Sunday, September 30, 2007

An Urgent Message for Christians

Heh heh. Am I a whore for hits, or what?

Actually, I’m running a little experiment. Notice the BlogRush widget prominently sitting over there at the top left. If you want to know more about BlogRush's e-pyramid scheme, click on the bottom of the widget.

On Friday, my friend vjack at Atheist Revolution placed that billboard on his blog, with the expectation of making his traffic go through the roof. He posted about it, which is what made me notice the thing. Well, I don’t know whether his hit count went up significantly, although I expect not.

But there's a bigger problem: BlogRush offers no Atheist/Freethought category, so poor vjack, along with all other atheists who have chosen to display the widget, have been forced to classify themselves in the Religion & Spirituality group. I checked vjack’s widget three or four times, and found that he was shilling almost totally for Christian blogs. The sole exception was a superstitious New Age-y yoga site that seemed to be promoting kindergarten Hinduism. V is now advertising for every pious nutball web site in the BlogRush stable.

As am I. Because I'm running a test to see if BlogRush's claims are legit. If they are, I'll urge all atheist/freethinker blogs to join up right away. But I'm skeptical, as I am about all things that offer pie-in-the-sky.

I think vjack may have a problem attracting the mass of Religion & Spirituality clickers, who overwhelmingly appear to be Jesus-jumpers. His blog's name, remember, is Atheist Revolution. But the title No More Hornets reveals nothing about the godlessness you can revel in here. To see if there's any truth to BlogRush's net-rich-quick scheme, I picked a headline for this post that no theocrat could resist.

So: Welcome, Christians. You’ve been duped into temporarily associating with an atheist. The Lord is gonna be mighty pissed that you let your guard down.

As for my other readers: I’ll keep you posted on this experiment. If my blog actually is rushed, I’ll tell you immediately. If not, I’ll tell you that, too in the post explaining why I've removed the widget.

I'm not a scientist, but I'm theorizing that the widget will not remain here long. I'll be testing my hypothesis starting ... now.

Update: It's just about five minutes since I launched this little essay, and among the five blogs listed on my widget, surprisingly, are both Atheist Revolution and The Atheist Jew. Hmmm.

Friday, September 28, 2007

There's No Creationist Meme, Is There?

I’ve been tagged by vjack of Atheist Revolution with the Evolution Meme, which has nothing to do with the science of evolution. This meme is different from the usual ha-ha triviality of memes; it’s asking me to be introspective and examine the evolution of my own blog, No More Hornets. I’m supposed to select five posts that show how my blog has changed and developed – evolved – over time, and include some commentary. When I’m done, I tag five other blogs to perform the same task.

I’m not convinced that No More Hornets is worth that kind of critical analysis, but I’m flattered that vjack selected me. Oddly enough, since my blog is approaching its one-year birthday, I’ve already been thinking about what I’m trying to accomplish here in the Atheosphere.

1. My very first post, on October 24, 2006, was Let’s Skip Campbell. Notice that I didn’t bother to introduce myself to the blog-world; I just plunged right in with a rant about a local politician. (He lost, by the way — but certainly no thanks to my post.) My wife had urged me to start a blog because she was getting tired of hearing me sputter about politics and religion while we were eating dinner. “You need an audience,” she said. Since I pretentiously saw myself as a modern-day revolutionary pamphleteer, I picked a pseudonym much as colonial Americans had done when they raged against the British. The post went up, and I waited smugly for the deluge of responses. Take a moment to look at the number of comments I earned.

2. By the time I’d been posting for two months, I knew that I wasn't going to change the world. I’d also familiarized myself with the Atheosphere. In December, I discovered and immediately applied for admission to Mojoey’s Atheist Blogroll, then merely 100-odd strong. I was delighted and proud to be listed among so many great blogs, and still am. But I also found that quite a few of my fellow atheists went on and on, over and over, about the same things. I hadn’t yet discovered how I wanted my posts to be different, but I did know a few all-too-common subject areas that I did not want to write about. So I decided to indulge myself and get preachy. What a pain in the ass I can be, eh? I still think of myself as an atheist gadfly, though, and the opinions in this post Where is H.LMencken When We Need Him? still pretty much reflect how I feel. You’ll notice that I had two commenters by then.

