What did you do for Blasphemy Day?

Today is the official Blasphemy Day, and I hope you all had a good time. I’m afraid I didn’t do anything in particular, because every day is Blasphemy Day for me, and I’m a walking talking affront to god.

CFI had a video contest and announced the winners today. Here’s the top choice in their Protect Dissent campaign:

That’s very nice, and an excellent message. I’m afraid, though, that it has been upstaged by a real champion: Carlos Celdran. Celdran went all out and disrupted a Catholic mass, holding up a sign that said “DAMASO” (a reference to a cruel priest in a novel well-known in the Philippines), and told the church to stop getting nvolved in politics — the Catholics, as you might expect, have been fighting a basic reproductive health bill in the country. The Philippines have strict anti-blasphemy laws that make “offending religious feelings” a crime, and the church has an unfortunate amount of influence on the nation.

That’s blasphemy — not just a random act of desecration, but an intentional act directed at discomfiting the faithful.

Atheists have conquered America by being really good at trivia

The Pew Forum surveyed Americans on their knowledge of religion, and discovered that the group most generally knowledgeable about world religions was…those unshriven hellbound godless folk. This does not sit well with many believers, who have long preferred to relegate atheists to a hell of total unawareness of the gods, smugly assuming that if only we knew what they knew, we’d be True Believers in god in general and their specific, narrow sect in particular. That we might actually know what they believe and not only choose to not believe, but also to regard their superstitions as ridiculous, is unthinkable.

You will have a difficult time finding someone more offended by reality than John Mark Reynolds, professor of Catholic rationalization at the Bible Institute of Los Angeles. He’s got an excuse: atheists are trivia kings but bad thinkers. We’d do well on the home Bible version of Jeopardy, but you see, we really don’t understand the facts, and we lack the wisdom to hear the secret music of theology.

This surprises me. Apparently, the Trinity is trivia, an idea I can sort of sympathize with, but Professor Reynolds’ own Catholic faith waged bloody wars over the Arian heresy—people by the thousands were slaughtered because they didn’t believe that Jesus and the Holy Ghost had equal status and substance with the One True God. Ask the Visigoths. Oh, you can’t — they’re all dead.

And now we learn that transubstantiation is also trivial! Where was John Mark Reynolds a few years ago? I could have used his help calming the raging hordes of Catholics who were outraged that I should desecrate a cracker. He was on their side, damning me as a vandal of all that was right and good, you say? Oh. I guess it wasn’t all so trivial after all. And again, representatives of his faith have in the past used the sanctity of their magic crackers as an excuse to slaughter thousands of Jews, men, women, and children, for imagined slights against that trivia. What a shame that they died over something so unimportant.

John Mark Reynolds is not done undercutting his own points right there in the title of his article, though. No, he pens an incoherent, inconsistent, contradictory mess of assertions because atheists outscore his team in trivia contests. The Christian martyr complex is on full display here.

As a boutique belief system in the United States, atheism has a good many advantages. There are so few atheists and agnostics that they do not run all the risks of a populist movement. Not for them is the burden of dealing with the masses of a global population, their idiosyncrasies, worries and all.

Since Christians make up three-quarters or more of the American general population, we have the burden of accounting for almost everybody’s problems. Sadly, we are much less well represented in elite education, media, and government. This is not because religion is incompatible with elite education, but because “skepticism” about religion has become a sociological way for the elite to mark themselves off from the rest of us. In this sense, anti-religion (and in particularly anti-Catholicism) serves the same function that joining the “right” church used to serve in another era.

See, atheists are the ones who are trivial — we’re so few in numbers that we hardly count, and since we make no difference at all we escape responsibility. We’re negligible, just the thin scum riding on the surface of the deep ocean of Christianity. And Christianity…oh, man, poor Christians. They’re the responsible ones who have to take care of all those sick people and maintain the economy and work so hard to maintain everyone else’s moral probity. Atheism is just the fashionable façade of the “elites” (I do so wish the people who sneer at “elites” would look up the meaning of the word. It is not a synonym for “dregs”).

I did learn something new here. Despite the pitiful fact of our miniscule numbers and complete irrelevance, teachers are mostly atheists, Fox News and CNN are run by atheists, and most our senators and representatives and governors are atheists. It’s as if we belong to a secret sinister cabal that has sneakily taken over the entire culture.

I wish!

It’s a strange state of civilization that Reynolds imagines. Christianity is entirely responsible for all the important stuff, but somehow, this insignificant film of godless elitists are entirely responsible for every one of the faults of society. We have a culture of entertainment that is all the fault of a tiny minority, and no, no, no, Christians didn’t participate in or create any of it.

The secular elite has provided most of us with wretched religious education by all but banning it as a topic for serious enquiry or discussion. Meanwhile, they know just enough about religion to get some “facts” right on a pop-religion quiz, but have no grasp on why, despite all temptations, some thoughtful folk remain religious. They know some of the lyrics of religion, but cannot hear the music.

You might blame Christian education in churches for this problem, except a culture of entertainment has reduced most Americans ability to tolerate difficult discussions. Pity the pastor, with seminary training in ancient languages and a carefully constructed sermon, who must face a congregation taught by television to anticipate education with Muppets and Katy Perry.

