Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Bong Hits 4 Thomas

Having now read and reread the mind-numbing anti-freedom decisions produced yesterday by the majorities in the Supreme Court, I have to say that the most chilling writing was Clarence Thomas’s concurrence in Morse v. Frederick.

Thomas, if he had his druthers, would overturn the Tinker decision. What kind of angry-juice is in his bong?

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Tinker v. Des Moines (and shame on you if you’re Americans!), I’ll outline it very briefly.

A few families in Des Moines met early in December of 1965 to discuss their opposition to the war in Vietnam. They agreed that the kids among them would wear black armbands to their schools during the holiday season as a protest. Somehow, the principals of the various institutions got wind of the idea, and immediately instituted a policy that all students wearing black armbands (no other fashion accoutrements were specified) would be asked to remove them. If a student refused, he or she would be suspended. Two of the Tinker children, Mary Beth (13) and John (15), along with Christopher Eckhardt (16) earned such suspensions.

The case wended its way to the Supreme Court, where it was finally decided on February 24, 1969. In a 7-2 decision, the justices found that the schools’ order restricted the students' right to free speech, symbolic though it was. As Justice Fortas wrote in his majority opinion:

It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech at the schoolhouse gate.
After stating this principle, he addressed the specifics of the case:
If a regulation were adopted by school officials forbidding discussion of the Vietnam conflict, or the expression by any student of opposition to it anywhere on school property except as part of a prescribed classroom exercise, it would be obvious that the regulation would violate the constitutional rights of students, at least if it could not be justified by a showing that the students' activities would materially and substantially disrupt the work and discipline of the school....

As we have discussed, the record does not demonstrate any facts which might reasonably have led school authorities to forecast substantial disruption of or material interference with school activities, and no disturbances or disorders on the school premises in fact occurred. These petitioners merely went about their ordained rounds in school. Their deviation consisted only in wearing on their sleeve a band of black cloth, not more than two inches wide. They wore it to exhibit their disapproval of the Vietnam hostilities and their advocacy of a truce, to make their views known, and, by their example, to influence others to adopt them. They neither interrupted school activities nor sought to intrude in the school affairs or the lives of others. They caused discussion outside of the classrooms, but no interference with work and no disorder. In the circumstances, our Constitution does not permit officials of the State to deny their form of expression.
The Tinker decision is one of the great landmarks of First Amendment adjudication. For nearly forty years, it has protected a student’s right to dissent. It has been nickered away at, but it has held up.

Now, Thomas would overturn it.

He includes in his concurrence a long, pointless history of discipline in America’s public schools, beginning from colonial times. You can almost picture Thomas with a paddle in his hand, ordering some mischievous child of yore to bend over for a good, compassionate Republican spanking. Thomas’s ideal school seems to be Dotheboys Hall in Nicholas Nickleby.

After a section discussing the legal doctrine of in loco parentis as it had been practiced in the 19th century, Justice Wackford Thomas finally skips to that catastrophic winter day in 1969 when the Tinker decision began to cause widespread havoc in school systems across the United States. As we all know, education has never been the same since; from that day to this, students, wearing armbands of all colors, have gone on purposefully disruptive opinion rampages in their classrooms.

But Thomas has a solution:
I see no constitutional imperative requiring public schools to allow all student speech. Parents decide whether to send their children to public schools. If parents do not like the rules imposed by those schools, they can seek redress in school boards or legislatures; they can send their children to private schools or home school them; or they can simply move.
In other words, if you don’t want the Clarence Thomases of this world to flog your undisciplined brats on the ass, get out of town. Yikes!

This kind of brutish disregard for the First Amendment apparently went too far for even some of the majority, and I must give some credit to Justices Alito and Kennedy. In his concurrence joined by Kennedy, Alito makes it a point to “reaffirm” the basic precepts of the Tinker decision. He even goes so far as to say:
I join the opinion of the Court [in Morse v. Frederick] with the understanding that the opinion does not endorse any further extension.
If that’s sincere, it strikes me as a hopeful note.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Meme Me 'Round the Corner

So, OK, I've been tagged by Psychodiva. The following rules should explain the new blog meme.

