all the time? Well, was I ever surprised to learn this:

Many have wanted to pray for our President and our country, but haven’t known how to pray or what to pray. The Presidential Prayer Team provides you the most accurate and up-to-date information so that you can pray with intelligence, conviction and power.

Oh. So this web page is for the many millions of Christians who know that they are devout and religious, but don’t know how or what to pray for—they are harnessing the power of the imbeciles of America.

Now I’m really afraid.

The scoop on Mike S. Adams

For any locals who are curious about that Mike Adams character who gave a talk on campus yesterday, Bartholomew’s notes on religion has a good summary of his career as a professional victim. There’s also a more complete account of the terrible oppression Adams faced after his response to the 9/11 emails, a story he told in part but at some length yesterday. Funny how he didn’t mention that part of the story involving an undergraduate student he’d marry 18 months later…

Carnivalia, and an open thread

By the way, the mysterious disappearance of this week’s Tangled Bank host is still unexplained, but Thoughts from Kansas has stepped forward to fill in the gap (thanks to you others who volunteered, too—I went through the list in the order the offers were received, and Josh was first). Give him a little time, he’s doing this on very short notice, and I’ll put up an announcement whenever it’s done.

I have forwarded to him all the submissions that were sent via me or, but if you sent anything to metaanalysis directly, you might want to resend it to me.

A godless ramble against the ditherings of theologians

Last week, I was told that I have a “god-shaped hole in my heart.” My first thought was to reply that no, I have a perfectly intact heart thick with good strong sheets of muscle, but of course, that would have proven his point, that I’ve willingly replaced the Holy Ghost with actin and myosin, and the sacraments with Hodgkin and Huxley’s sliding filament theory. So I have to confess that my email correspondent was correct in his sentiment, at least: I lack any feeling for god, religion, and superstition. It’s simply true, and freely admitted. Although if I were to digest the idea down into a greeting card sentiment fit to be emailed, I think I’d prefer to phrase it as he has a god-shaped figment jammed crosswise in his brain.

I think all of us lack any god-presence in us, but many of us have had it hammered into us from birth that we should—we’re trained to confuse any stirrings of appreciation of greater things for the diddling finger of a god, and we’re also brought up to believe that those of us who notice the absence of any deities should be shunned. One major problem we face, in addition to the thugs and fools of crude religion, is that even intelligent people of good will are disquieted by outspoken atheism. This is particularly obvious in a recent article about Sam Harris which marshals theologians and academics to dismiss him.

The un-gospel according to Sam has found a huge audience, but every bit as striking is the counter-reaction to Harris among religious scholars. Mention his name to academics of just about every religious persuasion and you can almost see their eyes roll. Oh, that guy.

Harris has grossly oversimplified scripture, they say. He has drawn far-reaching conclusions based on the beliefs of radicals. As bad, his stand against organized religion is so unconditional that it’s akin to the intolerance he claims he is fighting. If there is such a thing as a secular fundamentalist, they contend, Harris is it. Even some who agree with his conclusions about the dangers of fanaticism find his argument ham-handed.

I don’t care to defend Sam Harris in particular—there are some things I disagree with him on—but I am going to roll my eyes at this ridiculous reverence for scripture. Get real. The books of the Bible were written by cynics and opportunists, poets and peasants, fervent true believers and syncretists who decoupaged scraps of other traditions into their holy gemisch, and of course, scholars and scribes who were committed to rationalizing their culture’s traditions, and who weren’t above lying to make a political point. The only thing sophisticated about it is the generations of contortionists who have striven to make excuses for it. As a snapshot into the mind of Man and the nature of society, it is exceeded in quantity and quality, and is just about as uneven in both, by a random week’s worth of television programming. I think we can get more insight into humanity from an academic analyzing Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Project Runway than we do from any Bible scholar—at least the culture critic isn’t hampered by pretentious illusions that he or she is gazing deep into the Mind of God.

I’ll give them this much credit: many academic theologians know they aren’t in the God business full well.

“I think this country needs a sophisticated attack on religion,” says Van Harvey, a retired professor of religious studies at Stanford University. “But pushing moderates into the same camp as fanatics, that seems like a very crude mistake.”

According to Harvey, not only has Harris picked a fight with those who could be on his side, but his solution — let’s all ditch God — is laughable given the role that religion plays in so many lives. Others say that he has taken these “Old Books” at their literal word, instead of studying the way that the faithful actually engage the scriptures. Put more simply, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

We need a “sophisticated attack on religion”? No. Harvey can see that there are deep, disturbing trends in religious belief in this country that need to be checked, but what he means by “sophisticated” is actually “half-hearted.” This is the stumbling block we face: that any honest attack on religion is going to be against the core assumptions of faith, the values placed on belief without evidence in beings without substance, and I’m sorry, but if we’re going to be consistent, that means we have to criticize bad ideas held by nice people. In fact, it’s not about attacking people at all, but foolishness. If we start playing the game of picking and choosing our targets on the basis of whether we like the people or not, then our atheism becomes just another tool to be used for or against certain people, and we’ve abandoned the integrity of the idea for the convenience of social engineering.