3. I continued to write my angry editorials — still do — but I also tried to think of ways I could develop my own particular voice. Years ago, in real, non-blog life, I’d written a newspaper column for a local rag. I became infamous in my town for off-the-wall stuff; just weird funny shit that I committed to paper even though it had no real relevance to current events. Yes, I still wrote topical articles then, but I also published parodies, personal reminiscences, humorous lists, all kinds of random junk. In March, when I thought of a song parody for atheists, I decided to post it. By then, I had a Christian troll who was commenting regularly; he tried—unsuccessfully—to better my parody; check out the comments if you want to see how someone with no sense of rhythm writes poetry. Anyway, If I Only Had a God got few other comments, but I still perform the song at parties to great applause.

4. I suppose the silliest post I ever did — but believe me, that title has lots of competition — was my take on Paris Hilton, Paris Hilton, Paris Hilton. In one short essay, I managed to make fun of celebrity-mad fans, fundamentalists, atheists who take themselves too seriously, and my own tendency toward hyper-inflated self-importance. It’s one of my favorites.

5. I can't predict where my blog is headed. I’m still posting oddball surprises as often as I can, as my regular readers know. I’m also still engaging in political and legal discourse, although I do refrain from posting on a topic if I feel I have nothing new and urgent to add. In the last few months, just as vjack has, I've become interested in doing my own small part to help create a sense of atheist community on the Internet. One way to do this, I believe, is to have dialogues that spill over from one blog to another. We don’t post in a vacuum, after all, and I think it’s important for us to link to one another when we differ with, expand on, embellish, or just add our own two cents to someone else’s thoughts. I do that a lot these days. But to end this little evolutionary ramble, I’ll include one of the first times I continued a conversation started on another blog. My offering, Ron Paul: Linking Church and State, still gets lots of hits from Google. The comments to this post were particularly interesting to me because they were my initial encounters with atheists who had their own areas of blind faith. If you read the thread, you’ll find that some nonbelievers are so eager to believe in something that they suspend their insistence on evidence. The implications of that concept scare me. When is an atheist not an atheist? When he/she has a political viewpoint based on fantasy.

Here are the blogs I'm tagging:

Spanish Inquisitor
A Whore in the Temple of Reason
Why Don’t You Blog?
A Load of Bright
Evolutionary Middleman

Friday, September 21, 2007

Is Rainwater All Wet?

Today I had a personal email from PhillyChief, asking me to write my own post on the same subject as one he’d just published. It’s really nifty, I think, that some of us atheists communicate with one another privately to ask for advice, comments, and criticism, and to urge further discussion on issues that need to be hashed out in the Atheosphere. We are a community, and I count Philly among my friends.

The trouble in this instance, though, is: I disagree with him. Go read Philly’s post, so I don’t have to restate the whole situation. You might also want to take a look at John P.’s post, while you’re at it.

* * *

Welcome back. I’m gonna digress for a minute to quote the U.S. Constitution once more, because I don’t think it can ever be quoted enough. The First Amendment begins:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech ...
The first few words of the Amendment are often referred to as the Establishment Clause. The second prohibition against governmental interference is known as the Free Exercise Clause. And, of course, the rest of the part I quoted is the Free Speech Clause. For fans of the Marx Brothers, I’d like to point out that there is no Sanity Clause.

Neither the Freedom From Religion Foundation nor schools Superintendent Art Rainwater are claiming that the Free Exercise Clause is at issue. The FFRF is claiming that distribution of the fliers violates the Establishment Clause. Rainwater’s claim is that distribution of the fliers upholds the Free Speech Clause. Hey, we’ve got ourselves a potential Constitutional conflict, don't we? No governmental institution (among which, clearly, are public schools) may work toward establishing a religion, nor may it abridge the right to free speech. I’ve already addressed this dilemma in my post Bongs Hits for Establishment.

So the School Board, in the alleged goal of creating “a limited public forum,” decides that any “appropriate” flier (apparently purely commercial advertisements are disallowed) may be sent home with the kids for the parents to read. The flier must include a printed disclaimer stating that the activity is not sponsored, approved, or endorsed by the school.