  • We have to post these rules before we give you the facts.
  • Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
  • People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
  • At the end of your blog post, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
  • Don't forget to leave them each a comment telling them they're tagged, and to read your blog.
Here are my eight random facts:
  1. I think that following sports is a tremendous waste of time. People whose moods and actions are influenced by their team’s performance remind me of fundies.
  2. I allowed my mother to talk me into being bar-mitzvah’d when I was 13. My father the atheist had no vote in our household. Even though I was an atheist, too, I wanted all those great cash presents. One of my best friends at the time was a little Catholic boy, who came to the temple, donned a yarmulke and prayer shawl, and sat respectfully during the ceremony. Towards the end of the service, the rabbi gave a short homily about how the entire non-Jewish world was responsible for anti-semitism. I couldn’t stop looking at my pal, and feeling embarrassed and angry. After a bar mitzvah is finished, it’s traditional for the parents of the honored boy to throw a “kiddush,” a minimal party, usually in the synagogue’s basement. This party is mainly to appease those people who have not been invited to the big, fancy-shmancy reception later. At the kiddush, it’s customary for the rabbi to grab two glasses of wine, and approach the bar-mitzvah boy to toast him for becoming a man. The rabbi approached me and offered me the wine. Instead of taking it, I said, “fuck you, you bigot.” My mother was mortified, but understood. My proud father told me about an hour later that I really had become a man.
  3. My favorite authors are Charles Dickens, Philip Roth, and Raymond Chandler, not necessarily in that order.
  4. I’ve grown extremely tired of books about atheism, written by atheists, for atheists. To me, they’re all essentially the same: “I don’t believe in god, and here’s why.” I don’t think people need a reason not to believe in god. Giving reasons for not believing in god, I feel, inflates an imaginary being's importance and, oddly, tends to validate its existence.
  5. I voted for Ralph Nader in 2000, but I don’t blame myself for George Bush’s election. Nor do I blame the Supreme Court. I blame Al Gore for being such an uninspiring candidate and running such a half-assed campaign that he couldn’t even carry his own damn state.
  6. Whenever I see a person with one or more tattoos on his or her body, I remember the Jewish baker in my childhood neighborhood. He also had a tattoo — a number put there by the Nazis. That’s why I don’t think “body art” is decorative.
  7. My iPod is loaded with a completely schizophrenic collection of songs. Some of the artists who perform in my ears most often are: Talking Heads, Frank Sinatra, Cyndi Lauper, Louis Armstrong, Bob Marley, Fred Astaire (singing and dancing!), the Rolling Stones, Sergio Mendes, and Dr. John. Even though the mix is eclectic, I don’t have a single Country tune on there.
  8. When I was called for jury duty last year, I agonized over how big a stink I would make if I were asked to swear to anything. I finally did get selected for a voir dire, a jury-selection process. We were asked to raise our right hands and swear that we would tell the truth about ourselves. I blurted out that I didn’t swear because “I don’t believe in god.” The judge shrugged and asked the clerk to have me “affirm,” rather than swear. Later, after I’d been selected to sit on the jury, the clerk remembered what I’d said before, and just asked me to affirm. No one seemed freaked out by an atheist sitting in judgment.
The blogs I'm choosing to tag are:
A Load of Bright
Atheist Hussy
Friendly Atheist
Way of the Mind
Deep Thoughts
This is You reading about Me ... or not
and one outside the Atheosphere:
A Guy in the Pew

Monday, June 25, 2007

Jesus 2, Freedom 0

Well, the High Papal Court ... er ... the Supreme Court of the United States has issued two liberty-limiting decisions today in cases previously discussed in these pages. The five Roman Catholic justices formed the majority in both. So much for separation of church and state.

I expect I'll post further on these two decisions after I get a chance to read and digest them fully (or, more likely, puke my guts out). But just to let you know:

In Morse v. Frederick, the Bong Hits 4 Jesus case, the justices ruled against Mr. Frederick, saying, essentially, that the guarantee of free speech doesn't apply to students, even if they're not in school when they exercise that right. Incredible! (Along with the five Vatican representatives, Justice Breyer concurred in the judgment in part.) To be fair, I should point out that this decision will not spread heavenly joy among many nutball evangelicals. For the reasons mentioned in my original post, they'll find the opinion as objectionable as I do. Still, it's philosophically harmonious and completely consistent with their political agenda of thought-control. The rest of us will have to draw what little comfort we can in seeing Pat Robertson and James Dobson hoisted with their own pious petard.

Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation was the case in which taxpayers fought for their right to challenge the government for funding the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. The decision allows the priestly pickpockets under George Bush, as well as the rest of his godpushing gang, to continue blithely using their insider connections to help them raid the public till. No need to worry about possible consequences; the executive branch is not answerable to the citizens on how it distributes their money. I regretfully predicted this outcome back in December, but manufactured a false glimmer of hope, based on nothing but wishful thinking, two months later. Once again I learned: faith is bullshit.

The appointments of Roberts and Alito to the Court will be viewed as a great achievement by those who have tried repeatedly, over the decades, to limit the rights of Americans. For all those who enjoy trampling on the First Amendment, the results announced today will be seen as a tremendous victory.

To the rest of us, those who continue to venerate the Constitution and the ideas for which it stands, the justices say: fuck you and the founding principles you rode in on.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Ron Paul: Linking Church and State

Vjack at Atheist Revolution has written an introspective article about the current crop of candidates for president.

I agree with much that vjack says, but don't necessarily hold with all of his sentiments. He's nowhere near hard enough on the front-running Democrats, who are doing everything but literally kissing holy asses to court the supernatural vote.

He also paints all Republicans with too broad a brush. He fails to mention, for instance, that Rudy Giuliani has been consistently anti-forced maternity, pro stem-cell research, and in favor of gun control, hardly positions that qualify him as "a Christian extremist." In fact, in response to an AP questionnaire of all candidates about their religious affiliation and the particular churches they attend, Giuliani was the only one of either party to say, essentially, "Screw you. That's none of your business." These factors raise Giuliani a few points in my anti-theocratic estimation.

But only a few; like vjack, I still wouldn't vote for Giuliani, not even if someone held a controlled gun to my head. Among my many reasons: He supported and continues to support Bush's war in Iraq; he has always been a law-and-order thug; he has failed to champion free speech; and he disregarded health and environmental advice about the post-9/11 cleanup. So hooray for him for standing up to the religious right, but ... who else is running?

What I mainly want to address here, though, is not vjack's essay. I'm more interested in the comments he received, the first three of which touted Congressman Ron Paul.

Here's important information for those folks, and anyone else hailing Paul as a liberty-loving messiah.

Ron Paul is the worst kind of godpusher. He doesn't believe in separation of church and state. He seems to think that religious piety is more important than good government. Don't take my word for it; click on the links to read Paul's very own horrifying words.

I consider myself a libertarian on many issues. Ron Paul is not. He's just another a theocrat.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Danger! Not Suitable for Children!