So no, I am not interested in pushing moderates into camps, nor am I interested in putting the extremists there. I care about scooping out the ideas and subjecting them to the light of unblinkered criticism. These theologians seem more interested in looking for exemptions and excuses for keeping some ideas out of the lights…but then, I’m beginning to think that is precisely the job description for the field.

“All of reason is informed by some faith, and there is no mature faith that hasn’t been coupled with and enlightened by some reason,” he says. It’s also wrong for Harris to assume that Christians consider the Bible the direct word of God, Volf says. Most don’t, so combing the scriptures for the fingerprints of fallible authors, and then declaring victory once you find them, is silly.

“Most Christians believe that while the Bible was inspired by God, it is not free-floating, megaphone pronouncements out of nowhere by God. It was given through the medium of a culturally situated people, with the limitations of their knowledge at the time. And it’s our task to ask, ‘What does this mean to me today?'”

Volf is simply dribbling out well-practiced rationalizations. My “faith” that, say, physicists have been doing their job to the best of their ability for the last few centuries and that their measurements and theories are reasonable is not the same as a faith in things unseen, in great conscious powers that lurk in the cosmos and fret over our diets, in the God-aided destiny of Chosen Peoples. I have mechanisms for evaluating and testing the ideas generated by reason, for one thing, and consider reliance on ideas without evidence a weakness rather than a virtue.

It is true that many of the recent books on godlessness do make an effort to find the most reprehensible acts of religion as examples, but Volf clearly doesn’t understand why. We are in a culture that blindly accepts the symbols of religion as a proxy for good—religiosity is a prerequisite for public service, precisely because so many people falsely assume that someone wearing a crucifix must be a good person, and better than someone without one. Harris and Dawkins and I (at least, I’m sure about the last one in that list) are not arguing that all religious people are bad, which would be just as dogmatic and damning and false as the current assumption that all religious people are good, but are instead trying to break a fallacious prejudice. Our fellow human beings should have to earn our trust by their actions, not by the expedience of simply putting on a clerical collar—pointing out a few pedophile priests is not intended to suggest that all priests are bad, but that some could be, and that their faith is no sure-fire guarantee of propriety. Further, it’s to point out that contrary to the loud insistence of the believers, religion has absolutely nothing to do with morality.

As for the idea that some theologian has a better idea of what Christians believe than any other random person who is a member of our culture, I suggest that he needs to read the news sometime, and perhaps drop in on his local megachurch, or tune in to the painful, strained sincerity of the Christian rock station in his region. I sit in my town’s little coffeeshop, which is also the site for Bible discussion group meetings in the morning, and I hear all the time what ordinary, decent Christian folk believe about their religion. “Limitations of their knowledge” and “culturally situated people” are not phrases that come up very often. These are people possessed of absolute certainty that God has literally spoken and told them, through the intermediary of their priests, precisely what they must believe if they want to avoid an eternity of hellfire—doubt and skepticism are not words in their language.

And these people vote.

Voters should oust congressional Republican leaders because U.S. foreign policy is delaying the second coming of Jesus Christ, according to a evangelical preacher trying to influence closely contested political races.

I do not believe this particular evangelical preacher is going to get far—he’s a kook and a scoundrel—but he readily finds an audience receptive to this kind of nonsense. The Left Behind books would not have sold tens of millions of copies if there weren’t a solid core of Christian believers who refute by their existence the absurdly attenuated, fleshless assertions about religious belief of the theologians. This is a case where the atheists have a better handle on the pulse of the people than these people who make religion their profession—which makes sense, I suppose, since if anything, we’re more reliant on our understanding of reality rather than our ability to invent fabulous rationalizations for the absurd.

Please, please don’t ask atheists to overlook the insanity of the religious. If you are offended at these embarrassing instances of kooky, irrational, dangerous behavior that we so gleefully bring to your attention, do something about it…other than beating up the messenger.

Oh, and good luck convincing the average American that they really believe that God is a cultural construct and an abstract concept free of empirical evidence. If you are interested in breaking the back of fundamentalism, don’t look to the Sadducees who caution against the fervor of the godless—their goal is to decapitate any secular movement that threatens the status quo. One thing modern atheists are cultivating that these desiccated relics from the divinity schools lack is some vigor, some fire, some passion—and an appealing positive message of the power of reality. I think there’s some hope for us in that.

So sure, we have god-shaped holes. It’s our stigmata, we wear them with pride.