Saturday, December 23, 2006

But I've Never Seen Mommy Kissing Jesus

The Christians have hijacked Christmas.

Many atheists, I among them, would argue that Krissmuhs is the most secular of holidays, a celebration of human excesses. In the primeval parts of our brains, we are pleased once again that the sun has decided not to disappear; it’s definitely rebounding, if ever so slowly, from the solstice. Not being a god any more, our very own star, rising in the east, does not—and cannot—give a goddamn about what we eat, drink, smoke, say, or do during our week-long hedonistic extravaganza.

Up until recently, I had no trouble wishing friends and acquaintances a Merry Krissmuhs or a Happy Holiday. I used the phrases interchangeably, occasionally throwing in a Chanukah greeting to keep things kosher with those who are practicing Jews. Now, however, some Christians, mostly clerks in stores, feel compelled to correct me when I say “Happy Holiday,” carefully enunciating their “Merry Christmas” in a school-marmish tone, as if reprimanding a child. How dare I forget that it’s their fairy godfather’s birthday.

Still, I continue to think that Yule is cool—although I’m becoming increasingly uncomfortable about Santa Claus. Clearly, he’s a watered down, albeit bulked up, substitute for god. Belief in him is practice for a lifetime of unreason. Get your kids swallowing unquestioningly the existence of a magical being, and faith in a supernatural meddler will smoothly follow.

The similarities are everywhere, and segueing from one to another is child’s play. Santa gives lovely presents; god gives his loving presence (which, as any youngster or heathen can tell you, is clearly no substitute for something you can actually see, touch, and play with). Santa has elves for helpers; god has angels and evangelicals. If Santa gets pissed off at you, he leaves coal in your stocking; if god gets pissed off at you, he sends you to hell for eternity—not anywhere near as awful a tragedy as not getting the toy you wanted.

Obviously, both guys have beards, although Santa’s is better groomed. They are similarly fixated on baked goods: Santa likes to eat cookies when he visits you; Jesus likes to convert bread into pieces of his body and have you eat them when you visit him. Each one cares inordinately about whether a person has been good or bad. For Santa, good and bad are fairly easy to define. God, on the other hand (the one that does not have the whole world in it), is a little more arbitrary. For instance, it might, in some circumstances, be a righteous act to pull your little sister’s hair or talk back to your teacher. The children of Israel, soldiers of Christ, and disciples of Allah have been free—even urged—to commit far worse atrocities in god’s name and for his dishonorable honor. Whether you’re naughty or nice depends upon the criteria set forth by the particular witch doctor you’ve chosen, who passes along the judgmental word from on high.

To be fair to Santa, though, he actually seems to enjoy his job; god’s not having any fun at all. Santa would dig into a Krissmuhs feast with raucous good cheer; Jesus, his homemade wine notwithstanding, would be a drag to have as a holiday guest. Santa asks no quid pro quo for his gifts; god insists that you worship him or you get zip. And most importantly, Santa would never dream of giving you his sleigh with which to commit mischief, while god has no compunction whatsoever about offering his believers airplanes and missiles to perpetrate whatever evils they desire.

Which of these characters is more likely to represent peace on Earth and goodwill toward men? With Santa in mind, despite my reservations about him, I wish my readers a Merry Krissmuhs. To the adults who have chosen the far more unpleasant myth, I say: Get your hands off my happy holiday.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Where Is H.L. Mencken When We Need Him?

Mojoey over at Deep Thoughts has created an Atheist Blogroll, listing over 100 sites of interest to us nonbelievers. I’m proud and pleased to be included.

I don’t disply his whole list here, however, because I don’t find every one of those blogs interesting. I’m particularly bored by two kinds of subject matter:

The Same Scientific Arguments for Evolution
Those of us who are gonna get it, already get it. There’s no point in repeating the same facts, over and over, ad nauseam, as if some fundamentalist from the blogosphere is going to stumble across one of our pages, smack him- or herself in the head, and say, “Oh, now I see!”

Most of us atheists have grabbed the mantle of science and wrapped ourselves in it. But, let’s face it: it’s not necessary to be an expert in biology, geology, paleontology, zoology, or any other kind of –ology to be reasonably certain that nature’s ways do not need the overlay of a higher power. Most of us are just not qualified to rattle off scientific evidence to academic poseurs. While I, for instance, love and admire books like The Selfish Gene and Darwin’s Dangerous Idea—to name just two of dozens I’ve read on the subject—and like to think that I’m fairly well-versed in neo-Darwinian studies, I’m not convinced that I’ve digested all the complex data to the point where I can speak persuasively on a theoretical level, a la Dawkins or Dennett. Nor am I interested in doing so. Why would I be, when they’ve already done the job so eloquently themselves? If a creationist hasn’t had an “aha” moment by now, I’m not likely to be the one who’ll open his or her non-created eyes. And, pssst. Neither are you.

Because really, it’s almost 150 years since the publication of The Origin of Species. I don’t think it’s necessary to follow every single argument presented by the scientific community since then to accept the overwhelming evidence against Genesis, just as I don’t believe one needs to have studied meteorology to suspect that Zeus has nothing to do with thunderbolts. Although I’ve long forgotten Newton’s formulas and have only a dim understanding of Einstein’s improvements to them, I still know that if I trip at the top of a flight of stairs, I will wind up, somehow, at the bottom—and that the cause of my fall will be the attraction of gravity, not sin. But don’t ask me to prove this with well-articulated theory; my intelligence was not designed that way. That’s why I’m happy to leave the fine points of science to the scientists, particularly those rare few who write wittily and well.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t be vigilant in selecting our school boards and other educational leaders. We must fight the theocrats whenever necessary. But we don’t have to keep re-enacting the Scopes trial amongst ourselves, do we?