What's My Blog Rated? From Mingle2 - Online Dating

Following the lead of a few other atheist blogs, I decided to submit my own shit for a fucking rating. There are plenty of godless bloggers out there who, as it turns out, don't really write for adults only. This fact surprised me, because if we were really attracting youngsters, you'd think there would be at least one atheist figurine included in a MacDonald's Happy Meal.

But, for example, look at these blogs I visit regularly. What's with the PG-13, you inquisitional wimp? That's only slightly more risque than Teletubbies. And who does this near-nun think she is, calling herself a hussy? A rating like that wouldn't get her banned from a Catholic junior-high dance! If you really want a shock, check out arch-fiend P.Z. Myers, whose heathen rants are squeaky clean enough to be read to the Barney set as bedtime stories.

Only my nasty fellow conspirator, vjack, received the grown-up rating most of us atheists would seem to deserve. I make it a point to read his scurrilous writing often, but I must admit that now I'll be sure to cover my ears when I do.

Mingle2, the online dating Web site (!?) that provided the algorithm for the scoring, listed only a few criteria for its judgments. In my case, according to the folks over there, during my approximately eight months of blogging, I've used "bitch" three times, "hell" two times, "corpse" and "kill" once each. (That's not counting this post, which gives the minglers four more chances to wag their fingers at me.) Needless to say, I, myself, am horrified by such fucking bad language, goddamn blasphemy, and bloodthirsty violence.

Not a single mention, though, of all the damnable bible-bashing coming from any of us. Which only goes to prove: You can call Jesus any name you want, as long as it's not "bitch."

Click on the sticker above to find out your blog's rating.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Can Anyone Suggest an Icon for "Luddite"?

I’ve just watched an ad for the new iPhone. It’s a sneak peek at communication in the future. No deep thoughts will be appropriate; long, complex sentences, full of nuanced meanings, won’t fit. Everything we want to say to others — or even to ourselves — will be abbreviated into short phrases, single words, pictures, or simplistic symbols. And all we’ll have to do is touch a screen. We’ll become technologically sophisticated cavemen, using our fingers to point to what we mean. The bible, of course, will be perfectly adaptable to this illiterate mode of communication:

Urk, urk, urk. Man hang from cross. See glow? Him good. WWJD? I♥ID. TGIF.
Those of us who would rather utilize carefully chosen words to help us construct and convey our rational ideas? IMHO, ROFL all the way to intellectual oblivion.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

An Anniversary to Celebrate

It’s not my usual practice on this blog to include extended quotes. But today, I’m going to deviate. That’s because June 17 is the 44th anniversay of the Supreme Court decision covering The School District of Abington Township v. Schempp (referred to below as 142, and please try not to picture the Three Stooges) and Murray v. Curlett (referred to below as 119). The Schempp family, Unitarians, won in a lower court, which is why Abington Township is mentioned first in the name of their case. (Abington asked the Supreme Court to reconsider the lower court’s finding.) Similarly, Madalyn Murray (the “infamous” atheist) and her son, William, lost in a lower court.

While these two cases were by no means the first or only ones to deal with prayer in public schools, they were extremely important. In both, the state (Pennsylvania in Abington and Maryland in Murray), had passed laws requiring students to listen to a reading from the bible and the Lord’s Prayer at the beginning of the school day. Each state allowed students to be excused if parents wrote letters voicing their objections.

But both states claimed that hearing portions from the bible did not constitute a religious exercise. It was good for the kids’ morals; it helped them understand our nation’s heritage, and it promoted good literature. In addition, some attorneys for the states argued that not allowing the reading infringed on students’ rights to freely exercise their religion. These are familiar songs of the theocrats, weasel excuses to ram their supernatural beliefs down the throats of schoolchildren too young to say “bullshit.”

The opinion, jointly deciding both cases, is most commonly referred to as Abington v. Schempp. (Don't get in an uproar; the common designation is not because of a philosophical preference for Unitarians over atheists. It's because of an alphabetizing preference for A over M.) It was written by Tom Clark; he and seven other justices made up the majority. There was only one dissension. Clark began by reciting the facts in each case and tracing its progress through the court system. He then quoted and explained various precedents. The portion here included is the final section of the opinion; I’ve edited out footnote references and specific citations of other cases discussed earlier. I've also added a few extra paragraph breaks, just to make the reading easier on computer-focused eyes. Otherwise, it’s all Clark’s.

The wholesome "neutrality" of which this Court's cases speak thus stems from a recognition of the teachings of history that powerful sects or groups might bring about a fusion of governmental and religious functions or a concert or dependency of one upon the other to the end that official support of the State or Federal Government would be placed behind the tenets of one or of all orthodoxies. This the Establishment Clause prohibits.

And a further reason for neutrality is found in the Free Exercise Clause, which recognizes the value of religious training, teaching and observance and, more particularly, the right of every person to freely choose his own course with reference thereto, free of any compulsion from the state. This the Free Exercise Clause guarantees.

Thus, as we have seen, the two clauses may overlap.

As we have indicated, the Establishment Clause has been directly considered by this Court eight times in the past score of years and, with only one Justice dissenting on the point, it has consistently held that the clause withdrew all legislative power respecting religious belief or the expression thereof. The test may be stated as follows: what are the purpose and the primary effect of the enactment? If either is the advancement or inhibition of religion then the enactment exceeds the scope of legislative power as circumscribed by the Constitution. That is to say that to withstand the strictures of the Establishment Clause there must be a secular legislative purpose and a primary effect that neither advances nor inhibits religion.

