The Gideons are on campus again

I have mixed feelings about it.

On the one hand, it’s heartwarming to see all the students spurning the offer of a testament. They’re very polite about it — this is Minnesota, after all — but watching the students wave them away or say “No, thank you” is pleasant.

On the other hand, I walked past three small groups of Gideons this morning, and they glance at me and look away, and never offer. How can they tell? Is it the lines of debauchery and degeneracy on my face that scream “Godless!” when they look at me? Do they really have a hot-line to God, who whispers to them “Never mind” when I walk by? Do I have Resting Atheist Face?

I hear that can be corrected with surgery now. I just need a blissed-out, dull-witted look stitched onto my face, I guess.

So much wrong in one little story

Here’s some smug sanctimonious Christianity for you, all inflicted on a helpless baby.

On Wednesday, Martina Obi-Uzom was found guilty of causing grievous bodily harm to an 11 month old baby boy. She was entrusted to look after the baby while his parents went away one weekend. During that weekend, she took the baby to London to be circumcised, in accordance with her own Nigerian Christian beliefs. She knew the baby’s mother did not want her baby circumcised. So she posed as the child’s mother, recruited a man to pose as his father, and convinced a Jewish circumciser to perform the procedure.

You are probably rightly horrified right now. Wait until you learn what happened to Ms Obi-Uzom.

She was given a suspended sentence of 14 months. She was also ordered to pay costs of £1,500 and a £140 victim surcharge, which seems paltry compensation for amputating part of a person’s genitals without consent or medical need.

Judge Freya Newbery said although the offence merited a prison sentence, “circumstances” meant she decided to suspend the sentence. The judge said she accepted that Obi-Uzom’s intention “wasn’t to harm the boy” and that she was of “impeccable character”. She also said she was a “professional person” and “highly qualified”.

I’m going to guess that the judge overlooked the mutilation of a baby because the perpetrator’s “impeccable character” consisted of being Christian. Anyone who took a knife to harm a baby for any other reason would be dealt with far more severely.

How many foreskins are you worth?

True story from 1 Samuel 18:25-27. This, of course, is the foundation of Judeo-Christian morality.

My wife is worth a lot more foreskins than that, but I don’t think she’d appreciate it if I went all serial killer and marched through Stevens County chopping off penis tips and bringing them back to her in a bloody sack.

Also, it would be like those obnoxious World of Warcraft quests. “Bring me X body parts from this animal!”, and then you go slaughtering and most of your kills don’t even have that body part. I still remember having to kill zebras for their hooves, and finding most didn’t have any.

Jesus is the excuse that never fails

Over the last few days, I watched The Family on Netflix, a five part series on this shadow cabal of fanatical Christians bent on shaping the American government. It’s horrifying. But then, I read the book, also horrifying.

It’s a kind of understated horror, though — it’s not sensationalist at all, and that might be a flaw in the documentary. These people march through the halls of power, and all they do is say Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. They say nice things about the power of Christ, but they don’t push the Bible or fundamentalism, but only constantly invoke the name of Jesus to authorize their use of power…for anything. There are these interviews and recordings of smug, confident people asserting with unshakeable certainty that Jesus wants them to do the things that they do, and the evidence that they are exercising Jesus’ will is that they have power. Power itself is proof that God wants them to use that power.

There are little hiccups in their philosophy, like John Ensign, the former Senator who thought his title meant he could cheat on his wife and use his position for a coverup, or Mark Sanford, the South Carolina governor who made “hiking the Appalachian trail” a synonym for having an affair. It’s funny how the personal peccadillos get them in trouble, but they apply the same attitude to everything, including acts of corruption and sedition. The laws don’t apply to them, because Jesus.

It’s a documentary that is also rather frustrating as an atheist, because it never engages with the lie at the heart of the Family. They don’t know Jesus. Jesus is not talking to them. Jesus is dead, and the godly prophet they imagine is a fiction. In a few places it tries to rebut the Holy Certainty of the Family by arguing that Jesus wasn’t that bad guy, that he also wanted to help the poor, for instance, but that kindly Jesus is also only in your imagination and is also another example of Holy Certainty.

You can use Jesus to argue for whatever you want, he’s never going to speak up and tell you you’re wrong. The only way to win that debate is to never engage in it — every time Jesus is your backup, it’s just your id and predispositions speaking, and don’t allow them to pretend otherwise.

The Jesus thing is also never ending. I hope our next president is someone who can say “no” to the National Prayer Breakfast, a creation of the Family, but I doubt that even the candidates I like will be willing to do that.

Wanna piss off Ken Ham?

The easiest way is to point out that his Ark Park was built on government handouts.

