Friday, July 31, 2009

Congressman Weiner's Got Balls

The awesomeness cannot be expressed by my feeble fingers. Watch and say hello to a politician who actually means it about healthcare :)

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Questions for Christians

Readers, stalkers, and random passers-by - lend me your ears! Or rather, your fingers. And brains (but not in a zombie way). Sorry, I've had sugar.

I want to get together a massive set of, say, 100 Questions for Christians. Make them creative, hypothetical, unique. Stay away from anything so done-to-death that any theist can just Google an apologist rebuttal. (The fact that there is Conservapedia: The "Trustworthy" Encyclopedia? Chills me to the bones.) Let's have new debates.

So, here's what I need from you:

  • Give me creative stump-the-fundy questions
  • Suggest debate location sites (if it can be easily cached and redisplayed - in part or whole - here on ATAT, that would be best)

To get you into the spirit of things and give you a clue as to what I'm looking for, here are the first 10 of the 100 Questions for Christians we're going to amass. (We are gonna make this happen y'all.)

  1. If homosexuality is a sin, are two gay male dolphins sinning when they do this?

  2. Will there be jello molds with marshmallows in them in heaven? Explain. If they do this, you should have your rebuttal - for each side of the argument! - already prepared.

  3. Which is a bigger sin: Walking in on your dad - drunk, naked, and passed out? or Passing out drunk and naked, and leaving your kids to pick up after your drunk butt? (Now tell them about the Curse of Ham! Note: Both Noah and Lot were the "best" and "holiest" men in their communities; both got dead drunk and were naked in front of (or had sex with) their kids. Great role models, eh?)

  4. What Would Jesus Do? (Watch this video - you'll be glad you did. Trust me.)

  5. If God is better than we are, how come we can think up unicorns, but he didn't make them?

  6. Same thing, but with mermaids. (I was surprised how many hits - 947,000 - come up for "mermaids are real".)

  7. Did Jesus have acne as a teenager? Explain.

  8. Why is the Brick Testament the best version of the Bible? (Note: You are playing a sublte verbal trick here, by asking them to only explain why it's the best version - which it totally is - and not first having them agree on that point. Theists do this constantly, so it's always nice to get them back!)

  9. Why is Christian music so painfully square? (I used to *listen* to this!)

  10. Is it better to be right or to popular? (I throw this one in because Christian teens especially are repeatedly told they are being persecuted, that it's hard to be Christian in this "secular world", etc. Get them to agree being popular is less important, and then present them with the facts about Christian persecution with this handy pie chart!)

It's almost embarrassing how often I laugh at MYSELF while blogging. I think I'm the funniest person ever when I'm snarking on the internets! Also ya'll, when I say *facepalm* 9 times out of 10 I did just literally smack myself in the forehead before typing it. If I claim to have shot Coke Zero out of my nose? Then my monitor is dirty.

Okay, well I'm hoping audience participation will be high for this one. I may have to post remainder/ updates to keep this on my front page. Remember folks, question early and often!

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"Maybe if they were fighting turtles"

First I have to say that it gives me a warm fuzzy feeling to see that the words "glenn beck turtle" bring up 69,200 results on Google.

"The other 80% MUST BE SPENT ON SAVING INTERNATIONAL TURTLES!" Sorry readers. I usually refrain from crude font tactics such as all caps. But this man speaks in all caps.

"Is there a lobbyist for otters and turtles that I don't know about?!"

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Senseless Tragedy

So my profile says that I'm a cult survivor, and that's true. My grandmother started a Word of Faith faith healing cult in the late 1970s. I was born (at home, with her as "spiritual midwife") in 1983, and grew up with her as our live-in childcare. I'm writing a book about all this and posting excerpts here. I've changed names in this posting, but real ones will appear in the final product. [EDIT: Names have now been restored. Whatever fear I still had, whatever concerns about staying anonymous, are gone by now, Jan. 2010.]

This excerpt begins with me watching 30 children for 3 days while their parents attend my grandmother's faith healing lecture, held in the clubhouse of a south Florida trailer park. This all happened in the fall of my Freshman year of high school.

Harrison Johnson was two years old, blond, quiet and sweet. He was one of the kids still in diapers, but he was the only one in cloth ones. I thought they were gross, messy, and more work; I was worried about sticking him with one of the pins.

Now that I have a young child, I know what a huge stress that weekend must have been for Harrison. He had never been left with anyone other than this grandmother before, and hadn't even gone to Sunday School with other children. He spent with 3 days in a strange mobile home, with 30 strange children, cared for by a strange teenager with purple hair who didn't understand his diapers. He did remarkably little crying for that combination.

Somehow I wasn't involved when the terms of my pay were discussed. Gig just told her followers to pay me whatever they felt was right, and these were not the kind of people who would fight over the honor of paying the check at IHOP. Left to the generosity of her followers, over the course of three days, for watching 32 children, I received a grand total of $40, or about $1.35 per kid (or an hourly per child rate of just 15¢).

Three months later Harrison's parents, Kelly and Wylie, brought him back to the trailer park, for a visit with my grandmother, and her ministry employees Van and Nicole. I wasn't there that day. I read about it the next day though, on the front page of four different newspapers. My grandmother was inside with Kelly and Nicole while Harrison, his dad, and Van were all talking outside, at the edge of the green belt - a swath of protected Florida woods running between the outer edge of the trailer park and a nearby water treatment facility. Somehow, Harrison fell onto a yellow jacket's nest in the ground. They swarmed and stung him, over 400 times.

The men took him inside Van and Nicole's red double-wide trailer, and my grandmother instructed them to give him a bath and make him comfortable. Gig later reported to police that Harrison seemed "fine", that he was watching television, and that he only asked for a glass of milk. Seven hours after Harrison Johnson was stung 432 times his parents called 9-1-1. Seven hours. Harrison wasn't allergic to stings, but the sheer volume of poison in his small body overpowered him, and his heart stopped. His parents, my grandmother, and her employees waited for over forty minutes between the time when Harrison stopped breathing, and when they called for help.

Even then, I still believed that my grandmother was good, and that she was right about medicine most of the time. A little boy I had known, a toddler with the kind of face that makes the news if he gets hurt, died a slow, painful death, in my grandmother's presence. And he didn't have to. It saddened me, and it worried me, but I wasn't ready to rewrite my programming just yet.

My son got stung by a yellow jacket recently. We were on a walk around our neighborhood and he stuck his hand into a hole in a light post. He drew it back out quickly, screaming. I carried him - running - a quarter mile home. As I did so, I called a med-student friend and left a frantic voicemail asking for help. Then I called my mother and asked her to look up yellow jacket stings online, and tell me how to treat my son's hand. The whole time he was crying in my ear, and I was panicked and running home. I got him home, cleaned his hand, removed the stinger, and put Benadryl cream and a bandaid on it. The total time between my son being stung by one yellow jacket and having that bandaid on him was less than 15 minutes.

Yet I am descended from, was raised by, and was brainwashed to follow, a woman who would sit for seven hours and watch a toddler die. Gig's own fourth daughter, my mythic aunt Natalie, died at six weeks old of a congenital heart defect. I can't help but wonder sometimes, when I think about the children she knew were dying because of her teachings, if she wanted other parents to suffer as much as she had.

