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.

Steven Anderson now has something else in common with snakes

He has been driven out of Ireland.

Pastor Steven L Anderson, who founded the Faithful Word Baptist Church in 2005, in Arizona, USA, was set to deliver a sermon in Dublin on May 26 as part of a short tour of Europe.

The Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan, has signed an exclusion order ‘with immediate effect under Section 4 of the Immigration Act 1999 in respect of Mr Steven Anderson, aka Pastor Steven L Anderson’.

(Note: this is cruelly unfair to snakes, who are much nicer than Anderson. Also, it’s a myth that snakes were driven out of Ireland, they never took up residence there in the first place.)

Project Blitz: another assault on our freedoms

This isn’t new — Christians have been demanding the right to invade public schools for years — but now there’s a new coordinated effort to push the Bible into classrooms called Project Blitz.

Activists on the religious right, through their legislative effort Project Blitz, drafted a law that encourages Bible classes in public schools and persuaded at least 10 state legislatures to introduce versions of it this year. Georgia and Arkansas recently passed bills that are awaiting their governors’ signatures.

Among the powerful fans of these public-school Bible classes: President Trump.

“Numerous states introducing Bible Literacy classes, giving students the option of studying the Bible,” Trump tweeted in January. “Starting to make a turn back? Great!”

You want to teach the Bible as a historical document? Fine. I have no problem with that. But that’s not what they want, because teaching it as one would, say, the Iliad, means contrasting it with the archaeological evidence, discussing its role, good and bad, in society, and examining its values critically. Achilles was a petulant, selfish killer…and so were those Hebrew warriors who committed genocide to secure their conquered territory. It would have to be taught as a piece of human literature, not some divine and infallible word of a god, and the theocrats who are pushing these laws are not intending that at all.

There is no critical thinking anywhere in their agenda. Take, for example, this teacher who eagerly leapt for a Bible class, because it was “easy”.

Maggie Dowdy said she picked this course because she thought it would be easy. After all, she already knew the Bible from church.

When the class started with the very first Bible story — the story of creation — she was glad she had chosen it. Here at last was the story of human origins that she believed in — not the facts of evolution that she had been taught in her high school science class.

“When I started learning about [evolution], I thought: ‘That’s not true. Here’s what I believe,’ ” Dowdy said. “I just kind of push it aside now. I know what I believe in. It’s just something the teachers have to teach us, but, no, I believe in creation.”

Other students echoed her. “We’ve always in science learned that perspective, evolution and the big bang,” Morgan Guess said. “This is the class that allows us the other perspective.”

That’s familiar: that’s Ken Ham’s relativism. If you’re ignorant of the evidence and don’t care about weighing the facts, you can just say that every interpretation is mere opinion, and that believing the earth is 6000 years old is just as valid as recognizing the evidence that it is 4.5 billion years old. But that’s not any kind of education or science! It’s saying that “I have a prior belief, I choose to only look at the assertions that reassure me it’s true.” It’s not “another perspective”, it’s willful ignorance, and it’s the antithesis of teaching and learning.

Americans United has a campaign to monitor and stop Project Blitz. There’s also a coalition of secular groups called Blitzwatch working to oppose it.

One danger is that even critical articles, like that one from the Washington Post, always portray the people implementing these religious practices as nice, normal, well-meaning people, the pastor next door type, who just wants their students to know how lovely the Beatitudes are. That’s the mask. It’s how they build popular support. But at some point the mask will slip — gosh, isn’t it a shame that gay people don’t obey the loving word of God? Then it falls off — the gay kids at this school are wicked and need to be expelled. Next thing you know a pious electorate is passing referendums to punish anyone who doesn’t heed their interpretation of dogma.

Stop them now, before it’s too late.