... The Free Exercise Clause, likewise considered many times here, withdraws from legislative power, state and federal, the exertion of any restraint on the free exercise of religion. Its purpose is to secure religious liberty in the individual by prohibiting any invasions thereof by civil authority. Hence it is necessary in a free exercise case for one to show the coercive effect of the enactment as it operates against him in the practice of his religion. The distinction between the two clauses is apparent - a violation of the Free Exercise Clause is predicated on coercion while the Establishment Clause violation need not be so attended.

Applying the Establishment Clause principles to the cases at bar we find that the States are requiring the selection and reading at the opening of the school day of verses from the Holy Bible and the recitation of the Lord's Prayer by the students in unison. These exercises are prescribed as part of the curricular activities of students who are required by law to attend school. They are held in the school buildings under the supervision and with the participation of teachers employed in those schools. ... The trial court in No. 142 has found that such an opening exercise is a religious ceremony and was intended by the State to be so. We agree with the trial court's finding as to the religious character of the exercises. Given that finding, the exercises and the law requiring them are in violation of the Establishment Clause.

There is no such specific finding as to the religious character of the exercises in No. 119, and the State contends (as does the State in No. 142) that the program is an effort to extend its benefits to all public school children without regard to their religious belief. Included within its secular purposes, it says, are the promotion of moral values, the contradiction to the materialistic trends of our times, the perpetuation of our institutions and the teaching of literature. ... But even if its purpose is not strictly religious, it is sought to be accomplished through readings, without comment, from the Bible. Surely the place of the Bible as an instrument of religion cannot be gainsaid, and the State's recognition of the pervading religious character of the ceremony is evident from the rule's specific permission of the alternative use of the Catholic Douay version as well as the recent amendment permitting nonattendance at the exercises. None of these factors is consistent with the contention that the Bible is here used either as an instrument for nonreligious moral inspiration or as a reference for the teaching of secular subjects.

The conclusion follows that in both cases the laws require religious exercises and such exercises are being conducted in direct violation of the rights of the appellees and petitioners. Nor are these required exercises mitigated by the fact that individual students may absent themselves upon parental request, for that fact furnishes no defense to a claim of unconstitutionality under the Establishment Clause. ...

Further, it is no defense to urge that the religious practices here may be relatively minor encroachments on the First Amendment. The breach of neutrality that is today a trickling stream may all too soon become a raging torrent and, in the words of [founder James] Madison, "it is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties." ...

It is insisted that unless these religious exercises are permitted a "religion of secularism" is established in the schools. We agree of course that the State may not establish a "religion of secularism" in the sense of affirmatively opposing or showing hostility to religion, thus "preferring those who believe in no religion over those who do believe." ... We do not agree, however, that this decision in any sense has that effect. In addition, it might well be said that one's education is not complete without a study of comparative religion or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization. It certainly may be said that the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities. Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment. But the exercises here do not fall into those categories. They are religious exercises, required by the States in violation of the command of the First Amendment that the Government maintain strict neutrality, neither aiding nor opposing religion.

Finally, we cannot accept that the concept of neutrality, which does not permit a State to require a religious exercise even with the consent of the majority of those affected, collides with the majority's right to free exercise of religion. While the Free Exercise Clause clearly prohibits the use of state action to deny the rights of free exercise to anyone, it has never meant that a majority could use the machinery of the State to practice its beliefs. Such a contention was effectively answered by Mr. Justice Jackson for the Court in West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, (1943):
    "The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One's right to . . . freedom of worship . . . and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections."
The place of religion in our society is an exalted one, achieved through a long tradition of reliance on the home, the church and the inviolable citadel of the individual heart and mind. We have come to recognize through bitter experience that it is not within the power of government to invade that citadel, whether its purpose or effect be to aid or oppose, to advance or retard. In the relationship between man and religion, the State is firmly committed to a position of neutrality. Though the application of that rule requires interpretation of a delicate sort, the rule itself is clearly and concisely stated in the words of the First Amendment. Applying that rule to the facts of these cases, we affirm the judgment in No. 142.

In No. 119, the judgment is reversed and the cause remanded to the Maryland Court of Appeals for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

It is so ordered.
The writing is legalistic and unpoetic. But it’s so moving to me that I get tears in my eyes when I read it.

Friday, June 15, 2007

I Didn't Promise You New Cars, Did I?

Well, I’d planned to give a link to each of the correct solvers of today’s puzzle, but — as it turned out — each of them already had plenty of links coming from this site. No surprise there, I guess. I’ll link to them anyway, but I’ve also decided to honor them appropriately, by creating cryptic clues that lead to their identities. Bear in mind that these aren’t the greatest, but it’s the solvers’ fault for having such weird names.

Clue: “Heathen, I halt ye!” annoyingly written in Quakers’ joint. (15)
Answer: Friendlyatheist
Definition: Heathen
Wordplay: i-h-a-l-t-y-e annoyingly written, or anagrammed = “lyathei” in Quakers = Friends + joint (as in pipes) = T. Thus, friend(lyathei)s + t

Clue: This nonbeliever asks, “Oh, PB ‘n’ J?” Somehow, it fails to get a good grade. (4,1)
Answer: John P.
Definition: This nonbeliever asks (John P.’s blog is Spanish Inquisitor.)
Wordplay: o-h + p-b-n-j somehow (anagrammed), minus the B (a good grade)

Clue: It means nothing whether one Greek goddess loses a smart atheist. (11)
Answer: Nullifidian
Definition: smart atheist
Wordplay: It means nothing = null; whether = if; one Greek goddess = I diana; loses “a”

Clue: Secularist on an illegitimate mousy design.(9)
Answer: Anonymous
Definition: secularist
Wordplay: o-n-a-n illegitimate, or anagrammed + an anagram, or design, for m-o-u-s-y

Clue: Magical Oz women, not easy, but with love for major hero. (5)
Answer: Nowoo
Definition: hero (the solver of the last piece of the puzzle)
Wordplay: Magical, or anagrammed, o-z-w-o-m-e-n; not e-z; with o (love) substituted for m (major)

This guy didn’t exactly solve a clue, but I think he may have provided the final impetus.
Clue: An atheist’s well-known monologue, beginning “Two score minus two ...” (6)
Answer: tobe38
Definition: An atheist’s [an atheist is]
Wordplay: well-known monologue beginning = “To be” + 40 (two score)-2 = 38

Thanks to all for playing.