Now, we’ve seen the tactic of sending home Christian messages before. The godpushers who want to enslave young minds are delighted to be able to do so under the auspices, if not the technical support, of public education. Their agenda is obvious.

BUT ... and it’s a big but (no offense to anyone) ... the School Board’s policy, as stated, sounds commendable. What better way to teach children that speech is free in this country than to let them be inundated with fliers of all sorts? Yes, we should teach them, speech is free, but not all speech should be accepted as true or valuable. Each member of the audience must decide for him- or herself whether the message is gold or garbage. That’s a very cool lesson. And remember: parents can simply toss out any flier they find offensive. Or, better still, they can use it as a springboard for a family discussion.

If we really believe in free speech, we should support it everywhere. Free speech may be offensive to some, but that’s the way it is with freedom: sometimes it's messy. Either you’re for free speech or against it; there’s no picking and choosing. And it should extend to the classroom, too. As Justice Fortas wrote in a different context:
It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech at the schoolhouse gate.
So there in Madison we have a potential Constitutional problem: Do the fliers violate the Establishment Clause or are they merely an exercise of Free Speech? I’d be inclined to go with free speech for the time being, and leave the school board alone. As unlikely as it seems to those of us who have seen the fundies’ dishonesty time and time again, perhaps this situtation is different.

There’s an easy way to decide. The offending flier said:
Plant the Seeds of Faith in Jesus in Your Child at Our Sunday School ...Don't Neglect the 3 R's: Religion, Relationships and Rejoicing.
An atheist group should come up with a similar flier that says (for example):
Plant the Seeds of Reason in Your Child at Our Sunday Secular Meeting ... Don’t Neglect the 3 R’s: Reality, Rationality and Relish.
(I also like Revitalization, Release, or Risibility as substitutes for that last R. Even repeating Relationships or Rejoicing would be fine. Just don't make it Republicanism.)

If that flier flies, we atheists should have no complaint. If it’s banned for any reason, we’ve got an Establishment and a Free Speech case.

So let’s be reasonable, as we atheists always claim to be. It’s premature to be flooding the school board with letters and emails. There’s a small chance that they really do care about promoting free speech. Wouldn’t that be fantastic, eh?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Well, It IS Like Herding Cats

As many of you know by now, the next book the Nonbelieving Literati will read is Lamb by Christopher Moore.

Since the concept of a target date for posting doesn’t seem to have worked, I’m proposing that we name an “earliest post” date, rather than a “target.” That way, those who want to read the book at their leisure won’t feel that they’re in a race to be done on a specific day, nor will they have cause to whine about having “homework.” As I suggested in my original proposal, if you finish the book before our date, go ahead and write your essay—but to be fair to everyone who might want to enjoy the book without having to filter it through someone else’s ideas, please don’t post your essay until the alarm goes off.

I think the new format, without a target date, may open the discussion up to those who would rather commit themselves to making a few comments than writing a complete post. And it would allow folks who don't blog to become involved.

As a new feature added to my Nonbelieving Literati blogroll, I’m putting a star next to the names of those members who have turned in their assignments ... um, I mean, posted on the book currently under discussion. That way, anyone who wants to read some or all of the essays will know which blogs to visit. I’ll keep adding these stars, until we hit the new earliest post date, at which time I’ll get rid of all the asterisks and start again.

For Lamb, I think a month and a half ought to be plenty of time for those of us who will read it for pleasure rather than as a chore. So I’m proposing November 1 as our earliest post date. Is everyone OK with that?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Julian: A Study in Tolerance

Can a “liberal” political leader who professes faith — even one who picks and chooses practices from various different religions — be truly tolerant? Or is there something inherent in every system of supernatural belief that causes its adherents to be enemies of those with differing worldviews?