  • A tax-rebate program nets the Ark Park more than $1.8 million annually from the state. Under the plan, the state charges a 6 percent tax on the sale of tickets, food and souvenirs at the park. The funds are forwarded to the state, but once a year, all of that money is refunded to the Ark Park. It flows directly from the state treasury to Ark Encounter.
  • As bloggers William and Susan Trollinger have pointed out repeatedly, the city of Williamstown floated $62 million in junk bonds for the Ark Park to subsidize the building of the structure. (By the way, Williamstown officials did this because they bought Ham’s claim that the Ark Park would spur tourism in their town. But that hasn’t happened, and now Ham says it’s their fault because the community is too far away from the interstate.)
  • The Grant County Industrial Authority gave Ark Encounter $175,000 to offset the cost of land. In addition, local officials agreed to sell nearly 100 acres of land to Ham for the princely sum of $1.
  • The state spent $10 million on highway improvements on a road leading to Ark Encounter.

Ham will fire off angry letters to the local newspaper and flood Twitter with indignant tweets if you point out that his grand building-that-looks-vaguely-like-a-boat is a gross violation of church and state separation, and that he couldn’t have built it without suborning state and local officials to funnel tax money into his pockets.

If I said I was building a Spider Park in my lab that would be a phenomenal tourist attraction, do you think I could persuade the state of Minnesota to give me a million dollars a year? Or at least improve Highway 28 (or better yet, rail service) for better access to the University of Minnesota Morris?

Maybe if I set up an affiliated Church of the Spider God…


A priest in Brazil declared that fat women don’t get to go to heaven, so this woman made the best possible response.

He looks so surprised. I’ve been watching this on repeat for the last ten minutes. Gosto muito dela.

Would Chris Coons want me to talk about my faith, if I were running for office?

Coons biases are showing nakedly in this essay in which he says Democrats need to talk about their faith, using the example of Sherrod Brown, who got all this attention from the electorate for openly making a big deal of his Christian beliefs. So, he argues, everyone needs to make it part of their stump speech.

What’s implied is that this is a fine strategy for Christians.

Unfortunately, choosing not to talk much—or even at all—about faith and religion has become common in today’s Democratic Party. That choice, I believe, is the wrong one for two important reasons.

First, it hides away the deep, passionate, and formative faith backgrounds of so many Democrats who are seeking or serving in office. At our weekly Senate prayer breakfasts, for example, I’m consistently inspired and moved by the words of my colleagues whose faith is fundamental to their life and their work, but who rarely talk about it publicly.

Second, choosing not to talk about our faith as Democrats ignores the clear fact that America is still an overwhelmingly religious country, and that the Democratic Party, too, remains a coalition largely made up of people of faith—including tens of millions who identify as deeply religious.

I guarantee you that if I were running for office (fortunately, I’m not) Coons would be telling me to hush about the atheism thing. If I were Muslim and running for the presidency, my religion would be a huge issue; that’s a campaign that wouldn’t even get off the ground, all because people like Coons and Brown are making their Christianity a ploy in their run for office.

Someone like Coons would not be consistently inspired and moved by the words of a godless colleague, or one who worshipped Allah, or a Satanist friend. The implication is that only the dominant beliefs in a culture are worthy, and should be expressed loudly, and anyone else should shut up.

How about if instead we recognized that your goofy, irrelevant, evidence-free beliefs should not be part of our government, directly or indirectly, and that making it a prominent part of a campaign is pandering to a biased segment of the electorate? That goes for atheists who might make it a central feature of their campaign for office. I want to know your position on the issues and your proposed solutions, not what phantasm (or absence thereof) you talk to.

Anything but those Abrahamic religions

There has been a steady rise in the number of Nones in America, which troubles the Christian majority. You know what else they should worry about? The growth in the number of witches.

…radio host and author Carmen LaBerge noted on Twitter that the figures are striking in that witches outnumber certain Christian denominations.

“As mainline Protestantism continues its devolution, the U.S. witch population is rising astronomically. There may now be more Americans who identify as practicing witches, 1.5 mil, than there are members of mainline Presbyterianism (PCUSA) 1.4 mil,” she said Tuesday.

Portrayals of occultism as either fun or morally neutral have been appearing more in culture in recent years and in light of growing interest. Companies like cosmetics giant Sephora have attempted to capitalize on it, marketing a “Starter Witch Kit” to consumers interested in dabbling in witchcraft. However, the company angered a number of actual witches and was ultimately forced to apologize and pull the product.

I think what this ought to tell everyone is that there is growing dissatisfaction with organized religion and its patriarchal assumptions. People aren’t so much flocking to, as they are flocking away.

I’m personally not interested in becoming a Wiccan. Unless maybe they also knit.

Do you feel the fear of Christ yet?

The Legion of St Ambrose looks like a gang of video game cosplayers. They threaten to dab you.

They also have some kind of manifesto online. It’s the usual theocratic noise: church schooling, patriarchy, mandatory Christianity, anti-“bankers” (we all know what they mean by that) and of course, white nationalism.

An interesting twist: they’re “environmental”, meaning they want to ban pesticides, GMOs, and factory farming. They also think healthcare should be a right, but they also want to emphasize “natural” medicines. No more private prisons, either, but also no abortions, ever.

It’s a novel evolution of Christian conservatism. The funny costumes make it hard to take them seriously, though.