Puzzling Atheists

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I love puzzles and puns. That’s why my favorite challenges are British-style cryptic crosswords, which require solvers to manipulate words to find each answer. Part of every seemingly nonsensical clue is the definition of the word being sought, while the other part features some kind of devious wordplay. To make matters even more maddening, punctuation is often used deceptively. But clue-setters aren’t completely sadistic; they tell you, in parentheses following the clue, how many letters the solution contains. For instance:

Example 1: A backwards dog? I have no faith in him. (3)
Answer: god.
Definition: “I have no faith in him.”
Wordplay: “a backwards d-o-g,” which yields “g-o-d.”

Example 2: The believer arises from disassembled tin chairs. (9)
Answer: Christian.
Definition: The believer.
Wordplay: “tin chairs” anagrammed, or disassembled.

Example 3: Give pay to a kind of a magician or a religious nut. (14)
Answer: Fundamentalist
Definition: a religious nut.
Wordplay: “Give pay to” = fund + a +“kind of a magician” = mentalist.

Example 4: Glare from the sun nicely hides a potential fanatic. (5)
Answer: Sunni
Definition: a potential fanatic.
Wordplay: “Glare from the sun nicely" hides.

(If you'd like more help with cryptic clues, you might want to take a look at this short guide to solving them.)

I can't get enough of this kind of brainteaser. The sad fact, though, is that I’ve never found a set of cryptic clues all written specifically for atheists. That's why I’ve tried to rectify this lack with the following, each of which will lead to the name of a well-known freethinker. The clues below are roughly in the order of difficulty, with the easiest first.

  1. This atheist gives a funny-sad wink. (7)
  2. Any darn mixed-up godless person. (3,4)
  3. An atheist’s true worth is in depression. (7)
  4. This nonbeliever is the result of an irresistible urge in chickens. (8)
  5. A crooked arrow, looked at only partially, might point to this devil’s advocate. (6)
  6. Sweet honey, but heartless atheist. (7)
  7. Backward mothers a pronounced bother for such a faithless man. (3,6)
  8. A strange Kmart leads to shower for Elmer Fudd, that blasphemer. (4,5)
  9. A loud noise amidst the turbulence of war? Just the opposite for this original ex-Christian. (6)
  10. Meek CNN ridiculously goes after hell. But without the Spanish atheist. (1,1,7)
A symbolic prize will be awarded to the first person to correctly solve, with an appropriate explanation, each of the items.

ADDENDUM (7:16 p.m. EDT): The contest is now closed. Winners will be notified of their symbolic prizes in my next post. I'm proud to have some of the most mentally agile readers in the entire blogosphere, and I thank you all for participating; fortunately, I had no work to do today so I could have fun watching your comments pour in. SPOILER ALERT: If you've just arrived for the first time at this puzzle, and want to test your own skill in solving it, don't look at the comments.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Not a Post about Goat Cheese

As I've said a number of times in the past, I'm not a friendly atheist; I'm a cantankerous one. I don't find it productive to debate with religionists about their beliefs and my lack of same. Wasting my breath like that makes me cranky. It's like my arguing with my wife over goat cheese: No matter what I say, she's never going to believe that it tastes good, and no matter what she says, I'm never going to stop loving it.

But my wife and I have learned to accommodate one another. I don't try to force or cajole her to eat the stuff, and she doesn't make disgusted faces when I gorge on it.

In the same way, I think atheists and moderate/progressive religionists can learn to accommodate one another. They must accept that they can't ram their supernatural goat cheese down our throats, and they also shouldn't attempt to sneak it into our meals when we're not looking. We have to agree not to try to ban it from their philosophical tables, and to stop sneering whenever they express a love that we find nonsensical and unpalatable.

Recently, I've been engaging in a dialogue with Chuck Blanchard, who calls himself A Guy in the Pew. I first found his blog through my Google News Alerts; Blanchard had written a post as hard on the creationists as anything I've seen coming from the Atheosphere. As I explored his blog further, I noticed that the one anti-creationist post was not just a flash in the pan; he'd even sent his readers to check out P.Z. Myers over at Pharyngula.

Blanchard is interested in the sudden outpouring of attention-getting atheist books. He and I had a few back-and-forths on this subject, mostly through comments on his blog, but also through private emails. Today, he posted his response to our conversations. I highly recommend that you read it. Be sure to watch the included YouTube video, which further supports his ideas.

Having said something nice about a Christian, I'll now return to my regularly scheduled deprogramming. Just as soon as I finish this hunk of goat cheese.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Paris Hilton, Paris Hilton, Paris Hilton

Note to my regular readers: OK, here’s the deal. I’m writing this post (which by the way has very few facts in it about Paris Hilton) as an experiment. I just want to see how many search engine hits I receive from people who have nothing better to do with their lives than look for “information” about — what’s her name again? — Paris Hilton.