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Sarah Palin: A Literary Critique

Sarah Palin's leaving Alaska for a "higher calling". Here for your snarking pleasure, I give you her farewell speech - with commentary.
What an absolutely beautiful day it is, and it is my honor to speak to all Alaskans, to our Alaskan family this last time as your governor.
The honor part was cool, but actually being your Governor? That part sucked.
And it is always great to be in Fairbanks.
Check. Fairbanks = always great.
The rugged rugged hardy people that live up here and some of the most patriotic people whom you will ever know live here, and one thing that you are known for is your steadfast support of our military community up here and I thank you for that and thank you United States military for protecting the greatest nation on Earth.
Anyone else feel like they just did wind sprints reading that? Oh, wait, what's that? You're not reading out loud in your best Tina Fey impersonation voice? *ahem* I do love the irony of Alaska being the most patriotic state (since even Texas Gov. Rick Perry had to admit he didn't really, actually want to secede from the Union).
Together we stand.
Got it - we're all standing here. No sitters welcome! Real Americans stand.
And getting up here I say it is the best road trip in America soaring through nature’s finest show.
Is it a flying roadtrip? Hey! I thought we were supposed to be standing! That's a decidely stationary position, which doesn't allow for road trips or soaring.
Denali, the great one, soaring under the midnight sun. And then the extremes. In the winter time it’s the frozen road that is competing with the view of ice fogged frigid beauty, the cold though, doesn’t it split the Cheechakos from the Sourdoughs?
All I'm going to say is, if it's that cold why did Palin try to reject $288 million in stimulus money for heating?
And then in the summertime such extreme summertime about a hundred and fifty degrees hotter than just some months ago, than just some months from now, with fireweed blooming along the frost heaves and merciless rivers that are rushing and carving and reminding us that here, Mother Nature wins.
Mother Nature: 1 - Alaska pipeline: 0
It is as throughout all Alaska that big wild good life teeming along the road that is north to the future.
So are we the wild life along the road, on the road trip, or soaring under the midnight sun?
Plus, "north to the future"?
That is what we get to see every day. Now what the rest of America gets to see along with us is in this last frontier there is hope and opportunity and there is country pride.
Sometimes quaintly referred to as "national" pride.
And it is our men and women in uniform securing it, and we are facing tough challenges in America with some seeming to just be Hell bent maybe on tearing down our nation, perpetuating some pessimism, and suggesting American apologetics, suggesting perhaps that our best days were yesterdays.
*pant, pant* Okay. When she says "our men and women in uniform" is she suggesting that the federal military forces from or stationed in Alaska are securing "hope, opportunity and country pride"? Because mostly I just thought they did military-type stuff.
But as other people have asked, “How can that pessimism be, when proof of our greatness, our pride today is that we produce the great proud volunteers who sacrifice everything for country?”
So the "proof of our greatness" and the source of our pride is that people volunteer to die for us? So does this prove the greatness of Jim Jones or the Taliban?
Now this week alone, Sean Parnell and I we’re on the, um, on Ft. Rich the base there, the army chapel, and we heard the last roll call, and the sounding of Taps for three very brave, very young Alaskan soldiers who just gave their all for all of us. Together we do stand with gratitude for our troops who protect all of our cherished freedoms, including our freedom of speech which, par for the course, I’m going to exercise.
She's shameless. She tells us about three young Alaskans who have died, then uses their deaths as a means of taking a jab at the media and being all "mavericky". She didn't even mention the names or unit of the soldiers.
And first, some straight talk for some,
See? I'm still campaigning!
...just some in the media because another right protected for all of us is freedom of the press, and you all have such important jobs reporting facts and informing the electorate, and exerting power to influence.
What the (mainstream) media is supposed to do is intentionally avoid using power to influence. But since she's a FOX News fan, she might not be aware of that.
You represent what could and should be a respected honest profession that could and should be the cornerstone of our democracy.
"I hate you - don't leave me!"
Democracy depends on you, and that is why, that’s why our troops are willing to die for you.
Now, I have a few friends who are active duty, reserves, or veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. They're great guys (away from a beer funnel) but I'm pretty sure they signed up to protect America, democracy, our freedoms, and college - not necessarily to die for Joe Scarborough or Bill O'Reilly. I could be wrong though - so any vets or service members wanna set me straight, please do!
So, how ’bout in honor of the American soldier, ya quite makin’ things up.
Sarah Palin's Conservative Politics 101:
  • Love troops.
  • Hate media.
  • Use your patriotism to bludgeon fellow citizens.
And don’t underestimate the wisdom of the people, and one other thing for the media, our new governor has a very nice family too, so leave his kids alone.
Or I'll go all Dave Letterman on you!
OK, today is a beautiful day and today as we swear in Sean Parnell, no one will be happier than I to witness by God’s grace Alaskans with strength of character advancing our beloved state.
Translation: No one will be happier than I that I got to quit this lousy job midstream
Sean has that. Craig Campbell has that. I remember on that December day, we took the oath to uphold our state constitution, and it was written right here in Fairbanks by very wise pioneers. We shared the vision for government that they ground in that document.
Except the part about finishing my term as governor.
Our founders wrote “all political power is inherent in the people. All government originates with the people. It’s founded upon their will only and it’s instituted for the good of the people as a whole.” Their remarkably succinct words guided us in all of our efforts in serving you and putting you first, and we have done our best to fulfill promises that I made on Alaska Day, 2005, when I first asked for the honor of serving you.
Before I dropped you like a bad habit.
Remember then, our state so desired and so deserved ethics reform. We promised it, and now it is the law.
Having laws is just as good as having governing officials who follow them, don't you think?
Ironically, it needs additional reform to stop blatant abuse from partisan operatives, and I hope the lawmakers will continue that reform.
Ethics are for everyone ELSE.
We promised that you would finally see a fair return on your Alaskan owned natural resources so we build a new oil and gas appraisal system, an is an equitable formula to usher in a new era of competition and transparency and protection for Alaskans and the producers. ACES incentivizes new exploration and it’s the exploration that is our future. It opens up oil basins and it ensures that the people will never be taken advantage of again.
Like they were taken advantage of by the McCain campaign.
Don’t forget Alaskans you are the resource owners per our constitution and that’s why for instance last year when oil prices soared and state coffers swelled, but you were smacked with high energy prices, we sent you the energy rebate. See, it’s your money and I’ve always believed that you know how to better spend it than government can spend it. Don’t forget Alaskans you are the resource owners per our constitution and that’s why for instance last year when oil prices soared and state coffers swelled, but you were smacked with high energy prices, we sent you the energy rebate. See, it’s your money and I’ve always believed that you know how to better spend it than government can spend it
"Rebates" are allowed - it's only "stimulus packages" that can't be used.
I promised that we would protect this beautiful environment while safely and ethically developing resources, and we did. We built the Petroleum Oversight Office and a sub-cabinet to study climate conditions.
Of course, Palin thinks the earth is only 6,000 years old, so environmental concerns might be beyond her grasp.
And I promised I’d govern with fiscal restraint, so to not immorally burden future generations.
Except, of course, the financial shambles she left for Alaska's current generation.
And we did…we slowed the rate of government growth and I vetoed hundreds of millions of dollars of excess and with lawmakers we saved billions for the future.
Hey GOP 2012! Look, I rejected the stimulus! I have offered my state's future on the alter of future political success.
I promised that we’d lead the charge to forward funding education, and hold schools accountable, and improve opportunities for special needs students and elevate vo-tech training and we paid down pension debt.
I see a list of promises made to kids, and one fulfilled to the elderly. The children are our future!
I promised that we would manage our fish and wildlife for abundance, and that we would defend the constitution, and we have, though outside special interest groups they still just don’t get it on this one. Let me tell you, Alaskans really need to stick together on this with new leadership in this area especially, encouraging new leadership… got to stiffen your spine to do what’s right for Alaska when the pressure mounts, because you’re going to see anti-hunting, anti-second amendment circuses from Hollywood and here’s how they do it. They use these delicate, tiny, very talented celebrity starlets, they use Alaska as a fundraising tool for their anti-second amendment causes.