Philosophical Disputations with Believers
Give it up! It’s a waste of time! The Christian Nation is not reading your Letters to them with any intent to ponder your ideas. They know the Truth; it’s printed in their bibles and whatever-elses they use to spread the god meme from generation to generation. Most of us wouldn’t consider spending even five minutes explaining why we feel that “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” isn’t true. Yet, many of us atheists love nothing better than to score illusory intellectual points against the moronarchists.

But faith always trumps facts, because it’s shown to its best advantage when the facts contradict it. So while we may find it great fun to yammer on about the ontological, cosmological, teleological, and other arguments for the existence of god, and to try to blow them up in the believers’ smug faces—really, whom are we kidding? Most religious folk do not have a love of, or even a casual affection for, wisdom. They wouldn’t recognize a philosophical argument if it bit them in the metaphysical ass.

We all know (or we should) that our blogs are, for the most part, read by one another. Let’s try to entertain and enlighten ourselves, to call for political or legal action when it’s necessary, and to share the hilarious and/or frightening idiocy that greets us every day. Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that we can hawk our wares in the so-called free marketplace of ideas, when we’ve really just found ourselves stuck in the medieval bazaar of ignorance.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Brainwashed in the Blood of the Lamb

The Friendly Atheist has improved a chart from Newhouse News Service, showing the religious affiliations of the members of Congress. The list includes Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and Unaffiliateds, but it’s mostly made up—as you probably guessed—of followers separating themselves into umpteen Christian sects. I’ll wait here while you look over the FA's great work.

The question is: what criteria have our elected representatives used to choose their particular religious paths? The answer in most cases, I suspect, is the accident of birth.

But Richard Dawkins, the current darling of atheists, delights in pointing out that there’s clearly no such thing as a Christian child, or a Jewish child, or a Muslim child, etc.. Children are not competent to profess belief in a worldview that favors any particular system of religiosity. Hence, there are only children of Christian parents, Jewish parents, Muslim parents, and parents indoctrinating their offspring into any of the other myriad superstitions now plaguing the Earth.

In other words, chances are good that most of our congresspriests learned what their religious affiliations were well before they had the intellectual wherewithal—and, let’s face it, many of them will never have it—to think about their chosen beliefs. They were brainwashed, conditioned to salivate at the mere mention of certain magic words like “Jesus,” “Adonai,” or “Allah;” as adults, they continue to drool. Unfortunately, their slobber permeates the pages of the country’s law books.

It might be instructive—or at least fun—if someone could get our politicians to take a few minutes off from their pious dribbling to answer the following brief questionnaire:
1. What would you say is the central “message” that defines your specific religious sect?
2. Would you articulate two or three differences between your selected religion and some of the others listed on the chart?
3. What advantages do you think your colleagues reap by practicing their religions instead of yours?
4. Still, why do you think your religion is the best?
5. If you don’t think it’s the best, why don’t you convert?
6. If you don’t think it would make any difference whether you converted or not, why do you bother to list a religious affiliation at all?
7. Where do you find evidence in the Constitution that the government should prefer your particular sect to any of the others, or to none?

That last question is a ringer: it can’t be answered by any words other than “nowhere.”

My proposal: Only those elected officials who could respond spontaneously and publicly to the questionnaire, without prompting or preparation, should ever be allowed to mention religion, directly or circuitously, in Congress again.

The result would be far from perfect, but it might get some of the holy mouth-water off those law pages.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Person of the Year

The atheist limelight has been grabbed this year by Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, and, to a slightly lesser extent, by Julia Sweeney. Clearly, there's no denying that these champions of rationality are all worthy of our secular adoration.

But as far as I’m concerned, the person who has done the most in 2006 to wake people up to the sins of the theocrats is a New York Times business reporter named Diana B. Henriques. Whether or not she’s an atheist herself is immaterial, although, god doesn’t know, I wish she were. In fact, her short bio on The Times’s Web site specifically references her lengthy religious history, stating that “throughout her life, she has been an active member of various Protestant congregations, serving for several years as an elder at a suburban Presbyterian church and currently serving as the senior warden at an urban Episcopal church in New Jersey.” The blurb makes her sound like she’s a sects addict, for heaven's sake. Since New York Times staff bios do not generally refer to a journalist’s church-going record, obviously this information is included about Henriques so that readers will not be able to dismiss her reportage as the work of some heathen crank.

Henriques’s crusade against holy thievery began with a five-part series, “In God’s Name,” that ran from October 8th through 11th, with its final entry on the 20th. These articles, as The Times says, “examine how American religious organizations benefit from an increasingly accommodating government.” The reporter has now coauthored another feature that appears in today's paper. After six such efforts, she might look over her accomplishments and rest contentedly, as a lazy deity would. But I’m prophesying that there’s more to come; perhaps a good book is in the works.

The titles of Henriques’s articles ought to be enough to get us heathen cranks weeping and gnashing our teeth:
* Religion Trumps Regulation as Legal Exemptions Grow
* Where Faith Abides, Employees Have Few Rights
* As Religious Programs Expand, Disputes Rise Over Tax Breaks
* Religion-Based Tax Breaks: Housing to Paychecks to Books
* Ministry’s Medical Program Is Not Regulated
* Religion for Captive Audience, with Taxpayers Footing the Bill
She’s not writing only about the recent faith-bait initiatives here. Some of the laws she cites have been on the books for more than a decade. The promulgators of superstition have been riding the gravy train for a long time, and the conductors have come from both major parties.

Here’s a link to the Dec. 10 article. The first five installments are also just a click away. There are some nifty graphics you ought to check out, as well.

The Times, unlike most of Henriques’s subjects, is not a tax-free charity; it doesn’t keep its stories online for free very long. If you’re interested, you’d better read or download these gems quickly.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Oh, So That's What They Mean by a "Yule Log"

Fundies have gotten their edible panties in a twist over a new product called “pornaments.”