Note to the inquiring minds who keyed the words “Paris” and “Hilton” into their search engines: Welcome. You’ve stumbled onto a blog written by an atheist. Please try to remember that the “e” comes before the “i.” An atheist is a person who doesn’t believe in any gods or supernatural beings, including Jesus Christ and Paris Hilton. Also, let me assure you that I will not steal into your house in the middle of the night and burn your bible. That kind of stuff is not an atheist’s specialty; you have to go to the fundamentalist Christians if you want your library set on fire.

Some famous celebrity atheists are: Lindsay Lohan, Rosie O’Donnell, Johnny Depp, Tom Cruise, and the entire cast of Lost. Well, maybe I’m wrong. I don’t keep track of celebrities, and I sometimes get them mixed up with each other. I’m pretty sure I can tell the difference between Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron, but I never remember which of the Wilson boys is Luke and which is Owen. By the way, I think everyone I mentioned in that sentence is also an atheist, except maybe Cameron Diaz. But I can’t be certain. However, let me assure you that atheists do not keep secret lists of one another so we can raise vast amounts of money and/or mobilize millions of militant “soldiers” for our cause. Once again, you’d have to ask the fundamentalists to do that.

In any case, I don’t know whether Paris Hilton is an atheist or not, but somehow I doubt it. That’s because I suspect she doesn’t think about metaphysics much. People who really care about metaphysics—or any branch of philosophy, really — don’t tend to obsess over fancy clothes and expensive cosmetics. We’re interested in inner beauty, although not usually to the extent that we want to flash our organs publicly. At least, not most of us. Let me assure you that atheists will not threaten your family’s values by forcing you to look at our privates. That, too, is best left to fundamentalist Christians, and, of course, Catholic priests. And maybe Paris Hilton, too.

As long as you’ve found yourself at an atheist’s blog, why don’t you read one of the other posts I’ve written? You can find out what we atheists think about

  • Abortion: Contrary to popular opinion, we do not urge everybody, regardless of gender, to get one just for the hell of it.
  • Evolution: Despite what you’ve heard, we don’t festoon our walls with portraits of our ape grandparents.
  • Gay Marriage: Nope, we do not encourage everyone to get hitched to a same-sex partner just to annoy the evangelicals.
  • The Beginning of the Universe: Well, honestly? Not unlike Paris Hilton, we do go for the Big Bang.
You can also search for a specific word or term, to see where I’ve mentioned it before. Try typing the name “Paris Hilton,” for instance, just to check out how many times I’ve written about her in previous posts. Here’s a hint: Zero.

So, to sum up: Paris Hilton may be an atheist, but I doubt it. Paris Hilton also may enjoy showing off her naughty bits. Both atheists and Paris Hilton like the Big Bang. And I have never mentioned Paris Hilton in this blog before.

You now know everything you need to about atheists. I understand, though, that you still may want to find even more details about Paris Hilton. So I'll thank you for reading this post about her, and say goodbye. At some later date, when you've learned every single fact you can about Paris Hilton, you might also enjoy searching for some of my other great entries: O.J. Simpson, O.J. Simpson, O.J. Simpson; Anna Nicole Smith, Anna Nicole Smith, Anna Nicole Smith; and, of course, James Dobson, James Dobson, James Dobson. That’s another group of celebrity atheists, I think. Of course, I’m not positive. I’d ask Paris Hilton, but what does she know?

Saturday, June 09, 2007

My Capital Offenses

Gordonliv at Ain’t Christian has this to say about religionists Using Initial Capital Letters all the Damn Time. His example: The Glory of God shall be upon Thee according to His Word, in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit for All Eternity.

Doesn’t that kind of nonsensical Font-Abuse just make you want to Throw Up?

However, Gordonliv goes on to say, in deference to the English language, all proper names should be spelled with initials caps. That’s how we literates do things. For atheists to ignore that, he writes, is “silly.”

I agree with him for the most part. It’s ridiculous not to write "Jesus," "Mohammed," “Christian,” “Jew,” etc., just because you don’t respect the people to whom these words refer. (After all, most of us still use caps for “George Bush.”) I think, perhaps, you could even make a valid argument for uppercase “Atheist,” if you actually feel — although I don’t — that we’re some kind of proper-noun ethnic group.

But Gordonliv is wrong about two words he cites, and I'lll continue not to give them the recognition that an initial capital implies. Here's why:

(1) god. It’s not a proper name. When a person uses that word, you can't really know to whom it refers. Is it the god of the Jews, the Muslims, or the Christians? Is it the god of fundamentalist, moderate, or liberal practitioners of their particular religion. Yes, all these magicians in the sky are supposed to be the very same god, but clearly they're not. (Here’s a reasonable Christian take, written in the context of creationists vs. non-creationists, on this very “which god is it?” issue.) For me, using a lowercase spelling reflects the word's ambiguity.

(2) bible. The bible is not a single book; it's a collection of books written over the course of a millennium. And, again, the word has a different meaning for Jews than it does for Protestants, and a different meaning for Protestants than it does for Catholics. Of course, I think the name of each individual book should be capitalized. But as a book-lover, I have difficulty emphasizing a word which simply means "book," as if it’s the only one that’s important — particularly when it really refers to an ill-defined anthology. I suppose I’d have no problem writing: God’s Greatest Hits, Volumes I and II . (Notice that I did capitalize “God” when it was a word in a title.) For Jews, of course, it would have to be The Best of God: Volume I. And for Roman Catholics, whose bible includes a whole section of apocryphal writings, the collection would have to be called

The God Ominibus: featuring The Adventures of God, The Return of God, and The Son of God, now all in one convenient volume.
Language is a powerful tool, perhaps the most powerful tool that we humans have. If we’re adept with this tool, we make informed choices when we use it. When I refuse to capitalize “god” and “bible,” I’m not being “silly.” I’m using the tool I have — English — in the way it was meant to be used: to convey meaning.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Which Faith Do They Mean?