Guess she's still pissed about Ashley Judd's anti-aerial-wolfing ad. Listen, I know (and am related to) plenty of 2nd Amendment advocates. Not one them equates shooting wolves from an airplane with the right to bear arms in self-protection.
Stand strong, and remind them patriots will protect our guaranteed, individual right to bear arms, and by the way, Hollywood needs to know, we eat, therefore we hunt.
Then maybe you ought to alter your diet to include less NRA-laced items? And by the way, Hollywood? Loves guns.
I promised energy solutions and we have, we have a plan calling for 50% of our electricity generated by renewable resources and we can now insist that those who hold the leases to develop our resources that they do so now on Alaska’s terms.
I love how she keeps posing as if she's (still) in a position of authority. "On Alaska's terms".
So now finally after decades of just talk, finally we’re seeing oil and gas drilling up there at Point Thompson. And I promised that we would get a natural gas pipeline underway and we did. Since I was a little kid growing up here, I remember the discussions, especially the political discussions just talking about and hoping for and dreaming of commercializing our clean, abundant, needed natural gas.
Ah, when I was a little, I used to dream of artic drilling, and of removing the polar bear from the endangered species list. Then my mother would hug me and she would sing, "Drill, baby, drill."
Our gas line inducement act, AGIA, that was the game-changer and this is thanks to our outstanding gas line team, and the legislature adopting this law, 58-1. They knew, they know AGIA is the vehicle to drive this monumental energy project and bring everyone to the table, this bipartisan victory, it came from Alaskans working together with free market private sector principles, and now we are on the road to the largest private-sector energy project in the history of America. It is for Alaska’s future, it is for America’s energy independence and it will make us a more peaceful, prosperous and secure nation.
Because we all know how peaceful, prosperous and secure the oil-drilling nations of the Middle East are.
What I promised, we accomplished.
Accept when I promised to serve out my term. That one didn't count.
“We” meaning state staff, amazing commissioners, great staff assisting them, and conscientious Alaskans outside the bureaucracy - Tom Van Flein, and Meg Stapleton and Kristan Cole, so many others, many volunteers who just stepped up to the challenge as good Alaskans, but nothing, nothing could have succeeded without my right-hand man Kris Perry. She is the sharpest, boldest, hardest-working partner. Kris is my right-hand man and much success is due to Kris.
Poor Kris. This is probably the nicest thing Palin has ever said about her - that she makes an excellent man, of the right-hand variety.
So much success, and Alaska there is much good in store further down the road,
Once I'm out of office
but to reach it we must value and live the optimistic pioneering spirit that made this state proud and free, and we can resist enslavement to big central government that crushes hope and opportunity. Be wary of accepting government largess.
Except the part where Alaskan
It doesn’t come free and often, accepting it takes away everything that is free, melting into Washington’s powerful “care-taking” arms will just suck incentive to work hard and chart our own course right out of us, and that not only contributes to an unstable economy and dizzying national debt, but it does make us less free.
For every $1 Alaskans pay in federal taxes, the State of Alaska gets back $1.84 in federal spending - the highest in the nation. Alaska is deemed a "beneficiary state", meaning it could not survive without the federal government. Kind of makes her seem more whiny and ungrateful, and less mavericky, doesn't it?
I resisted the stimulus package. I resisted the stimulus package and we have championed earmark reform, slashing earmark requests by 85% to break the cycle of dependency on a stifling, unsustainable federal agenda, and other states should follow this for their and for America’s stability.
We need a common definition of "earmark". She (and McCain campaign) uses it to suggest "pork barrel" spending, but plenty of good projects get picked up as riders on other bills. Plus? Alaska got more earmarks than anyone else in 2008, so cutting back wasn't as hard as it might have been.
We don’t have to feel that we must beg an allowance from Washington, except to beg the allowance to be self-determined. See, to be self-sufficient, Alaska must be allowed to develop - to drill and build and climb, to fulfill statehood’s promise. At statehood we knew this. At statehood we knew this, that we are responsible for ourselves and our families and our future, and fifty years later, please let’s not start believing that government is the answer.
See: Beneficiary State. The federal government has *always* been the answer for Alaska - that's why they joined the Union in the first place.
It can’t make you happy or healthy or wealthy or wise. What can? It is the wisdom of the people and our families and our small businesses, and industrious individuals, and it is God’s grace, helping those who help themselves, and then this allows that very generous voluntary hand up that we’re known for, enthusiastically providing those who need it.
Check it: God's grace means keeping rich white people rich and white, and occasionally offering a "voluntary hand up" (as opposed to those enforced ones, when someone MAKES you move into a safer neighborhood, or FORCES you to take a free car).
Alaskans will remember that years ago, remember we sported the old bumper sticker that said, “Alaska. We Don’t Give a Darn How They Do It Outside?” Do you remember that? I remember that, and remember it was because we would be different.
Surely excluding others is the ultimate expression of patriotism, right?
We’d roll up our sleeves, and we would diligently sow and reap, and we can still do this to carve wealth out of the wilderness and make our living on the water, with strong hands and innovative minds, now with smarter technology. It is what our first people and our parents did. It worked, because they worked.
They worked, they weren't quitters. Not like Sarah.
We must be prudent and persistent and press for the people’s right to responsibly develop God-given resources for the maximum benefit of the people. And we have come so far in just 50 years. We’re no longer a frontier outpost on the periphery of the world’s greatest nation. Now, as a contributor and a securer of America, we can attain our destiny in the promise of our motto “North to the Future.”
See, the pressing issue of our time, it’s energy independence, because there is an inherent link between energy and security, and energy and prosperity. Alaska will lead with energy, we will prove you can be both pro-development and pro-environment, because no one loves their clean air and their land and their wildlife and their water more than an Alaskan. We will protect it.
I find the best place to show my love of clean air and wildlife is from a helicopter, with a high-powered assault rifle. Can't you just see Mother Nature smile?
Yes, America must look north to the future for security, for energy independence, for our strategic location on the globe. Alaska is the gate-keeper of the continent.
Clearly, she's played Risk.
So, we are here today at a changing of the guard. Now, people who know me, and they know how much I love this state, some still are choosing not to hear why I made the decision to chart a new course to advance the state.
Or rather, some are still choosing to cry "bull!" at the reasons she's
And it should be so obvious to you. (indicating heckler) It is because I love Alaska this much, sir (at heckler) that I feel it is my duty to avoid the unproductive, typical, politics as usual, lame duck session in one’s last year in office.
By this logic, all elected officials should quit mid-term. At least they won't be lame ducks!
How does that benefit you? No, with this decision now, I will be able to fight even harder for you, for what is right, for truth. And I have never felt like you need a title to do that.
Then what did she need the title for? Certainly not to improve Alaska's state finances.
So let’s all enjoy the ride, and I thank you Alaska, and God bless Alaska and God bless America.
I'll give Sarah Palin this - I don't think she's pandering. She really, really buys the Buy-bull. And hey, check out the ethics you learn from that system!
So, as we all move forward together, let’s vow to keep championing Alaska, to advocate responsible development, and smaller government, and freedom, and when I took the oath to serve you, I promised…remember I promised to steadfastly and doggedly guard the interests of this great state like that grizzly guards her cubs, as a mother naturally guards her own.
Do grizzlies often abandon their cubs midwinter? Because if so, she's great at keeping her promises. And let's not forget that part of Sarah's plan for smaller government was requiring rape victims to pay the cost of their own DNA testing (in violation of the Violence Against Women Act introduced by now-Vice President Joe Biden.)
And I will keep that vow wherever the road may lead.
As long as it doesn't lead to Juno.
Todd and I, and Track, Bristol, Tripp, Willow, Piper, Trig…I think I got ‘em all. We will forever be so grateful for the honor of our lifetime to have served you.
"Lifetime" translates to: 30 months in governor's office.
Our whole big diverse full and fun family, we all thank you and I am very very blessed to have had their support all along, for Todd’s support.
Diverse? I realize that Todd Palin has Eskimo heritage. But Alaska isn't exactly known for its diversity.
I am thankful too. I have been blessed to have been raised in this last frontier. Thank you for our home, Mom and Dad, because in Alaska it is not an easy living, but it is a good living, and here it is impossible to lose your way. Wherever the road may lead you, we have that steadying great north star to guide us home.