Damn you, Veggie Tales, you spawn of the Global Atheist Conspiracy! Elmo is Satan!

Reynolds returns to his contradictory message that only Christianity does good, while atheism tells people to commit criminal acts that will get them sent to jail.

Weirdly, Christians must clean up the mess of broader culture, but we have had little power to create pop culture in the last fifty years. The poor and the disadvantaged are always the first to bear the brunt of bad cultural ideas and only the religious remain on the ground to try to help. Christians, for example, try to keep people from doing the things that get men sent to prison, but then work hard to help prisoners once people fail.

In this sense it is easier to be an agnostic or atheist. You have rejected the mainstream of American history, which means you don’t have to take responsibility for its failures, though you can appropriate its successes.

But wait, Professor Reynolds! Isn’t this whole essay patently about denying Christian responsibility for the current state of affairs, placing the entire blame on the shoulders of a minority you simultaneously deride as being so tiny they can’t take credit for anything? How do you get a professorship when your brain is so confused and inconsistent?

Oh, right. He’s at Biola. Never mind. Being a fervent defender of the faith is enough there.

But wait, we have to look at a peculiar tangent the Catholic professor takes. He’s open-minded, he’s advocating learning more about lots of religions, so he has to suggest that we learn more about all kinds of weird cults and sects and beliefs, and that means even learning about the Latter Day Saints.

For example, one of the most influential books first published by an American is the Book of Mormon. It appears in almost no American government school curriculum, though it exercises a global influence and impacts the lives of millions of Americans. This is foolish. I am, to say the least, no Mormon partisan, but there are entire states in our nation that cannot be understood without some grounding in Mormon thought.

How many American college graduates have a more charitable comprehension of the indigenous culture of Paris than of Salt Lake City? Mormon Utah can only wish it were treated as gently as “other cultures” are in a politically correct curriculum.

That’s interesting. I lived in Salt Lake City for seven years. I frequently left the walled enclave of the University of Utah to explore Mormon culture — I’ve heard the Tabernacle Choir, I read parts of the Book of Mormon and The Pearl of Great Price (but not their entireties, there are limits to the schlock I can digest), I took the official tours, I’ve read on the history of Utah, I visited the genealogy archives, I’ve shopped at ZCMI and played with my kids at Liberty Park. I know Mormon culture about as well as a curious Gentile can, so once again, here’s an atheist with significant knowledge about a faith he denies.

And you know what I learned about Mormonism? It’s a lot of wacky bullshit, with some very nasty misogynistic undertones. I also encourage everyone to learn more about this foolishness, one of the many brands of pretentious nonsense advocated under the guise of religion, but I will not suggest that our views of this poison have to be “charitable”. Why should they be? It’s far wiser and not at all trivial to recognize that millions of people live lies and believe in fairy tales that are wrong.

I have been informed that Reynolds is not Catholic. He belongs to some weird Eastern Orthodox sect. Knowing this, however, is simply trivia, so I can’t feel too guilty about missing the details of his superstition. He might think it’s non-trivial, though, since he did almost lose his job over it.

Our students aren’t children, but Republicans apparently are

So I’ve just told you to avoid underestimating college students, but I guess you shouldn’t do the same with Republicans, especially Breitbart-style Republicans. Their latest embarrassment is yet another piece of work from James O’Keefe, the young mastermind who dressed up as a pimp and dishonestly edited a videotape to make ACORN look like it supported prostitution, and then also bungled a break-in to bug Sen. Mary Landrieu’s Louisiana office, and is now continuing his career as a professional idiot and thug with a flopped attempt to catch a CNN reporter using her sexual wiles to bamboozle him.

It’s unbelievably stupid. The reporter gave no indication of flirting for information, but O’Keefe apparently assumed that any blonde reporter was a bimbo. He invited her to come to his boat for an interview, and then stocked it with all the paraphernalia a misogynist might imagine a woman would find irresistible: porn mags, dildos, handcuffs, mirrors on the ceiling, that sort of thing, and hidden cameras. The plan was to have Abbie Boudreau show up, wave a dildo seductively at her, and when she succumbed to his charms to get top secret Republican operative information from him, catch it all on tape.

It’s just astonishing. Where did O’Keefe get his ideas about how to seduce a woman, from men’s wank magazines? He must have had some delusion that his scheme would actually work, rather than ending with him writhing on the ground cradling his bruised privates while the CNN reporter stormed off of the Love Boat with a juicy story about sleazy Republicans.

Fortunately for all concerned, one of the organizers of this tasteless charade had a scrap of a conscience and told all, sparing O’Keefe a pair of splattered testicles but still giving CNN a great story (the conscientious person has apparently been fired…unsurprisingly).

Boudreau herself has written up the full story.

I have to ask…why does Breitbart and his little acolytes still get air time on the news networks? Why isn’t O’Keefe in jail for his criminal attempted wire-tapping stunt? Why aren’t we seeing a takedown of his prior video staging to falsely indict ACORN? Why aren’t small children breaking into tears and adults spitting on these people when they walk down the street?