You can easily picture what these decorations are: humping snowpeople, gingerbread folks with anatomically correct parts, randy reindeer in a state of arousal, teddy bear masters and slaves. We’re not talking about great wit here, just some sex-crazed seasonal characters, good for a laugh if you’re tired of “Scrooged.”

I found out about these items on an alarmist news broadcast tonight. It seems that the religious community is up in arms over the defilement of Christmas. In the most grave voice imaginable, the anchor told us that these foul things were allegedly for sale at Spencer’s Gifts in the local malls. In case we couldn’t conjure up our own visions of these sugar plums, pictures of the products were flashed on the screen, albeit with the private parts tastefully blurred. The message was spelled out: area children are in grave danger. Ginger-penises and snow-vaginas are lying in wait for our kids on merchants’ shelves.

Now, anyone who has ever walked into a Spencer’s knows that toddlers are not its targeted clientele. There are all kinds of sexual and scatological silliness for sale, the type of stuff that gives the giggles to eighth-graders. The store’s most sophisticated offerings are machines that make fart-sounds.

In the past, if I remember correctly, Spencer’s got lots of triple X-mas mileage out of nutcrackers—get it?—and various printed jokes about elves’ endowments. Pornaments seemed to be a natural, and I’m kicking myself for not having thought of them myself.

Of course, I had to rush to my computer to see these little horny devils for myself. Lo and behold, however, Spencer’s has yanked them from its web site: “There are no products matching your search.” In other words, there’s no more room at the bin.

Perhaps the pornaments are temporarily sold out. Far more likely, though, is that Spencer’s has been unduly pressured by the easily-offended American Christian taliban, who brook no competition from commercial establishments in spreading seasonal unpleasantness. Rev. Jim Patterson of the Hillcrest Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida said, “It is just sad they have to stoop to this kind of thing to defame Christmas. It says we are nothing more than sexual acts or physical beings and we are much more than that. We are spiritual beings and this is a spiritual holiday. And, why bring it to that level. It makes no sense to me.” Is this guy kidding? He’s talking about flying reindeer and talking snowmen here, with plastic appendages. It's not as if anyone has stuck a tumescent schlong on his precious Jesus. Even so, from the pulpits of the nation you can imagine others like him raising their voices in damnation as they single out the poor little gift shop: “Get thee behind me, Santa!”

Of course, once these holiest of Christmas personages are saved from disgrace — pace, Rudolph and Frosty— the righteous voices of America will surely allow Spencer’s to return to purveying its usual wholesome holiday fare. And then the ministers of god can get back to doing what's really spiritually important: making sure that every public park and plaza is defiled by a creche scene.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation:
Sue the Bastards (or Maybe Not)

Way back in 1968, the Supreme Court was asked to decide whether taxpayers had standing to sue the government for throwing their money around in unconstitutional ways.

The case, Flast v. Cohen, was brought by a woman who objected to federal financing of textbooks for parochial schools. Apparently, the schools in question had been dipping into the government’s collection plate rather than their own. Even though those particular textbooks were on secular, rather than religious, subjects, Flast believed that the expenditure still violated the First Amendment.

The Court’s opinion was authored by Chief Justice Earl Warren, a secular saint if there ever was one. He wrote that a taxpayer could, indeed, prevail in a lawsuit—but only if two conditions were met.

First of all, the suit had to establish a logical link between the taxpayer him- or herself, as a taxpayer, and a legislative act that the taxpayer believed was unconstitutional. For all intents and purposes this link could be established only if the act in question fell specifically under Congress’s power to tax and spend, as stated in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution. In other words, a person could sue about the expenditure of his or her tax dollars only if it could be shown that Congress had earmarked those taxes for an explicit use.

Secondly, the taxpayer could claim that the act was unconstitutional only by demonstrating that the funding in question exceeded specific constitutional limitations on Congress’s power to tax and spend.

In Flast, the Court found that both conditions were met. The taxpayer was able to establish a link between herself and the legislative act by showing that the allocation of her money fell under Congress’s power to provide for the “General Welfare.” The expenditures exceeded Congress’s power to tax and spend because the bestowal of public monies on religious institutions flouted the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. Flast, and all other taxpayers like her, had suffered harm; she had been ripped off by god's representatives posing as her own.

As time passed and the Court grew more and more conservative, the taxpayers’ right to sue became narrower and narrower. In 1981, for example, another Establishment Clause case was brought, this time by Americans United for Separation of Church and State. It seems that the Department of Defense, as part of a series of cutbacks, had closed a military hospital in Valley Forge. The Department of Health, Education, and Welfare decided—in an act of Christian charity, no doubt—to donate part of the land to the Valley Forge Christian College. This pilferage of public property improved neither the common citizens' health, nor their education, nor their welfare. The Court found, however, that since Congress was not directly involved in the land transfer, the public had no right to sue. Basically, the government was free to steal from us as long as the theft was not spelled out by an act of Congress.

Fast-forward to last Friday. The Supreme Court announced that it will decide whether citizens can challenge the spending of tax money by Bush’s office of faith-based initiatives. The case, Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation, et al., will be heard in February.

Of course, I would love the FFRF to succeed. Bush and his theocratic cronies are distributing our hard-earned bucks to the supernatural charlatans. That’s clearly a violation of the First Amendment. There’s no separation of church and state when their hands are joined in picking our pockets.

But I predict that the good guys will be losers in this effort; we don’t have a prayer. The money was not allocated directly by Congress to the White House’s Faith-Bait effort. Rather, the President was given a gift of our cash to use at his discretion—or lack of same. I doubt that a conservative Court will decide that the FFRF has standing to speak for you, me, and all the rest of the people who feel cheated by our nation’s churches. Most likely, the inactivist majority of judges will shrug their robed shoulders, while the pirates of religion continue to thank their bandit god for Republican appointments.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Signs from God

Evangelicals who whine about being marginalized in America have not taken a road trip lately. Drivers on the nation’s highways are smothered in a steady cloud of religious exhaust. Sitting behind the wheel, you can choke on the toxic fumes from all the Christian gas.