Unless of course you get caught outside during the summer; then the sun shines too bright to see the stars.

I realize making fun of Sarah Palin is easy; that's part of what's so doggone goshdarn donchaknow fun about it! And please folks, when 2012 comes around, don't forget this video.

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Birth Certificates: Why It's Good to Have One

So I'm sure everyone's aware of the Birther Conspiracy by now. This is the gem that claims Obama's secretly foreign, and therefore secretly not the actual President. The funny thing is, everyone's focus is primarily on the birth certificate. (It's real - go check it out for yourselves, damnit.)

To me this is extra funny because of course, I wasn't born in a hospital; there was no attending physician; and I didn't even get my birth certificate - or social security number - till I was 4 and my sister was 6.

Home birth, abstinence from medical care, and general crazy-in-the-woods isolationism were all really important to the theology of my now-senile (but always crazy) cult leader grandmother. She conned my mother and hundreds of other women into these home births, and encouraged them to stay "out of the system". That particular aspect of her theology kicked in sometime in the two years between my brother's birth and my sister's, so he has a normal birth certificate (although, obviously, not signed by a hospital administrator) and my sister and I eventually got "delayed birth certificates". A DBC is basically a piece of paper saying "Some people claim to be related to this kid". It helps when getting a driver's license or applying for a job, but it is missing some critical elements of credibility.

When she was 19, my sister had a chance to accompany my mom on a foreign business trip to Venezuela. Since my sister has been in love with the Spanish language since she was a second grader, she set about getting her passport. And you know what? It's hard to get one of those when you have no proof of your citizenship/existence before age 6. We ended up putting together a package for the Passport Office that included photocopies of birth records in the family Bible and dozens of pictures of my sister from being a squashy newborn, through years of pictures with my mom, my older brother, and myself, to her blonde-goth high school yearbook photo. Eventually she got the passport, went on her trip, and two years later even spent a semester abroad in South America. When I was applying for my own passport a year later, it was easier. I just sent them the same box, with a letter saying basically "You gave her one." Of course, I ended up tearing my shoulder a week before I was supposed to go to Germany, and in the past 8 years since then, I still haven't made it off American soil. Tragic, really.

All this is really is just to say: Not only did my grandmother totally warp my mind with her crazy dogma; She's ruined my chances of becoming President. Oh well, at least my kid was born in a hospital - I've got the paperwork and everything.

The picture in this post is of Barack Hussein Obama's certificate of live birth from the State of Hawaii. Never believe what has thoroughly debunked.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Speaking in Tongues

I loved the story of the Tower of Babble as a kid. For some reason, in my head the tower looked like Pisa (only burnt by the fires of God's heavenly wrath, rather than merely leaning). It's a neat little "just so" story to explain language differences, although I'm rather embarrassed about swallowing this story whole as a real explanation.

When I was 9 and she was 11, the year we moved to Iowa and were so utterly friendless and miserable, my sister created her own language. It started as a complicated substitution system (like Pig Latin on steroids) but quickly evolved as she forced me to learn it (and practice - with a marker board). Over time as we talked to each other, new words had to be created, and new inside jokes and unique cultural concepts had to be expressed. When my grandmother found out about it that summer when we came to visit her, she was furious. Apparently creating your own Pig Latin is a sin, because God giving us lots of languages and making it hard to communicate was a curse for man's ambition. Great moral of the story, huh? This is also her xenophobic justification for why all immigrants (especially Latinos) need to speak only in English.

My three year old son is really starting to talk now, after a late beginning. I've realized though, that I've learned yet another language. A little while ago he walked up to me and said, "Buh-mmm. Wocket! Raitzch. Bidget!" And I understood exactly what that meant. I guess this is the weirdest part about having a child in the early stages of language - only parents (and siblings) can understand. I serve as his translator for the world. Translation of the above?
  1. Literal - "Button. Rocket! Race. Big Jet!"
  2. Final - "Mom, please use this remote to turn on the episode of Little Einsteins where Rocket and Big Jet race. You know the one."

No Tower of Babble necessary for a whole new tongue to emerge :)
Oh, and as a side note, my sister and I still sometimes speak to each other in our own made-up language. It was especially fun on double dates, before she had to up and marry a decent guy.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Losing His Religion

EDIT: I apologize but the video won't stay in it's pixel margins. I've tried fixing this three times. If it's a problem, let me know and I'll take the embed code out and just leave a linky to the YouTube.

Okay, so I apologize for being late out of the gate on this one. I saw something about it, but didn't get deep into because I was all distracted by being on vacation.

So the truly cool part of this is that it's getting the conversation going. People are talking about the relationship between religion and misogyny in the news and on the blogs.

I thought it was really funny during the POTUS campaign when Republicans tried to scare voters off of Obama by saying he was like Jimmy Carter. Very few people in my generation know about the price of gas when he was in office, or the Iran-Hostage Crisis. They just know Jimmy Carter's the President who helps run fair elections in foreign countries, works with Habitat for Humanity, and now, stands up for women against his own religion. President Jimmy Carter - you kick ass.

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Atheist BlogRoll Photo Contest

Mojoey is a cool guy. He runs the Atheist BlogRoll, which is that nifty box you see down on the right side of this blog. Anytime I do a new post, I get bumped to the top of the list - It's like free advertising! This is why Mojoey is awesome. Also? He reads my posts and tells me I am funny, which always endears someone to me. He writes a damn good blog too, over at Deep Thoughts.

Now that I've made you all woozy with lust after the guy, here's what he wants from you.
I am pleased to announce the 2009 Atheist Blogroll photography contest. This year’s contest is open to any member of the Atheist Blogroll, their family, friends or significant others. By request, I’ve also opened the contest up to members of the Atheist Nexus too. We have five categories this year.
  • Atheism/Religion
  • Travel and People
  • Self-Portrait
  • Altered Images
  • The Natural World

The deadline for submissions is September 15, 2009. Send your photographs as a .jpg file to the Atheist Blogroll.

Rules (like whether or not you can submit porn) and other info (like what the prizes are) are available on Deep Thoughts.

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My Mother's Words

This is a beautiful piece of writing by my mother, about her mother. My grandmother was a cult leader, and is still to this day an extreme narcissist, although now she has Alzheimer's and is not able to wreak the same level of damage on her fellow man.

Here are my mother's words:
One striking aspect of how our mother raised us was how actively she defined and described the world to us. Some of the time she would teach us things, perhaps when we were in the car on the way to school or to the grocery store. I remember a mini-lecture about the banking system when I was only about six, and a few years later one time when I was sick she told a clever story about antibodies. She described the white blood cells as little soldiers who willingly gave their lives as they defended the body against infection. She could also be funny and charming, and I can remember all of kids standing in a circle around her, laughing at some joke or story she had told. She enjoyed being the center of attention with us, just as she had with kids in high school and boys in college. And we enjoyed being the recipients of her performance.

But her verbal descriptions of the world went far beyond the times she told us jokes or taught us facts. She defined life to us. She told us what mattered and what didn’t. She told us what we thought and what we felt. She told us what we wanted – and she told us who we were. She told us everything we needed to know. And she seemed to imply that anything she didn’t tell us was something we didn’t need to know. As I recall my childhood, it’s as though she was providing a narration, almost a voice-over, for my entire life, creating for it the meaning and the purpose that she decreed.