As an atheist, and a student of history, I’d have to answer those questions, respectively, “no” and “duh!” If you’re a person of faith, it’s impossible for you to co-exist peacefully with those who have conflicting metaphysical notions. If your idea of god is the sun, then you can’t have a reasonable conversation with someone who insists that god is the moon. Assuming the two of you can manage to agree, in a begrudging and wishy-washy way, that god is “a light in the sky,” you may be able to strike a temporary accommodation with one another, and even, perhaps, forge a common bond with the guy who knows that god is the north star. But how do you get along with the believer who claims that god is a hole in the ground? And what do you do about the fanatic who threatens to kill you if you don’t accept that god is a giant dead toad who made the sky and the ground—and can change them both whenever he wants to?

This, in a grossly oversimplified nutshell, is one of the central conflicts in Gore Vidal’s Julian: Can a man of faith, enlightened and well-meaning though he be, concoct—and follow—a policy of universal tolerance?

For those of you who haven’t read the book: The title character is the Emperor Julian, who reigned from 361 to 363. Catholics to this day refer to him as “Julian the Apostate” because he was determined to reintroduce the pagan gods to an empire that had slowly but surely become Christianized. When the Emperor Constantine I found Jesus through a miracle (unfortunately not preserved on videotape), Christians had quickly gone from being victims to victimizers. Constantine was baptized shortly before his death in 337, and his successors were all—as Julian calls them—Galileans. Despite the fact that Christians waged some of their nastiest and bloodiest battles amongst themselves, the triumphant priests, once given an imperial toehold in Rome, did their best to eviscerate all other religions. Tolerance, as we atheists all know, is not in the official Christian playbook.

So along comes Julian. After having Christianity rammed down his throat as a young boy, he’s seduced by “philosophy.” For him, philosophy is a combination of neo-Platonism and mystery cults, commingled with a generous dose of old-fashioned superstition: entrails-reading, animal sacrifice, and the deities’ faces appearing, either literally or figuratively, everywhere. Julian is a pious sponge when it comes to learning about the gods. In fact, he could well have been the Stephen Prothero of his day, a vociferous proponent of Religious Literacy. If Julian were alive in 2007, he’d be a theology professor—but one with a dangerous political agenda.

Vidal’s novel is told mostly in the first person by Julian, through his memoirs. And what a liar Julian is, as all “true believers” are, although it’s not clear whether he’s lying to his eventual readers or merely to himself. Here’s my paraphrase of his life:

I definitely don’t want to be emperor. I’m a scholar, not a fighter. You know me and those books, eh? Well, OK, maybe I’d be a pretty good soldier. Um, damn good, actually, if I do say so myself. That’s what the gods seem to think, anyway. But I’m certainly no Alexander the Great. And did I mention: I don’t want to be emperor; I’ve never wanted to be emperor. Although, maybe the gods do want me to be Alexander the Great. You never know, right? I could be channeling Alexander the Great this very minute. I’ll admit, he was kinda like an emperor, which I don’t want to be, but stranger things have happened. And, really, who’m I kidding? I’d make a great emperor—not that I want to be emperor. Hey, wait a minute. Whaddaya know? I’m emperor!
A conspiracy of mumbo-jumbo-spouting opportunists spoonfeeds poor Julian what he most wants to hear: that he’s special, a favorite of the gods. His sycophantic “tutors” tap into his secret, unstated ambitions, and one of them even becomes his spiritual/political adviser on the road to the White House ... um, emperorship. Julian, in short, is hooked on his faith. But he’s the picker and chooser I mentioned in the first paragraph, a little rite from here, a little ceremony from there. And oh so tolerant. Hilariously, he criticizes the Christians for assimilating elements of other religions in order to popularize their own; but Julian himself wants to be the greatest popularizer of them all.

“I plan a world priesthood,” he says, “governed by the Roman Pontifex Maximus.” (That Chief Priest would, of course, be him.) “Every god and goddess known to the people, no matter in what guise or under what strange name, would be worshipped, for multiplicity is the nature of life... We may not know this creator, though his outward symbol is the sun. But through intermediaries, human and divine, he speaks to us, shows us aspects of himself, prepares us for the next stage of the journey.”

Doesn’t this sound oddly like the ecumenical faith of, say, Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton?