As you travel through the South, from Florida to Kentucky, you learn one important fact. Billboards, road signs, and bumper stickers tell you again and again that “Jesus is Lord.” Considering the impeccable sources, the statement must be true. My favorite version is the one painted on the outfield fence of a baseball field in a roadside sandlot that abuts I-4, not far from Orlando. I’ve passed this site dozens of times, at all hours, and have yet to see a single kid playing there. Jesus lords it over emptiness.

Other billboards sport alarmist verses from the bible. A faux U-turn sign tells motorists that Christ urges them to “change direction,” even though traversing the median on the highway is illegal. One gigantic message warns—ungrammatically—that the wages of sin is death. (Someone other than Jesus must be Lord of English Usage.)

In case the continuous print barrage doesn’t nail you, crosses of all sizes practically smack you in the face from the edges of the interstate. The crucifixes are user-ready in case Jesus-is-Lord decides to come back and get hammered up again. He has a number of appetizing sites to choose from nestled amongst the Fireworks! and Boiled Peanuts! signs. My guess is that he’d favor the huge metallic eyesore that casts its shadow about 100 feet onto Tennessee’s porn-again landmark, XXX Adultworld XXX.

Another symbol of Jesus-is-Lordness is the ubiquitous fish. All kinds of variants propel themselves along the backsides of cars and trucks. On some of these finned friends, the word “Jesus” leads you to the truth—just in case you mistakenly think that the vehicle’s owner works in the tuna business instead of angling for soul. On others, a cross is planted like a sloppy kiss on the swimmer’s cheek, so that the fish seems to be looking forward from the point where the horizontal bar meets the vertical beam; the creature is cross-eyed.

Interestingly, the people who cart around the portable marine life often festoon their autos with ribbons that urge other drivers to “Support Our Troops.” Apparently, Jesus-is-Lord does not offer sufficient assistance to our men and women in uniform. While evangelicals believe wholeheartedly in him, he apparently does not believe in them—or at least in their war effort.

And that’s something they should be whining about.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Praise the Lord and Pass the Mashed Potatoes

As an atheist, I’m ambivalent about Thanksgiving.

On the one hand, no matter how secularly you try to slice it, the feast is clearly meant as a huge suck-up to god. Although we travel long distances to be with our loved ones, we don’t expect them to address their gratitude to us for putting up with them all these years; nor do we act particularly grateful to them. No one says, “I went through all the indignities of airport security just so that I could express appreciation to Cousin Harold.”

Thanksgiving is a national religious holiday, pure and simple, dedicated to doffing one’s cap to the deity. Among the presidents from the founders’ generation, only Jefferson believed that ordering a thanksgiving day would conflict with the First Amendment’s establishment clause. Tradition has made that judgment obsolete. No American president today would dare disagree with Washington’s recommendation that we gather together for a day of “PUBLICK THANKSGIVING and PRAYER” (the capitals are his, the revulsion mine) “to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of …that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be….” In other words, “we’re glad you’re on our team, big fella. Keep up the good work.”

On the other hand, there’s Thanksgiving in practice. The only one who actually chastens and hastens his—or her—will to make known is the cook. The day is really all about hedonism: way too much food and drink, long hours of real or faked conviviality, occasional emotional outbursts, and, in general, doing whatever has felt good since childhood. As such, it’s a celebration of which even Jefferson, that old sensuous fox, would have approved.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Now, It's Everybody's Concern

Perhaps it's because I've been on the road since Friday, that I've been thinking so much about Keroack. I'm referring, of course, to Eric Keroack, the newly appointed family-planning honcho at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Until his appointment to the Office of Population Affairs, Dr. Keroack had been the medical director for A Woman's Concern, a so-called Pregnancy Health Center in Dorchester, Massachusetts. The group's primary concern does not seem, however, to be a woman or her health. No, its primary concern is spreading the usual agenda of the nation's bible bullies. Here's what's good: abstinence until marriage. Here's what's bad: contraception and abortion. In other words: Baby machines are our business, our only business.

Keroack has now been put in charge of $283 million taxpayer dollars to spread the Gospel of Keep-Your-Legs-Closed. Because there's no senatorial advise-and-consent for Keroack's position, the public must just grin and bear it—as so many young women will unfortunately find out.

In naming Dr. Keroack to his new job, President Butch once again proves how slimily religious—or religiously slimy—he can be. While he doesn't believe that single women should have sex, he has no difficulty in making sure that they get screwed.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

But Can It Say "Mama"?

Anyone who doesn’t believe that evangelicals are still scheming to take over America, must not know about one of their latest ploys: the Chatty Jeezy. According to an Associated Press story today, an ultra-Christian organization decided to donate 4,000 talking Jesus dolls to the Toys for Tots program run by the Marine Reserves.

The Marines' response had me whistling “From the halls of Montezuma ...” all day long. They now have yet another reason to be proud; they nixed the propaganda playthings. The vice president of “Toys for Tots,” Bill Grein, acknowledged that the Marines, as an institution of the government, may not prefer one religion over another. He is quoted as saying, “We can’t take a chance on sending a talking Jesus doll to a Jewish family or a Muslim family.” He apparently did not mention Hindus, Rastas, Wiccans, or followers of the Great Unidentifiable Bird—and certainly not atheists—but his point was clear. Foisting these Jesus toys onto unsuspecting children is unconstitutional. Grein’s other major talking point, was that the dolls didn’t seem like they’d be much fun.