And yet, much of the time when she was talking, what she was talking about was herself. She continually painted a verbal self-portrait for us, and anyone else who was listening, of who she was. She would mention, almost in passing and yet with great frequency, how smart she was. In her childhood she had been advanced two grades in school. Later, she had earned the highest GPA ever seen at her college. "And ‘smart’ is better than ‘pretty’ because it lasts longer," she would laughingly re-tell the tale of how she had made this remark to a casual friend, thus scoring points over the prettier, but much less bright other woman.

And she talked about her social successes, as well. How popular she had been in high school and college. How she had been engaged "five and a half times – I never was sure about that last one", before marrying our father. And she bragged, even while telling us not to make the same mistake, that in the bar where she had met our step-father "all the girls wanted him," but she was the only one who could catch him.

Most of all, though, I remember that she told us what a wonderful mother she was. She told us that she loved us. And she made it very clear that her love was somehow better, stronger, and more special than the love other mothers had for their children. She described her love for us in almost mythic terms. It was important to her that we know how lucky we were. And it was important to her that we respond by being very, very, grateful.

Since I have begun looking back through my life, and really thinking about all the things Mama said, about us and about her, it seems to me that in some ways her words were the best thing about her. The narration of her love served as a great source of comfort and reassurance to my young life. I was often lonely or afraid, but I could console myself with the powerful descriptions she had given me of her love and commitment to me. Her narration was like a warm river, surrounding us and promising to buffer us from the pains of life.

It has been extremely painful to give up this vision, this sense of having been valued and cared for. But, if I am honest with myself, I must now admit that while her words seemed warm and loving, her behavior was cool and distant. I can’t remember being hugged. I’m sure I was, at least sometimes. But I have almost no memories of ever being held or even touched, while I have what seem to be dozens of memories of standing near her, not wanting to impose on her or to be a burden, but still longing for her to reach over and hug me. And it has been a shock to realize that I can’t remember any times, through all the years of my childhood, of my mother looking me in the face. Of her making eye contact with me and choosing to interact with me, one-on-one, rather than as part of the crowd. She spoke to me individually sometimes, if I sought her out while she was washing the dishes or ironing clothes. But I can’t remember her ever turning away from her other activities to look at me.

She spoke her words of love and loyalty with great passion and warmth, but she said them from across a table, or when her arms were full, either with laundry or with my baby sister. I took her words to heart. I clung to them, I believed them. But they did not seem to actually come out the depths of her heart, and they did not heal the ache in my soul.

In the end, it feels like my mother’s description of her marvelous love for me was another way in which she was talking about herself, rather than about me. She spoke of her love in those glowing terms in order to prove what a wonderful mother she was, not in order to actually love me. At the time, I had the sense that her warm and loving narration was telling me my life story. But in some deep, confusing, yet terribly important way, she seemed to have left me out of my story, even then.

What struck me the most, I suppose is that those middle paragraphs describe exactly how I felt about God towards the end of my faith.
[I]t seems to me that in some ways [the Bible] words were the best thing about [God]... It has been extremely painful to give up this vision, this sense of having been valued and cared for. Even when I believed in a loving god, I didn't believe he loved me

My mom is a Christian, so she doesn't read my blog (she knows it's an anti-theist one). However, she said I could post this here, and I'll be sure to pass on any comments to her. Remember kiddies, it's not just what you say - it's what you do that matters.

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Monday, July 27, 2009

I need your suggestions!

Hey faithful readers! I'll be doing next week's Sunday School on Mother Theresa, so please nominate any good blogs, articles, or videos on the topic.

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"I try to never do that"

I have a a total girl-geek-crush on Rachel Maddow, but I was surprised to see her lose her cool in this brief clip about TX Gov. Rick Perry's opposition to healthcare reform.

The critical portion is from 1:40 to 3:40.

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Since I flew this week...

I was going to whine about it, but this video does a much better (and funnier!) job than I could.

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Sunday School

I've decided to add a new weekly feature here on ATAT offering Recommended Reading. Here are the best blog posts of the week, as stumbled upon by your local friendly anti-theist.

Keeping Track of Republican Sex Offenders - This post on Deep Thoughts details all the current Republican illicit sex scandals.

Idiot of the Week: Birthers - This regular feature on Atheist Revolution focuses on those conspiracy theorists who claim Obama's not a "real" American.

God Changes You - The Sunny Skeptic takes a hard look at SC Gov. Mark Sanford's recent OpEd on why he should stay in office, because *now* God will make him a good man.

Failure to Grasp the Point - The lovely and charming Heather of Why Don't You Blog? looks at crappy creationist explanations for human infant behavior.

Drink When Thirsty - Skeptical blogger Heaving Dead Cats (who wins my award for having the most punk rock garage band sounding name) looks at the science behind the recommendation to drink 64 oz. of water each day.

Post hoc ergo propter hoc - Cubik's Rube (another awesomely named blog) explores the logical fallacy "If A, then B".

Why Jimmy Carter left the Baptists - This post on Jerry's Blog explains why Jimmy Carter is a stand up feminist.

Wailing over the Veil - The HuffingtonPost takes on the issue of the hijab and burqa.

Say What? - I adore Cake Wrecks, a completely untheistic blog about when cake decorating goes horribly, hilariously wrong. I also recommended the Hello Kitty post for the excellent Zombie Hello Kitty.

That's all for this week's Sunday School. If there's another great blog (atheist or other) you think merits a feature in next week's Sunday School, comment below or email me with the perma link.

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

With Friends Like This...

Well, there seems to be a new one every week, a Christian who claims atheism is a kind of faith. So let's parse this nonsense and explain again the chasm of distinction between belief and non-belief. (You'd think it would be so obvious they aren't the same thing, but you'd be surprised.)

Irish Times Op-Ed writer Breda O'Brien claims
Atheists often appeal to science to underwrite their disbelief, but the decision not to believe in God lies ultimately in the arena of gut feeling, or hunch, or intuition. That decision is something that the scientific method cannot arbitrate on.
Oh, I see. So it's just a "gut feeling". Well, that is a good description of faith - an ultimately emotionally driven institution. When I believed I did so because I'd been indoctrinated as a child, and then later on as a young adult, because I desperately wanted it to be true. There was no evidence, no proof, no real good logical defense for my belief. I just felt it; I felt such certainty I thought I knew it was true, although if you'd asked me why I'd have been pressed to defend my belief. I probably would've have said it was a matter of faith, if forced to have such a conversation at all. I certainly would not have presumed to understand atheism.

The author goes on to assert that
The decision to live as if there isn’t a god requires a leap of faith, as does the decision to live as if there is. Religious people and atheists have a great deal in common. And now that Irish atheists are banding together, planning good works and hoping to influence Irish society, it looks more and more like a religion.
Because after all, sleeping in on Sunday morning requires so much investment! Seriously though, saying "I don't know, but there's no real evidence" doesn't require faith. Saying, "I know there's a God, and I know what he wants, and he wants me to worship him"? That requires faith. Undoubtedly. Can you see how those are not truly equivalent though? Stating a positive claim ("There is a god") asserts that something is true. And, as Tracy often says on The Atheist Experience, "Things which exist manifest in reality." Since there are NO manifestations of a supernatural all-powerful deity in our reality (zip, zero, zilch, nada, nein, none), disbelief seems only rational. It is not the same as asserting the positive claim "There is NO god". Lack of evidence is not necessarily evidence of lack. But I have to say it seems more likely to me.