In America, any person, even a presidential wannabe, is free to practice whatever religion he or she chooses. Constitutionally, it would seem that a candidate is free to mention his or her beliefs, and members of the voting public are equally free to use those religious beliefs as a Ouija Board pointer to help them pick a favorite.

When presidential candidates refer to their “faith,” though, they almost always use the word in the abstract. But in their private lives, they all do claim to practice a specific religion. It would be deceitful for candidates to claim that their faith is merely some amorphous belief in a fuzzy, non-sectarian supernatural being. No, for each candidate, his or her faith springs from a particular set of religious teachings, which conflict with the teachings of other religions. A candidate who professes faith is essentially endorsing one religion over others.

The implication of all the “faith” talk is that each candidate will, if elected, use his or her faith to influence presidential actions. Otherwise, why discuss faith at all?

But using a specific faith under which to govern may lead to a violation of the First Amendment. That amendment speaks only of the actions of Congress, not of the president. However, if Congress follows the policy recommendations of a president who uses his or her faith to help decide governmental questions, that Congress is endorsing the president’s religion — at the expense of others.

A president swears (or affirms — ha!) to “... preserve, protect and defend the constitution of the United States.” That Constitution clearly forbids lawmakers from establishing religion (Note: not a religion, but religion in general).

Some interpreters argue that an “a” is implied, and that Congress may legislate in a vaguely pro-religious way as long as it doesn’t support one belief system over another. But nobody except the most blatant theocrat believes that one religion should be favored. So the president, whoever it may be, must not allow Congress to be swayed by his or her own particular form of faith. If the president makes decisions based on that faith — a faith grounded in a specific religion — and urges legislators to implement such decisions, the president is acting contrary to an explicit Constitutional prohibition.

Therefore: For a candidate to make an implied promise that faith will play a part in his or her governmental decisions is tantamount to saying that he or she, if elected, will violate the Constitution.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Thoughtful and Educated: Too Much to Ask?

I am so sick of presidential candidates being asked questions about their faith. Just today, for example, there’s a piece on CR online [Note: that's Church Report], listing the contenders’ answers to a series of AP queries about “what their religion is, whether there is a particular church that they are a member of, and how often they attend services.” Only Dennis Kucinich had the courage to say that he attends services “not often.”

This evening, a so-called “Progressive Christian” organization named “Sojourners/Call to Renewal” sponsored a forum featuring Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards. While the group's commendable mission is to fight for the poor, its message is, of course, all bollixed up with religion. Thus, the candidates were asked to speak about “faith, moral values, and poverty.” I haven't yet seen a transcript or video, but I'm assuming that some supernatural being was favorably mentioned.

Just once, I would like to see the aspirants to the White House asked questions about values I care about: their views on learning and human achievement. We’ve been through six and a half years of carefully crafted ignorance at the highest levels, and it’s time for a change. So saying, here are my suggestions for questions to be used in a debate on the intellect. Note that these questions are meant to reveal attitudes, rather than specific knowledge.

about Science

  • In what ways would you like science to change the world during your presidency?
  • What do you think are the five most important scientific or mathematical advances in history? Explain your answer.
  • Do you feel that you know enough actual science to make informed decisions about scientific matters? If so, describe your qualifications. If not, whom would you appoint as your science advisers, and why?
  • Do you think scientific information should be subject to opinion polls? Why or why not?
  • What was the last science book you read? What did you learn from it?

about History

  • What five historical events do you think offer the best lessons for Americans today? Explain.
  • What non-American and non-biblical historical figure would you most wish to meet? Why? What questions would you want to ask him or her?
  • If someone were to claim that a nation was founded based on a specific religion, how might you go about determining whether or not that’s true?
  • If you had to choose another historical period to live in, which period would you pick, and why?
  • What was the last non-political history book you read? What did you learn from it?

about the Arts

  • Do you think that studying the works of great artists, musicians, and writers gives people insight into their own lives? Cite examples to support your opinion.
  • Which five works of literature have most molded you into the person you are today? How?
  • What five famous paintings or sculptures — works that you’ve actually seen in a museum — have impressed you the most? What was impressive about them?
  • Name five pieces of music that are neither country, nor rock, nor patriotic songs, nor hymns that arouse feelings in you? What feelings?
  • What great author, musician, or artist could you not live without? If you were forced to do so, what would be missing from your life?

The above questions are all pretty generic. They could be answered truthfully, for better or worse, by any thoughtful, educated person. Faith questions, on the other hand, can be answered truthfully only by those who espouse unreason.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Kickin' It with Christ

After refusing to grant IDer Guillermo Gonzalez tenure as an astronomy professor, Iowa State University is back in the religion news again this weekend.

It seems that the school’s football coach, Gene Chizik, thinks his boys need divine inspiration, and he’s willing to solicit private donations to hire an official team chaplain. ISU’s athletic director, Jamie Pollard, thinks the coach’s idea is heavenly. According to an AP story on May 31, Pollard claims that his “student-athletes are under a lot of pressure and need access to spiritual guidance.” Neither Chizik nor Pollard specify why the players couldn’t receive such guidance in a church, but it’s obvious. The coach will order some heavy-duty praying done precisely at a moment when his team needs supernatural help to score a touchdown, or, if the deity is feeling stingy about points that day, at least a field goal. Christ, apparently, gets his kicks on the football field.