Look, I believe, and I’m a far better person for it. But you don’t have to. You’re under absolutely no obligation. Still, you’ve gotta admit, it would be a much better world if you did believe. More compassionate. More moral. More democratic. And we all want to spread compassion, morality, and democracy, don’t we?
Julian’s dream is not to spread democracy, but Hellenism. “The failure of Hellenism,” he says, “has been, largely, a matter of organization. Rome never tried to impose any sort of worship upon the countries it conquered and civilized; in fact, quite the contrary. Rome was eclectic. All religions were given an equal opportunity ... As time passed our rites became, and one must admit it bluntly, merely form, a reassuring reminder of the great age of the city, a token gesture to the old gods who were thought to have founded and guided Rome from a village by the Tiber to world empire.”

That paragraph, with a few minor substitutions— “Democracy” for “Hellenism,” “America” for “Rome,” “country” for “city,”god who was” for “old gods who were,” and “Potomac” for “Tiber”—could sit comfortably in the mouth of any anti-secularist rousing the rabble in the United States today. Remember, though: Julian, so he says, is open-minded. Of course, like John Edwards, he does believe that the state needs its deity. As Edwards puts it: “it is enormously important to look to God—and in my case, Christ” (in Julian’s case, the goddess Cybele, the god Apollo, and various other magical beings, with perhaps the sole exception of Christ)—“for guidance and for wisdom.” But Julian’s, like Edwards’, is a big-tent religion. In my case Cybele, in your case ... you name it. Come on in, and close the flap behind you.

Oh, but that generic faith proposed by Julian cannot absorb the zealotry of Christianity. And Julian, reasonably (most of us atheists would think), remains fundamentally hostile to the spiritual power grabs of the Galileans. They, on their part, adamantly refuse to be assimilated, as religious extremists have always done.

So ultimately, for Julian, it’s not possible to tolerate intolerance. The all-encompassing, mutual-respect state religion he hopes to set up turns out to be exclusionary after all. Julian is forced to single Christians out for unique forms of educational ostracism, as well as disciplinary actions. And in the guise of tolerance, he takes steps to reinvigorate their internal disputes. He even confiscates Christian treasures and closes a cathedral on a bogus charge of arson, but not without first torturing the suspected perpetrator. In short, the oh-so-broadminded Julian becomes, except in name, one of them: a Pat Robertson, a Bill Donohue, yes, and a Meir Kahane, Mullah Omar, and Ayatollah Khomeini, too.

But the emperor’s zeal to spread tolerance is not limited to Christians. In Julian’s lust to extend his hodgepodge Hellenism, he cooks up a phony dispute to make war against the Persians. After all, the god Mithras and the ghost of the dead prophet Zarathustra long for him to take their holy land so it can rightfully be added to the newly tolerant Roman empire’s voodoo stew. And doesn’t the spirit of Alexander himself urge Julian on to greater glory, even when the Persians sue for peace in a lopsided bargain that yields a tremendous earthly advantage to the Romans? Unfortunately, it’s not good enough for the Pontifex Maximus and his catch-all deities.

Long before Richard Dawkins reasoned it out, two generations before Sam Harris warned us about it, nearly half a century before Christopher Hitchens discussed it incessantly, Gore Vidal was telling those who would listen that religion poisons everything. His Julian starts out as a likable—if somewhat insincere—intellectual, but he evolves into a god-crazed monster. No, Vidal says, tolerance is not possible from a man of faith. Superstition, even a makeshift adaptive one, insists on exclusivity.

In the end, Julian is defeated by Christianity, as—Vidal implies—we all have been in the West. But despite any affection the author, or the reader, may hold for the hero, Julian’s success would have been equally disastrous. An allegedly tolerant theocracy is still a theocracy. As such, it cannot long endure religious differences. The lesson for all of us is clear: A political leader who is committed to his faith, however benevolent that particular version of faith may seem, is always on the ready to crush dissent.

Let the voter beware.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


I like each of my posts to be about one specific thing, so I’ve resisted the temptation to clump together various random, unrelated thoughts. But today I’ve got a number of little niggling things that are bothering me, plus some bits of unfinished business. None of these items deserves an entire entry to itself; they're just some mentally scribbled notes I wanted to clean out from the inbox of my mind.