That said, although I blog about it regularly here and on Atheist Nexus, I'm not so invested in my atheism I'd be unwilling to chance my stance. If I was presented with sufficient evidence, I would discontinue my disbelief, and have to accept the existence of whatever deity was proven. (Whether or not I'd worship a god would be entirely dependent on the character, attributes, and actions of said deity.) It is rather rich of the author to try to hijack secular good works as making atheism "more and more like religion". That might be a more valid argument to make if atheists were say, depriving their children of medical care or killing them for demon possession. Those actions really are more and more like religion.

Our author now claims to have many atheist friends. This gives me de ja vu thinking of racists who always preface their comments with, "One of my best friends is black!" In quoting an atheist friend, the author misrepresents Richard Dawkins by suggesting
Dawkins takes the Bible as literally as any Protestant fundamentalist. The only point of disagreement is that Dawkins finds it unreliable about science, whereas fundamentalists do not.
This is categorically false. What Dawkins does do is illustrate through a literalist, non-apologist reading of the Bible (which is what your typical American non-theologically trained Christian will do) that if the character of Yawhew was real, He'd be a right immoral prick. The quote she is almost certainly referring to is from The God Delusion
The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.
And you know what? He's got a really valid point going on here. (See my comment above re: Even if a god exists, it might not be worthy of so abject a thing as worship.)

The author next claims new atheists don't care about the poor, human rights, or justice, and that we are instead content to blame everything that's wrong in the world on religion. (Join Atheist Nexus on Kiva, as the largest "religious group" micro-lender!) Finally, religious atrocities are brushed aside as nothing more than a "dark side" of this era, and in no way actually the responsibility of organized religion. As a closing (clumsy) shot the author quips
With apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma !, the atheist and religious person can be friends.
Well yes, obviously. I don't know a single atheist who doesn't have at least some theist friends. In this country for instance, over 80% of the population claims to be a follower of some kind of faith. The question isn't whether or not atheists can be friends with religious people. The question should be, why on earth would they want to be friends with Breda O'Brien?

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Chatting with a Mormon Missionary: Take 7

In this week's installment, I'll be posing as Andrew, a married man whose wife doesn't want him to convert to LDS.

You are speaking live with Jule', who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Information provided in this session is to provide assistance only and is not an official statement of the Church.

Jule': His this is Jule' and Kenzi, how can we help you?

Me: Hi I'm really interested in the Church of LDS, but my wife has a lot of hesitations.

Jule': What can we do to help?

Me: Well, I wanted some reassurance for her that she won't be treated any differently if she's a member of this church. She's a science teacher at a local community college, and wants to keep working. Also, she doesn't want to have children.

Jule': God will provide a way for everything to work out for the best if you follow his teachings.
(Is this seriously the best response you can come up with?)

Me: well, can you answer some marriage and family life questions for me?

Jule': Of course we can.
(Then why did you give me that craptastic pat answer before?)

Me: Do many women in LDS work in academic careers?
(Long pause...)

Jule': I don't know an exact number, but many women in the church have very academic careers and degrees.

Me: Excellent. That's certainly a relief.
She's been worried I would ask her to give up her career to become a stay-at-home mother.

Jule': Education is highly encouraged in our religion.

Me: Really? It seems to me that most LDS youth are encouraged to engage in missionary work, rather than seeking a college degree.
(Cause who needs an education when the rapture's on its way?)

Jule': They are encouraged to do both. Education is stronly advised for both men and women.

Me: So they go to college while doing missionary work, or beforehand?

Jule': Usually afterwards, but some go for a little before they leave on a mission. I personally received my Associates Degree and will work on my Bachelor's when I get home.
(Good for you honey! College=good, unless of course it's BYU.)

Me: Are you a woman?

Jule': Yes

Me: Do you think it's okay for a woman in LDS to never have children - on purpose?

Jule': It's a personal decision between a husband, wife and God.
(God, in LDS, talks only to male prophets, so that's sort of like giving hubby two votes, including the veto power.)

Me: Would other members of the church look down on her for not wanting children? This is a really big concern for her.

Jule': People are different. It depends on the people in the area, but we are encouraged not to look down on anyone and love everyone no matter the choices they make.
(That sounds so sweet - you'd never guess the Mormon church spent oodles on making sure gay Californians couldn't get married!)

Me: She says that women in LDS have fewer opportunities, and that she wants to be free to dress, think, and behave as she wants. What do you think?

Jule': We are not given any fewer opportunities than anyone else. I'm not quite sure what you mean by the think and behave part of the question though.

Me: Well, what are the rules or sort of guidelines for women in LDS?

Jule': The same rules apply to the men as to the women.

Me: But, since I'm head of the household, obviously some things will be different. I mean, I get the final say, right?
(I'm sure she'll say no to this now, but later on when I ask if I should just convert anyway and threaten to leave my wife if she doesn't follow suit, we'll see how she responds then.)

Jule': That's up to you and your wife. You must council together in all family decisions.

Me: What about within the church? I know women are not prophets. Are there other things women can't be?

Jule': Women aren't prophets, bishops, preists, or hold the preisthood.
That's the only difference.

Me: That seems like a pretty big difference, lol.
Does the Church have an official stance on birth control?
(I asked this of a guy in Take ___ and want to see)

Jule': it is a big difference. ha

Me: So how does that difference play out? Are there women who want to be bishops? What happens then?

Jule': no the church doesn't have an official stance on birthcontrol, but if your wondering if it is acceptable, it is.
i don't know of that problem ever arising. as women, we accept and support the men as the leadership of the church.
andrew, we have to go, could we transfer you to someone who will continue to answer your questions?

Me: Yes please

Jule': ok. it was nice talking to you, hopefully we were able to help you out. have a nice day!

Me; Thanks so much for your time

Jule': Has transferred you to:

You are speaking live with Brent, who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Information provided in this session is to provide assistance only and is not an official statement of the Church.

Brent: Hello Andrew

Me: Hi Brent, how are you?
(Pause while he catches up on reading prior conversation)

Brent: Not too bad. How are you doing today?

Me: Good. I'm interested in LDS, but my wife has concerns.

Brent: Ok I will see if I can help you out. Where would you like to start?

Me: Well, she wonders about why only men are in priesthood or leadership positions in the Church.

Brent: That is a very valid concern. I will see if I can help you out.
The women in the church do have leadership positions, they just have different authority and different responsibilities.
(Different = lesser)

Me: Different how?

Brent: Well in the church there is the priesthood, which as I think you know is only men. However there is the Relief Society for women.
That link describes more what the relief society is

Me: Okay, so it's essentially charity and missionary work.
But not leadership or doctrinal teaching, right?

Brent: Well. During a typical Sunday service there are 3 meetings (Sacrament, Sunday School and Pristhood/Relief Society). Each ward has a "Relief Society Presidency" which oversees the Relief Society

Me: And that Presidency is run by women, right?

Brent: Does that make sense?
It is.

Me: Yes, I think so. Sacrament for all (overseen by men), Sunday School for all (taught by men and women, I think) and Relief Society for women
But no woman could ever become a member of the priesthood, even if she was well-read in the Book of Mormon and the Bible?

Brent: Yes that is correct. Sunday school is often team-taught (husband and father). For instance my mother and father teach a class together. But it isn't always that way
Correct, the priesthood is reserved for men, however women are blessed because of the priesthood. You cannot use the priesthood for yourself, only for others. So women in a sense have the priesthood through their husbands if they are worthy

Me: Worthy?

Brent: In order to have the priesthood, you must be worthy (keep the commandments, pay tithing, obey the word of wisdom, etc.)

Me: Okay, well I think you've answered my questions on priesthood. I have a few other questions though.
What is the LDS view on evolution?

Brent: We don't have one.

Me: Does BYU teach science courses?