What a tawdry little godlet sports figures seem to have. The character they pray to gives a shit whether or not they make a first down on the next play. That’s why Chizik’s Jesus died on the cross, so the Cyclones can out-score their opponents. “Forgive them, Father, for they’ve got fifty bucks on the game.”

But the world of reason has not yet succumbed to the outrageous. Well, at least not in Ames, Iowa. A large number of faculty and staff — reports differ as to whether it’s 100 or 126 — have the audacity to believe that there actually is a separation of church and state in this country, and that such separation should be operative on the football field at a public institution. That’s why they’ve signed a petition to present to Iowa State’s Athletics Council.

One of the prime movers of the petition was atheist Hector Avalos, a professor of religion studies at ISU. The fundies already have their pious panties in a twist over him. According to the Discovery Institute (and no, I’m not going to link to them), Avalos “led the charge against Gonzalez and intelligent design on ISU's campus, helping to draft a 2005 petition denouncing intelligent design that ultimately was signed by more than 120 ISU faculty.” Interestingly, Avalos was promoted to a full professorship at the very same time that Gonzalez was denied tenure.

So far, the tally is Avalos 1, Theocrats 0. The Theocrats’ offense is tough, though, and they’ll be fighting hard in this next contest to even up the score. We Avalos fans probably won’t need to paint our faces, but let’s do what we can to show our support. Gimme an A! Gimme a V! ....

Friday, June 01, 2007

Carnival of Indoctrination

We English-speakers in the Atheosphere tend to focus on the claptrap spoon-fed by Christians to their innocent children. However, many other religions also enjoy brainwashing the young. In this, the first and—let’s hope—the last Carnival of Indoctrination, I’ve collected some choice gems from around the Internet. Enjoy!

Many, many years ago, I substitute-taught for a week at a yeshivah in Brooklyn. When I passed out a test one day, the kids all reached into their pockets, and there was a sudden flurry of little cards. Each boy had placed a small inspirational photo or drawing on his desk. Walking around the room, I realized that the “helpful” pictures reminded me of Catholic saints. I said to the least unsecular kid, “I thought the Jews didn’t allow graven images.” He responded, “This is no graven image. This is my rebby.” The following game reminded me of that.
Although the page doesn’t say so, you can move a piece just by clicking on it, as long as it's next to the empty space. I guess there’s a passage in the Torah explaining this.
Jewish Indoctrination

A du’a is a personal supplication to Allah, kind of like a solicitation call to the sky. Basically, you’re free to ask for anything, but—and I’m giving you a big hint you don’t deserve—Allah seems to prefer that it not be a car or money.
Click on the dropdown menu to see your choices. If you have some other ideas that aren’t listed, take it up with your imam.
Muslim Indoctrination

The finished picture may remind you of THE virgin and child, but it isn’t. Jesus, as everyone knows, was not blue (except perhaps in the emotional sense). The infant shown is actually Rama (not to be confused with Rama Lama Ding Dong).
Oh, yikes. Just read “How to Play,” f'chrissake.
Hindu Indoctrination

This is actually my favorite of the sites. I must admit, though, that I expected to hear traditional Asian hymns. Instead, the featured music is the same insipid, twangy stuff that Christians used to go for before they discovered the money-raising wonders of ersatz hard rock.
The instructions fail to mention that you have to anticipate the arrows, not just wait until they land. And the blurb about loading the hymns isn’t kidding when it says “You have to wait awhile ....” But patience is a virtue, right? By the way, once the song has started, there’s no way to stop it before it’s done, unless you exit the page. If you get bored of the game, perhaps you can practice clapping with one hand.
Buddhist Indoctrination

Although it may not be apparent, this propaganda puzzle is for followers of the Baha’i faith, which was invented in the mid-1800s by a Persian who called himself Baha’u’llah. His message was one of world unity and peace, so it's obviously unappealing to followers of the Abrahamic cults.
If you click on “New Game,” you can begin playing. Start at any appropriate letter, and move your mouse to block out a word. There are three different games available. Nothing against Baha'i, but I can't imagine how Chicago could be considered a “religious place.”
Baha'i Indoctrination

This coloring book describes a typical spring day for little “witchlets.” You’ll find that their activities are mostly similar to those of normal evangelical children, except that these youngsters have a brief episode in which they seeing faeries. Notice that the simple-minded author couldn’t find a rhyme for the word “flew,” so she magically changed the past tense of “fly” to “flied.” Witches can do shit like that.
This is a PDF file, and takes a long time to load. The upside is that you can print out the pages to color. Warning: Do NOT use your crayons on your computer screen.
Wiccan Indoctrination

This is not an indoctrination for children per se, but I did want to share its message with all my readers. On first viewing, you may think that some kind of sadistic eye test is going on, but sit quietly and relax. Unless, of course, you have the same response that I did and the music makes you want to jump up and start belly-dancing. Note: Your wife will probably not be entertained by that.
Duh. Click on “play.”
Zoroastrian Indoctrination

Well, try as I might, I couldn’t find any sites specifically dedicated to brainwashing tots in Scientology. This interactive feature is the closest I could come.
Set your E-meter to “Stupid” and go.
Scientology Indoctrination

Well, boys and girls, we've reached the end of our little fun fair, at least for now. But you know where we are. The next time you need your brain washed, ask your parents to bring you by for another visit. Remember: Your mind can never be too cleansed.