The manufacturer of the talking Jesi is a company called “one2believe.” Unbelievably, that entity is a division of the well-known Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Company, which, its Web site claims, “handles the design, manufacturing, distribution, and sales” of plush and/or animatronic versions of a wide range of kiddy-culture icons: Paddington Bear, the Muppets, SpongeBob Squarepants, 102 Dalmatians, Shrek, Dora the Explorer, and the Grinch (press his chest and he steals the Jesus doll's birthday).

Michael La Roe, the minister of culture for both the parent firm and its divine child (the AP calls him “the director of business development for both companies”) was flabbergasted at the Marines’ reaction. He couldn’t believe that families might be offended by “three-dimensional teaching tools for kids.”

But these are not your father's Barbies. La Roe's what-did-I-do? reaction is indicative of the sneakiness of theocratic Christians. One2believe is well aware that it’s shoving religion down little throats. At its Web site, the agenda is clearly presented in a mission statement: “Teach 10 million children 50 Bible stories by 2007.”

To view the toys, themselves, though, you have to access the “Messengers of Faith” site, where you are exhorted to “Teach Your Children the Bible ... One Character at a Time!” (See the little miracles with your own eyes.)

At the top of the Home page, you’re greeted by an inspirational picture of a lovely child and her attractive mother holding Tickle-Me Jesus while poring over a book of obviously kid-friendly stories. Scroll down the page and you can see various dolls from the get-‘em-while-they’re-young collection. Perhaps appropriately, all the characters appear to be cross-eyed. The cost of each: 20 bucks. Except of course for poor tots, whom the company offers to brainwash for free.

Elsewhere on the Messengers' interactive message board, you can hear sound files from the company’s line of propagandolls. These toys would be laughable, if the god bullies had not given serious consideration to spreading them like a plague among the neediest youngsters. One of Jesus’s fun sayings, for example, is, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” What child of any religion wouldn’t want to wake up to that on Christmas morning?

The blurb for the Christ doll tells potential buyers that he was “the most important person in history. Ever.” But one2believe sells other, lesser, biblical figurines, as well. Moses, for instance, intones, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, or his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” After hearing that inspirational speech, could any normal child ever think again of coveting his or her neighbor’s wife or manservant?

The Esther character utters an urgent announcement, in what one2believe calls “easy-to-memorize style.” And indeed, it's hard to imagine how any little boy or girl would have trouble rattling off the words: “Go, gather all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” That'll be a ball to chant in the playground.

Sadly, the company does not mention whether any of the dolls wet themselves.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

You Had Me at Hello, but Lost Me at Hallelujah

Today’s New York Times Book Review contains an essay intriguingly entitled “God Fearing,” written by one John Wilson. Mr Wilson is identified by the Times as “the editor of Books & Culture.” It’s not a magazine I’m familiar with, but, gee, I like books. I like culture. Let’s see what Mr. Wilson has to say.

The beginning of the essay discusses the unfairness of evangelical stereotypes found in current fiction. In Wilson’s opinion: “... part of the job of a writer in 2006, so it seems, is to comment on evangelicals or ‘conservative Christians’ more generally, the way that many writers in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s ... felt obliged to weigh in on blackness, often with embarrassing results.”

That sentence is a ridiculous assertion, unsupported by facts. The author cites four context-free examples of anti-evangelism from current literature. The most noteworthy of these—a character’s 11-word quote in a forthcoming novel by Thomas Pynchon—is taken from a one-page excerpt that appeared in a publisher’s catalog. This bit of advertising is apparently enough to tell Wilson everything he needs to know about the Book and how it will affect our Culture.

In the same unsupported pronouncement quoted above, Wilson also fails to mention by name any writer who wrote on blackness so embarrassingly in the past, or to include a single literary example. The subtext of his innuendo is repugnant, a sneaky attempt to equate the evangelical movement with the movements for civil rights and black pride.

Wilson’s hyperbole propelled me onto the Internet, where a quick search revealed that Books & Culture is subtitled “a Christian Review.” The magazine does not even have its own Web address; it can be found – along with dozens of other holier-than-thou links – on a site called

To be fair to Wilson, he does confess his affiliation—about halfway through the article. Because of my own set of anti-evangelical prejudices, brought on no doubt by all those stereotypes I’ve been reading about in modern literature, I found myself doubting the intellectual and emotional honesty of the author throughout the rest of the essay. He does reveal, although probably not to anyone’s surprise, that evangelicals do not always agree about everything; he says that they are “notoriously riven by disagreement on matters large and small.” That loaded word “notoriously” is disingenuous. The divisions within the evangelical movement are not well-known to the rest of us because they don’t count outside the collection plate. Granting Wilson’s declaration that evangelicals’ opinions diverge on dozens of issues, we can still be certain that there’s one main belief they share unwaveringly: Jesus knows best. Between Christ and the Constitution, there’s not an evangelical in America who would pick the latter.

I managed to glean a few other points from Wilson about American evangelicals:
(1) They are not as dangerous as Mao Zedong’s Red Guards.
(2) Sometimes their children convert to other faiths or stop going to church entirely.
(3) Your mail carrier may be one of them.
(4) They do not proselytize any more than other proselytizers.

What is Wilson's essay, which is about neither books nor culture, doing in The New York Times Book Review? The author's motive in writing his insincere drivel seems to have been to reassure non-evangelicals that the mega-Christians pose no danger to the rest of us. I, for one, remain unrapturous.

Just look around: They’re all over the place, dragging their little metal fish behind them. They’ve taken over whole shelves in mainstream bookshops and CD stores. They jam the country’s airwaves. They use fear tactics to influence major retailers. Why, they’re even given space for their propaganda in eminent national newspapers.