Brent: They do, but I am not familiar with those courses, you would have to look at BYU website

Me: Okay. I just know that evolution is the foundation of all science (bio, chemistry, etc.) so that's a big concern of my wife's

Brent: Andrew I have to run, but can I transfer you again to someone else (sorry about all the transferring)

Me: No, that's okay. I'll try again another day.
(I've got places to be and things to do.)

Brent: Ok. Thank you for your time and concerns. Come back any time
Have a great day!

Me: You too :)

Massive image credits goes to the site Salamander Society

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Process of Conversion

So today I'd like to discuss another of the lovely UCG booklets - this one on "Transforming Your Life: The Process of Conversion". This lovely little pamphlet explains how you know whether or not you (or more likely your neighbor) are a "true Christian" or whether Jesus will say "I never knew you". As a once-thoroughly converted Christian and current happy apostate, I'm eager to begin.

First, readers are told that conversion is
a miraculous, lifetransforming process - a process that is impossible without the direct, active intervention and participation of God.
Then we get the "free will" argument (that God values our free will more than he values our salvation, or preventing us from spending eternity being tortured in a hell he created) presented thus:
Although He clearly encourages humans to "choose life" (Deuteronomy 30:19), God does not force anyone to make the right choice. But, as we shall soon see, the consequences of our choices are enormous.
Ah, the "mercy" of Gawd is evident all around us. Now we get to the heart of the matter - an introduction to the step-by-step process of conversion, and the end result.

The process beings with God's calling, followed by the key steps of repentance, baptism, and the receiving of the Holy Spirit - finally climaxing witht he return of Jesus Christ, when the dead in Christ are resurrected to immortality and given eternal life. That is the ultimate transformation, being changed from a mortal to an immortal being! (emphasis added)

Repentance is a big favorite in Christianity, because the entire theology is based on the presupposition that we are all guilty of something which requires forgiveness (or atonement, or death, depending on your denomination's interpretation of Scripture). And of course baptism gives the clergy early inroads into the lives of their follower's children. The oddest thing about baptism to me is its early roots in death and drowning (which is why some groups still prefer a good ole fashioned dunking to the sprinkling of infant baptisms). I myself was baptized in a swimming pool when I was 7, after begging my mom to let me do it. My sister had been baptized in the lake behind a friend's house the summer before, and I was definitely jealous. Looking back, that doesn't seem to be the best of all possible motives for a baptism, but hey what can you expect from a 7 year old?

As for receiving the Holy Spirit, I gotta say I tried my hardest but the damn spook just wouldn't show up. I cried and prayed, fasted, read my Bible, yadda yadda. Basically none of my rain dancing for Yahweh yielded so much as a drop of spiritual renewal. I was quite relieved to discover that the non-existence of the Holy Spirit probably had more to do with this failure than any lack of faith or effort on my part.

But the mortal -> immortal aspect is one that wasn't taught in any denomination or church I belonged to. In fact the exact quote that was used (ad naseum) by my grandmother was, "We're all gonna live forever. Somewhere." So the idea that only converted Christians will experience immortality kind of flies in the face of the hell doctrine, don't it just? I think here's one the Mormons would really disagree on. (See Chatting with Mormons 5 for a discussion on the eternal nature of man from an LDS-persepective!)

After the introduction, we get warned that not all Christians are True Christians(TM).
Most groups that profess to be Christian represent themselves as having a "calling," as being the "chosen" of the Lord. Even many non-Christian religious groups regard themselves as divinely chosen.
I love the absolute conceit - wow even non-Christians think they're chosen by god! Of course they do. What religion would anyone take seriously that claimed to be NOT chosen by their preferred deity? Who would attend the church or mosque or synagogue that advertised "God doesn't visit here"? The authors reassure readers that we can discern which groups have it right, "If we are willing to take an honest look at the facts and accept the truth revealed in the Scriptures". sadly, accepting scripture as truth, and taking an honest look at facts, are inherently antithetical propositions. The "facts" put forth by the pamphlet are
Jesus Christ is real. He was resurrected. He is alive. And His impact on the world has exceeded that of every other man who has ever lived.

Wow - all the unsupported claims you can throw a stick at! (Is this a Southern-only phrase? I happen to love it, in part because it makes so little sense.) Okay, so as my atheist readers have surely yelled at their monitors by now, yes of course, none of those are proven "factual" at all. I don't personally care if Jesus existed as a historical figure or not, but the mere fact that it is unprovable is interesting.

Now we come to an example of the inherent contradictions of the gospel message.
God's desire is to give salvation - eternal life - to all mankind. "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved" (John 3:17)
Sounds groovy, right? Eternal life seems cool (till you think it through) and a benevolent god that wants to save us all sounds rather giving as well. Oh, but wait! There's a bait-and-switch up ahead.
To become acceptable to God, all must recognize and accept God's Word as the main source of truth.
Hmmmmmm... So, he wants to save you, but only once you've become "acceptable" by taking a bunch of really outlandish supernatural and scientifically and statistically improbable stories as your main source of truth. Since the Bible gets a pretty large FAIL grade on Science, I'm gonna have to stay unsaved.

Regarding the need for repentance, our author reminds us that
Peter explained that every human being bears responsibility for Christ's death - not just the Roman soldiers or the small group of Jews who arrested and brought Jesus to trial.
Peter almost sounds like as much of a dick as Paul here, doesn't he? I've got a 3 year old. He's responsible for a lot of mayhem in my life and my landlord's - flooding the bathroom, coloring on the walls, throwing food off his high chair - but he certainly bears no responsibility in the public execution of a possibly fictitious rabbi thousands of years ago. That's a bit of a heavy burden for such a small guy, and it continues to be preposterous as we age. But hey - when did religion make sense?

Satan is credited with a whole host of accomplishments.
Satan has wielded tremendous - but not absolute - power over humanity (2 Corinthians 4:4). His role in shaping our world's entertainment, education, politics, advertising, and moral standards has been enormous.
Kind of makes God seem neutered, doesn't it? I'll never again comprehend the position of an all-powerful God getting his ass kicked on a daily basis by one of his own creations. (And then there's the whole, why doesn't he just annihilate Satan already?) Now we get into the issue of repentance.
When we repent we stop doing what is wrong and start living in harmony with God's ways and laws... Repentance should include a sense of sorrow and shame, but genuine, heart felt repentance is much more than simply an emotion. Our lives much change.
This is probably why I was such a shitty Christian. Sinning is just way too much fun! Besides, sorrow and shame are pretty crap emotions to have over the course of years. I can't tell you how many Sunday mornings I spent crying in church over the fun I'd had the night before.

The next section of the booklet, "What is Sin?" will clarify for my readers exactly why I enjoy sinning so very much. According to UCG's pamphleteers, sin is
[God] says that sin is trangressing His holy, spiritual law (Romans 7:12-14). Breaking that law - crossing that divine boundary, that limit God set for us - is sin.
God has a lot of laws, according to the Bible, including how to treat your slaves (but no prohibtion against owning other people), when to stone your children (when they don't obey you), how to treat rape victims (force them to marry their rapists!), and the penalties for working on the Sabbath (you guessed it - death, unless of course you're Jeezy Creezy).

A comment box within this section attempts to answer "What is Wrong With Our Human Nature?" by proposing
  1. Our fleshly desires get us into trouble
  2. We look for ways to justify our wants and actions
  3. "We have a natural tendancy to resent having our fleshly desires limited by rules"
I have to say I thoroughly agree with the third point. I mean, I know I sure as heck resent when theocrats try to impose their rules on my desires, like my desire to have sex or not get stoned to death for getting a divorce or working (or sleeping in) on the Sabbath.