Never underestimate your students

As I’ve mentioned, I have my upper division classes write openly on the web about the subject of the course. It’s good practice for being comfortable with discussing the world of ideas outside this little sheltered realm of academia, but I’ve always had one reservation: the internet is a cruel place, and I feel a bit protective of my students, so I send them off with lots of warnings and reassurances that I will defend their open expression of ideas and they don’t have to worry about differences of opinion affecting their grades. I’ve had students with whom I greatly disagree get online and make arguments I think are horribly wrong…but it’s all OK, because the purpose of this exercise is to generate discussion and debate.

So I put them to work urging them to be brave and bold and don’t worry about what other people say. And I’ve been all wrong. I didn’t have to worry about them…I had to worry about you.

Yesterday, I’d reviewed their blogs and the comments people had left there, and noticed they were getting a lot of not-at-all-helpful advice, fussing over style and telling them how to write their entries, and in class I started by telling them to ignore all that, I wanted them to find their own voices, when the class chuckled and pointed at the white board. A chill went down my spine.


The students had gotten annoyed at the condescending tone of a few of the comments, and had decided to deal with it. On the whiteboard was written the complete personal data of one person who had irritated them: they’d traced back his posting info and had gotten his real name, home address, employment history, phone number, etc., and were sharing that information. Before I interrupted them by starting the class, they were debating whether to teach him a lesson themselves or just to post all of that to 4chan.

Whoa. They’ve already got their own cyberpistols.

Don’t panic, I held them off and suggested they do nothing now, and that maybe there are less drastic ways to deal with obnoxious commenters, but still, it was a bit of a reversal and I learned something that you should all learn, too. These are adults in the 21st century, and they know how to take care of themselves on the internet — so don’t get all patronizing with them, and learn to talk with them as equals. Or else.

I feel like I’ve been taking the leashes off a fierce pack of wolves. I’m so proud.

I think I’m hoping the world does end in 2012

It would be a mercy. George Lucas is preparing another release of all of his Star Wars movies, after yet again tweaking them.

The new versions will be in…cheesy post-processed pseudo-3-D.

When the first one was released back in 1977 it was phenomenal — a pulpy space opera with dialogue that had the panache of a Hugo Gernsback short story, and we liked it. Then came the sequel, and we were overjoyed…it was still good old fashioned science fiction, but it was better than the first. And from that point on, unfortunately, it was dissolution and decay, beginning with the Ewoks and ending in the terminal embarrassment of Jar Jar Binks. Yet Lucas keeps tinkering with the sell-out garbage, trying to restore that brief moment of magic by hammering it all flatter and paving it over with a virtual steamroller of reprocessing and rewriting.

Nothing will save them, George. They were badly conceived and badly written, and yet another digital makeover will not change that fact. Maybe if you’d written them competently when you made them, you wouldn’t be masturbating their corpses now.

We all know who makes the best Mad Scientists

I initially thought this was a fine graph, charting the fields of research of mad scientists over time, since it did accurately conclude that biologists rocked that niche, but then I looked closer, and they shortchanged us. For some entirely arbitrary reason, they split mad biologists into “biology”, “biotechnology”, and “neuroscience”…but those are simply subdisciplines of biology! You don’t see mad physicists split into “physics”, “lasers”, and “whatever else physicists do”, now do you? I see what they were doing: they were trying to minimize the appearance of our overwhelming dominance!


So, Annalee Newitz, Stephanie Fox, Kelly Faircloth, and Mary Ratliff…you sought to belittle mad biologists, eh? I shall plot my vengeance. Do not be surprised if some night you wake up to find giant mutant cockroaches laying eggs in your ears, or your brain transplanted into the body of a hagfish, or strange infections writing incantations to Cthulhu in rashes on your body, or tentacles emerging out of your shower drain.

Taibbi among the teabaggers

Matt Taibbi is one of my favorite political writers, and he’s perfect for scrutinizing the Tea Party movement — he’s a gonzo swashbuckler who specializes in exposing the inanities of American culture, so plopping him down in the midst of the teabaggers is like opening the henhouse door for a wolf.

Scanning the thousands of hopped-up faces in the crowd, I am immediately struck by two things. One is that there isn’t a single black person here. The other is the truly awesome quantity of medical hardware: Seemingly every third person in the place is sucking oxygen from a tank or propping their giant atrophied glutes on motorized wheelchair-scooters. As Palin launches into her Ronald Reagan impression — “Government’s not the solution! Government’s the problem!” — the person sitting next to me leans over and explains.

“The scooters are because of Medicare,” he whispers helpfully. “They have these commercials down here: ‘You won’t even have to pay for your scooter! Medicare will pay!’ Practically everyone in Kentucky has one.”

A hall full of elderly white people in Medicare-paid scooters, railing against government spending and imagining themselves revolutionaries as they cheer on the vice-presidential puppet hand-picked by the GOP establishment. If there exists a better snapshot of everything the Tea Party represents, I can’t imagine it.

Read the whole thing. Who are the teabaggers? Cranky, ignorant old racist hypocrites who are all about me-me-me-me, deftly manipulated by the big business establishment.