No threat? Evangelists like Wilson remind me of the garden club ladies in "The Manchurian Candidate." The kind of thinking found in Books & Culture already pervades our society and it continues to spread. Soon, there will be very few books and no more culture.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Well, Somebody's Gotta Play Cassandra

Although many atheists may be exulting in the nationwide repudiation of President Bush, we need to be reminded that none of yesterday’s Democratic winners has gone on record as being a non-believer, a freethinker, or even a doubter.

If, as the TV pundits claim, the Democrats won big because the religious right was angry at Republican deviations from the true path, we church/state separationists find ourselves pretty much in the same position as we were before the vote: holding the supernatural bag. The evangelicals’ message would seem to be “Support our theocratic vision wholeheartedly or we will defeat you.”

Is that what really happened? Experts everywhere are busily trying to parse each vote to find out exactly what combinations of background, race, gender, age, income, education, cosmic disorder, animal magnetism, and bowel health led to the electorate’s decisions. No matter how high-tech the wise guys’ methods, however, the results will still be the equivalent of asking a ouija board to explain the balloting; they will usually conform to the subconscious hopes or expectations of the analysts. And the analysts, particularly those on the right, love hellfire and brimstone. Religious fervor makes great TV.

We shouldn’t be surprised, therefore, when the “numbers” substantiate the commentators’ gut reactions. That’s why I expect to hear a lot in the next few weeks about conservative Christians’ temporary disaffection with the current administration. Watch for that word “temporary.” It’ll be used as a bludgeon by the faithful.

So here’s my unhappy prediction: There will come to pass a new plague of faith-based initiatives and religious entitlements, supported enthusiastically by both political parties.

It’ll be Sunday morning in America.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Get Me to the Polling Place on Time

In the county where I live, nearly half the polling places are in churches. Allegedly, these are convenient venues in which to gather votes because they have good locations, plenty of parking, and wheelchair-accessibility. They’re also easy to find for even the most directions-impaired; church structures often lord it over neighboring edifices.

Of course, these qualifications are equally true of Wal-Marts, Targets, and Home Depots. Churches, however, are willing to rent out their space at the low, low rates the government pays. Some churches even waive the fee and serve doughnuts and coffee while you wait your turn to vote. For houses of worship, election day is a loss leader.

If you’re uncomfortable voting in a church, though, our county’s Supervisor of Elections reminds you that you can still do your civic duty by voting early and elsewhere or sending in an absentee ballot.

My particular polling place is not in a church and I am only marginally uncomfortable about voting in the community room of a trailer park. (My discomfort is due to taste rather than principle). What I am uncomfortable about, however, is all the other people voting in churches.

Many churches—and I use that in the non-Catholic catholic sense to include synagogues, mosques, and other supernatural profit-centers—adopt an explicit political stance. Religious leaders gull their believers into thinking that voting in a certain way will induce omnibenevolent glee. Some churches go as far as printing position papers, fliers or pamphlets telling congregants what their sky-buddy thinks about specific issues, and comparing his views with those of the candidates. On election day itself, all political literature is, by law, removed from within 100 feet of the polling place. But voters who belong to a politicizing church have already gotten their marching orders drummed into them. Pa-rum-pum-pum-pum.

You might make the argument that the particular voting site is not important. Most believers claim that god is everywhere. He sees you when you’re sleeping; he knows when you’re awake; he knows if you’ve been bad or good, so vote ultra-conservative for goodness sake. But to the mass of Sunday worshippers, god seems especially to enjoy hanging around churches. Those are his houses, aren’t they? Members of the electorate who might otherwise dare to think for themselves if they were entering a library or a Wal-Mart or the community room of a trailer park, may find themselves blinded by the holy light. The minute they set foot in Our Lady of the Far Right, they are reminded that the heavenly punisher is peering over their shoulders while they cast their ballots.

In a phone call to the Supervisor of Elections’ office, I was told that most churches “probably” removed their religious iconography from the space used for voting. Even though the woman I spoke with could give me no guarantees, she tried to reassure me. “I think it’s likely that they mostly use church gyms and community rooms,” she said. “You might have to look at some basketball hoops, but I don’t think there’s any religious art around.”

Still, it's an unfair advantage for the Jesus-jumpers. The ball’s in their court, isn’t it?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Our Haggard Government

Because I’m an atheist, the hypocrisy of the nation’s high priests entertains me immensely. It’s spiritually delicious to discover a religious muck-a-muck with his holy pants down. But whether or not Ted Haggard was “massaged” by a male prostitute or purchased methamphetamines affects me not at all.

What does affect me, though, is that Haggard’s reading of fish entrails—or whatever other religious marvels he claimed to perform—was a subject of serious presidential consideration. Not only that, but for years the reverend’s outworn opinions may well have influenced the votes of elected representatives in both the Senate and the House. As the Associated Press writes today: “Haggard ... has participated in conference calls with White House staffers and lobbied Congress last year on Supreme Court nominees.” This phraseology beats around the Bush, but The New York Times was more direct yesterday when it stated that Haggard was a communicant in “the White House’s Monday conference calls with conservative Christian leaders.”

Now, the President and Congress certainly have the prerogative to seek out any advice they wish, even from the witch-doctors that the religious right and its minions seem to favor. But at what cost to Americans do they allow voodoo to control decisions best left to reason? Just like Ted Haggard, we ought to be told the price we’re paying to get screwed.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Jesus's Pal and the Playboy Bunny

I’m so tired of reading about poor Harold Ford, Jr. and the Republicans’ Playboy bunny ad.

Didn’t he ask for just such a response when he ran his own commercial recorded in a church? That's the dirtiest piece of political pandering in the Tennessee Senatorial race.