Next we get to baptism. Here the death-yen of Christianity becomes apparent.
[Baptism] represents death, burial and resurrection - both of Jesus and ourselves. Baptism shows that we accept the shed blood of Christ for our sins and pictures the death of our former life in the baptismal grave.
Cheery stuff, eh? Kind of thing you want to expose your children too, right? Their need to die to become acceptable? Yeah, me neither.

Finally we get to the Holy Spirit - the missing part of my own conversion. (Side note: I first said the sinner's prayer in my grandmother's bedroom at the ripe old age of 3, and after responded to at least 20 alter calls I can distinctly remember at revivals, Bible camps, youth events, and church services. Yet the spook never showed.) Now the UCG folks apparently aren't believers in the Trinity Doctrine. The booklet author points out that the word "Trinity" doesn't appear in the Bible, and states
One cannot prove something from the Bible that is not biblical. The Bible is our only reliable source of divine revelation and truth, and the Trinity concept simply is not part of God's revelation to humankind. The Holy Spirit, rather than a distinct person, is described in the Bible as being God's divine power.
Huh, so maybe I really was saved! Oh wait, duh, never mind. So, rather than being imbuing Christians with one third of God's own self (like I was taught, as a good little Pentecostal), the Spirit supposedly
  • Keeps us in contact with God (and maybe the Tooth Fairy, while he's at it)
  • Makes sense of the Bible (oh come now, no one can do that!)
  • Makes all things possible (how about hiking the Mariana's Trench without gear?)
  • Produces Godly fruit (see my thoughts on Spiritual Fruit here)
  • Provides comfort (but not food for starving children in third-world countries)
Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure I can get by just fine without the big HG, as God's power or as one aspect of a triune godhead. Either way, I'm cool as is.

In conclusion, the author urges us to read our Bibles. Now I honestly don't know any Christians who read their Bibles as faithfully as your average atheist. And a lot of former-Christian atheists like myself will point out that reading the Bible is exactly what led them to disbelief in the first place. Bible contradictions can be found here, here, here, and here. And that was just with one Google search. If I had more time (and didn't need to pee) I'd include more.

So once again gentle readers, we find that propaganda requires no proof, and claims of "facts" go unsupported.
And here is the rest of it.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

So I'm in Minneapolis, MN right now, and I have to say this place has an undeserved reputation for being dull.. Each time I mentioned to a fellow passenger in the airport or on a plane where I was headed for vacation, the response was invariably the same. "Why do you wanna go there?"

At the moment I'm sitting in a free wi-fi independently owned health-conscious coffee shop/bar drinking some of the best lemonade I've ever head, and munching on an organic sesame seed bagel. Last night I toured around the city with my friend Chitlin, walking across historic bridges and having a fantastic Singapore Sling at the local live-music bar 501 Club after dinner at the Bulldog. Granted, I'm here in July when it's not a frozen tundra, but the local music scene is alive and well here, as well as a lot of political activism and community gardening.

I have to give a brief "shout out" (why oh why isn't there a better phrase for this?) to two closet-atheists I met in the Charlotte, NC airport. So, hi Eric and hi Leigh. Thanks for passing the layover time with me, and I hope your destinations are fun and exciting. Remember to check out to find more atheists in your Bible belt home communities to get together with.

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

Demons in the Night

I've had insomnia since I was about 7 years old. I have the kind where it's difficult to fall asleep, no matter how tired I am. I've tried just about every trick and technique you can imagine over the years. Lots of exercise, throughout the day; exercise in the morning and cool off at night to keep my heart rate low; exercise at night only; and total couch potato. High fiber, high protein, low carb, low calorie. I've tried meditation and guided imagery, relaxing music, candles, and bubble baths. I've eaten foods to encourage serotonin and melatonin; foods like pineapple, yogurt, bananas, and warm milk. Needless to say, not much has worked.

It's ultimately fear of nightmares that keeps me awake. Going to sleep when my anxiety levels are high just isn't worth it. I could spend the hours tossing and turning, continuing to feel worse, or I could watch TV on Hulu, play sudoku at USA Today, catch up on Atheist Experience and Pat Condel videos on YouTube, join discussions at Atheist Nexus and, catch up on liberal news via Huffington Post and the less liberal AP, or just listen to music while playing on Popcap or Jigzone. Anything but getting caught inside my own brain.

Have I mentioned that anxiety sucks? I've actually got a pretty good handle on it, but trying to avoid the feeling of being anxious is a job itself. I think my anxiety started as soon as I was old enough to understand the word "demon". My childhood nightmares were never boogy men or witches. I didn't even know what mummies or zombies were, because I wasn't allowed to participate in Halloween or read scary stories.

The first time I called someone to my room at night to investigate the creature under my bed, it wasn't a monster I feared (like in "Where the Wild Things Are") but a demon. A shadow moving across the wall, a prickling feeling of being watched, bad thoughts in my head. We weren't allowed to confess to any fear (part of the "Word of Faith" idea - no "negative confessions", so I couldn't really talk to anyone about my fears and anxieties. I'd been taught to fear the world, and it worked, but now admitting that would be the same as spitting in God's eye. I had to ignore my fear away (just like pain, sadness, or any other emotion I had as a child). Kind of not surprising really, I'm still not great at dealing with bad dreams, or thinking about how I feel frightened. It's much more soothing to just keep myself distracted, and the internet is great for that.

And people say religion does no harm. Puh-lease.

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Bible Study

I have two relationships with the Bible - a physical one and an emotional one. I have carried a Bible in my left hand, felt its weight against my side, touched the light, cool, thin pages of it, tracing my finger below each line of verse, trying to translate in my head from the King James Version. I have flipped its pages back and forth, gripped its leather cover, rifled through the tabs on the side when following the minister, and rubbed my thumb across my gold embossed name on the face of it. There's something distinct about the physical shape and nature of a KJV. I've yet to come across any other book that thick and that flexible. What else is bound in leather? It's heavy, which is easy to mistake with being weighty.

Then there's how I've felt about it or while reading it, over the decades. The Bible is the first book I ever read as a child. I still like old English enough to enjoy the sound of the Bible, and the taste of some of the more poetic words. I also think being immersed in that tongue as a young child made Shakespeare much more accessible as a poetically inclined teen. In so much of life growing up in a rather odd religious sect I find that I miss out on cultural ties. I didn't watch the same TV shows or listen to any of the music my peers did as kids in the 80s and 90s. But I know the Bible stories. And those are rather well known, at least the ones that make good illustrations, like Noah's Ark. Besides, I really enjoy the little details they throw into the writing of Kings. They're inside stories for someone familiar with the Biblical story of David and Saul.

As a small child I loved the fables and folk tales of many cultures. I thought that by reading the stories they told themselves, I could understand them better. The knee-jerk hatred I felt towards the Bible during the early months of my atheism is gone now. I don't think it's true, and I think it's used to commit horrible crimes about people, but I still like the fact that I understand the culture and I can speak the language. I know their fables.

I want my son to have that knowledge, but not the cost of gaining it. I don't think I would know the tiny Old Testament story details that I do if the Old Testament hadn't been the first book I ever read. I may not have found Shakespeare appealing without early exposure to the literary style. And I doubt I'd have any real insight into American Christianity if I hadn't been raised in it. Those benefits can't justify the price. No other book has caused me to feel so much so intently. Fear, shame, excitement, incredulity, amusement, humility, desolation, solitude, companionship, comfort, humiliation, and self-loathing.

When stressing to me that Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons aren't "real Christians", an acquaintance said to me, "It's annoying that they would just change the book or write their own and then still call it the same religion. They just stole ours." Of course, that's exactly what Christianity did to Judaism, and one reason to suppose that Christianity used to be nothing more than a weird little cult in Jerusalem.

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