Ford’s message begins with the image of cross-laden stained glass windows and the sound of an organ playing a crypto-hymn. "Hey, Christians, have I got a guy for you!" We hear the candidate’s voice as the camera slowly pans back to reveal him in all his heavenly glory. A wall-hanging of yet another cross, a white one on a pink background—is that color supposed to reassure liberals?—casts Jesus’s approval on the candidate’s message. “Here, I learned the difference between right and wrong,” Ford says glibly, as he marches piously toward us. Then he rattles off a number of issues for which his vote was “right”—not at all in the moral sense, but certainly in the Republican one.

At the end, Ford positions himself in a pew so that the symbol of right-wing hate shines with a holy glow over his shoulder. The camera slowly moves in for a closeup—on both the candidate and Christ. Ford intones, “I won’t let them make me someone I’m not.” What he’s not is a politician we can depend on to take a stand against theocracy. “I’ll always fight for you,” he vows. The implication: As long as you’re a Christian.

But please don’t take my word on faith. See the ad for yourself. Watch it now.

This is the kind of political spot that most Republicans would never dare to approve for themselves. But Ford is a Democrat, so it’s OK for him to pretend he has the endorsement of the conservatives’ sky-buddy.

And once again, we atheists are left without a viable candidate to protect our rights.

The way I see it, the Republican ad does not defame Ford; it defames Playboy bunnies.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Abortion Rights and the First Amendment

South Dakota is allowing its electorate to vote on whether or not to repeal an anti-abortion law, HB 1215, which passed last spring. Both sides of the abortion issue are gearing up for a court challenge—either to that law, should the repeal fail, or to some hypothetical similar law that may pass at a later time in a different state.

The text of HB 1215 includes the following language:

“The Legislature accepts and concurs with the conclusion of the South Dakota Task Force to Study Abortion, based upon written materials, scientific studies, and testimony of witnesses presented to the task force, that life begins at the time of conception, a conclusion confirmed by scientific advances since the 1973 decision of Roe v. Wade, including the fact that each human being is totally unique immediately at fertilization.” (italics mine)

It seems to me that a talented lawyer could make an excellent case that such an abortion ban flies in the face of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

First of all, let’s seemingly digress for a second and rid ourselves of some ridiculous terminology. In so doing, I hope to establish the basis of what I believe is a First Amendment argument.

The people opposed to abortion call themselves “pro-life.” However, that’s a dubious term. Do all these people refrain from swatting mosquitoes, pulling weeds, or killing plants and animals for food? It’s probably safe to say that they don’t. How then are they pro-life? OK, let’s say that they’re merely pro-human-life. Are they all against capital punishment and war? Again, probably not.

So, in the main, the people who oppose abortion are really pro-fetus. More specifically, they are pro- the belief that the Fetus is Human. Let’s call them pro-FisH. You can recognize many of them from the medallions on the bumpers of their cars. Those medallions, we should not forget, are symbols declaring specific religious belief.

A human being is clearly alive from the moment of birth until the moment of death. Whether or not that human being is alive as a human being before birth and/or after death is a religious question, not a legal—or even a scientific—one. Science can tell us that the fetus is a potential human, but it cannot honestly say that the embryo is a human, in all the variant definitions of that term. An egg is a potential bird but no one would eat an omelet and claim that he was having a chicken dinner. It would take an outrageous leap of faith to maintain that position.

The definition of human-hood is, of course, inextricably woven into the concept of “soul.” Many pro-FisHes believe that the soul enters the embryo at the moment of conception. Hence, to them, the fetus is a human life. It follows from such a belief that killing the fetus is the same as killing a human—and it’s only a short theological hop to a ban on abortion.

However, many Americans—most, if we believe the polls—do NOT subscribe to the religious definition of a fetus as a human. A law banning abortion as the killing of a human imposes a sectarian definition of "human" on the entire populace.

But the First Amendment says the government may not favor one religious viewpoint over another. Doing so would be the Establishment of a Religion, and, as such, strictly forbidden.

Therefore, HB 1215 is unconstitutional.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

For School Board Candidates: Will This Be on the Test?

While we’re all focused on this year’s Congressional elections, let’s not forget that other positions—equally important—are up for grabs. Men and women all over the country are vying to become members of school boards. Whichever political team they’re on, though, their campaign literature is usually filled with nothing but safe blather. They want a superior education for our young people. Better pay and more respect for teachers. Improved testing that yields usable benchmarks. Comfortable and effective facilities. Adequate, modern supplies. Blah, blah, blah. The candidates may change a few words in the formula, but they’ll cover these points over and over and over, as if someone else running might be suggesting otherwise.

However, there are some really pressing questions that most candidates avoid. For one thing, there’s the critical issue of whether or not the game of tag should be allowed during recess. According to the media, the future of Western Civilization may hang on the answer to that one.

While the candidates scramble not to be "it," here are some other questions we ought to chase them with:

1. Do you support using the Bible as a science text? Which sciences would you use it for? Give examples of as many scientific breakthroughs as you can think of that were brought about through a close reading of the Old or New Testament.

2. Could a high school student’s future be endangered by reading a thought-provoking book that contains a few dirty words? If so, how? Including only those books that you have read yourself and been damaged by, list any books you would ban from the school library. For each book listed, explain specifically the kind of harm it caused you. Feel free to use any words that help you express yourself.

3. Can you reconcile the words “... under god ...” in the pledge of allegiance with the beliefs of every single child in every single classroom in your school district? Do you know the beliefs of every single child in every single classroom in your school district? List each child by full name, and describe in detail his or her beliefs. What evidence can you present to the children that god is interested in liberty and justice for all?

4. Do you think that people elected to ensure a quality public education should advocate giving tax-payer dollars to private religious schools? Really? Without quoting any Supreme Court justices, Republican politicians, or religious leaders, explain how you square your view with (a) the First Amendment and (b) the meanings of “public” and “private.”

5. In your opinion, which is more important in a child’s education: thinking or praying? As a school board member, which would you do more often?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

One Horse and One Carriage

Sinatra, apparently, did not know that marriage was the union of one man and one woman. He sang only that love and marriage went together like a horse and carriage.

Of course, you won’t find that rule in the bible: “Thy horse shall not lie with horsekind, as with carriagekind; it is abomination.”

Since the New Jersey Supreme Court has thrown the issue of gay marriage back to the state legislature, the bible-thumpers are vowing to keep the Institution of Marriage (hereinafter, the IOM) safe, not only in the Garden State but throughout the nation. The Republican leadership is anti-homobolizing the party’s base, particularly in the eight states deciding on constitutional amendments about whether or not to ban gay wedlock: The IOM must be safeguarded or civilization as we know it will disappear. In gay marriage, the GOP has once again identified a weapon of mass destruction.

But why does the IOM need protection? Is there some purely secular reason?

Don’t bother thinking about it; you won’t find one. The IOM is a religious construct. Laws passed to define marriage in sectarian terms, no matter how veiled, lead to an unconstitutional entanglement between church and state. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” The zealots of the religious right need to put down Leviticus once in a while and read the First Amendment.

You don’t have to like gay marriage; no one can force you. You may have the same negative emotions about it that others of us have about two attractive blond people getting together; it’s not natural. Churches, synagogues, mosques, and ship’s captains would—and should—be free to decide whether or not to solemnize gay unions. But the government cannot make that choice. It is specifically enjoined by the Bill of Rights from establishing religion.

That’s why our homegrown taliban are pushing for a Constitutional Amendment defining marriage. Wouldn’t such a new amendment conflict—if not legally, then at least in spirit—with the long-established Establishment Clause? Wouldn’t it be an insidious step up the stairway to theocratic heaven? Before voting to enshrine the IOM, would-be ayatollahs need to ask themselves: WWJD? What would Jefferson do?

In the meantime, don’t be fooled by reference to “tradition.” The First Amendment is not fiddling around, on the roof or elsewhere. Religious fanaticism and opposition to gay marriage go together like a horse and carriage. As Sinatra sang, “You can’t have one without the other.”

Buy Me Some Peanuts and Blastocysts

For those of us who don’t give a laboratory rat’s ass about the Whirled Serious, there’s still good reason to be booing the Cardinals.

Missouri’s Amendment 2 is one of the big issues in the state election this year. Basically, the amendment pits modern science against medieval religion: It supports stem-cell research.

The Democratic Senatorial candidate, Claire McCaskill, wants this amendment to pass. The Republican incumbent, Sen. Jim Talent, does not. Talent is, of course, supported by all the usual suspects on the religious right.

A few nights ago, Michael J. Fox, the actor suffering from Parkinson’s disease, appeared in an ad for McCaskill. He asked the Missouri public to vote “yes” on Amendment 2.

The opposition, unhappy to have a well-liked star taking a stand on an issue that directly concerns him, put out the call for celebrities who did NOT have Parkinson’s disease to lend their talents indirectly to Talent. These luminaries were sought to appear in an ad produced and distributed by a group called Missourians Against Human Cloning. Looking for a smokescreen, the group’s spokesperson, the appropriately named Cathy Ruse, claims that the fine print of the amendment would make human cloning a constitutional right in Missouri (which would then, horrifyingly, become the Show Me, Show Me, Show Me state).

Patricia Heaton of “Everybody Loves Parkinson’s” responded, as did Jim Caviezel, who is not really Jesus but played him in the movies. You may have seen him in The Fascism of the Christ.

A few athletes volunteered their services as well. The one that has me rooting for the Tigers to win the pennant is Jeff Suppan, a pitcher for St. Louis. Suppan, as everyone knows, has been worried about human cloning ever since Dolly the sheep appeared.

The TV spot is scheduled to run in Missouri’s local market during World Series Game 4, in which Suppan will pitch for the Cardinals, both his teammates and the red–caped religious figures. That game, scheduled for Wednesday night, was—ironically—postponed due to rain.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Let's Skip Campbell

Skip Campbell is the Theocratic—oops, Democratic—candidate for Attorney General of Florida.

Campbell is running against Republican Bill McCollum, who was one of the House impeachment managers back when Bill Clinton was the anti-christ. McCollum has often worn his christianity on his sleeve, supporting a Constitutional amendment to allow school prayer and taking the expected “pro-life” stand against abortion.

He is clearly not a choice for those of us who believe strongly in the separation of church and state.

McCollum is not totally controlled by the Christian Right, however. In the past, he has come out in favor of federal funding for stem cell research. “That’s pro-life, too," he said.

The Republican candidate also once co-sponsored a U.S. bill to designate violence against gays as a hate crime. Of course, that stance offended the holy crowd, which believes that beating up homos is god’s wet dream.

McCollum is not as popular with the goddies as he could be.

Along skips Campbell, eager to seize an opportunity. Perhaps he can out-god his opponent. In a recent campaign ad, Skippy tells viewers, “I spent six years in the seminary ... My faith and my family are what I hold most dear.” A picture of a little girl clutching a teddy bear is flashed on the screen—accompanied by the caption: “protecting children.”

In Campbell’s mind, apparently, the words “seminary” and “faith” are supposed to get the electorate shouting hosannas in the voting booth.

But unless you’re brain-dead, you’re well aware that the seminary is not exactly the place to look for child-protectors. Go to your favorite search engine and type in “priest” and “pedophile,” or “Catholic” and “sexual abuse,” and you’ll get enough hits to keep you reading until the second coming. How dare Campbell couple the terms “seminary” and “protecting children.”

And as far as his faith being what he holds most dear: That could have been said equally well by the men who flew the planes into the World Trade Center.

Now, I’m certaintly not accusing Campbell of being either a pedophile or a terrorist. But his words don’t prove that he isn’t.