1) I subscribe to a few Google alerts. One of my categories is “religion, presidential candidates,” and every day I receive at least twenty pieces of email culled from news sources and blogs. There seems to be a great divergence of opinion about whether the candidates’ pious posturings will matter in the next presidential election. Some of the messages in my mailbox have headlines like: “Religion Not a Major Issue, Polls Say.” But about an hour later I’ll be sent a commentary titled: “Candidates’ Faith Likely to Play Key Role in ’08.” Regardless of which of these summaries you choose to believe (being an atheist, I believe neither), there’s still an awful lot of goddledygook out there. I have never yet received an alert saying either “Brains Not a Major Issue, Polls Say” or “Candidates’ Intelligence Likely to Play Key Role in ’08.” What I object to is that the religion dialogue is going on at all, not the degree to which it will be effective in electing someone.

2) The verdict is in — sort of — on the Nonbelieving Literati format. Among the responses, there seems to be an ever-so-slight preference for each of us posting his or her own essay, so that’s what we'll do this time around.

3) Hillary Clinton is seen by the morons who take part in polls as one of the least religious of the current presidential candidates. Yet, according to Mother Jones she has been a member of a Christian terrorist cell for fifteen years. Read about it here. (All right, maybe “terrorist” is too strong a word for most of those people. But they sure terrify me. And they should similarly affect anyone who believes in separation of Church and State.)

4) A story making the rounds of the newspapers a few days ago told of a group of approximately 300 people — actors, scholars, and various other blowhards among them — who have signed a “declaration of reasonable doubt.” This document has nothing to do with religion; it’s being pushed by the Shakespeare Authorship Coalition. The document names 20 “prominent” doubters of the past, including Sir John Gielgud, Orson Welles, Mark Twain, and that eminent Shakespearean scholar, Charlie Chaplin, all of whom thought it was impossible for an ignorant country bumpkin to have written plays that demonstrated so much knowledge. (And isn’t it a good thing for those guys that they died before an ignorant country bumpkin ... aww, you finish the joke, OK?) Anyway, the signers are the literary equivalent of atheists, and it’s hard not to take some pleasure in their assault on the orthodox position. There’s no news yet whether anyone from the Coalition plans to publish a book called “The Shakespeare Delusion” or “The End of Avon.” In this matter, I, personally, am militantly agnostic. I don’t have all the facts (no one does), so I don’t have an opinion. Nor do I feel I need one. Unlike the bible, the plays are great literature, and I’m not sure it really matters whether Willie or the Flying Spaghetti Bard wrote them.

5) Only two of my readers successfully solved the puzzle at the end of my scavenger hunt through the Atheosphere. They are: Hemant Mehta (no surprise there, eh?) and Martin Engbers. My pal yinyang managed to find all the objects, but so far has not come up with the final answer. I’m not revealing anything, though, so if you’re still thinking about making the effort, go for it.

6) I think it’s time for all atheists and others who believe in the First Amendment to begin seriously challenging the concept of “hate speech.” No, I’m not saying we shouldn’t object vociferously whenever we hear offensive anti-whatever remarks; we should definitely tell our friends, relatives, neighbors, and even casual acquaintances to put a lid on it if they make odious generalizations about any group. But let’s call it hateful speech, without quotation marks, not “hate speech,” as if that were an officially recognized category. For example: The other day, Emmy-winning Kathy Griffin said, when she gleefully accepted her statuette at the unaired Creative Arts ceremony: “A lot of people come up here and thank Jesus for the award. I want you to know that no one had less to do with this award than Jesus. So all I can say is, ‘Suck it, Jesus.’ This award is my god now.” Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, immediately called this “hate speech.” The league has now successfully lobbied the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences to censor Griffin’s thank-you when the highlights are broadcast. Not only that: Donohue is demanding—demanding!—an apology. But here’s the deal: All speech, except for trivia about the weather or cute kitties, can be labeled, in some way, as “hate speech.” (Even the cat-cooing might be thought of as hate speech by militant dog-lovers.) Fortunately, we live in a country where — so far — anyone is free to say the most hateful things, even “The pope is an asshole” or “Shut the fuck up, Bill Donohue.”

7) Mother Teresa was not an atheist, OK? She spent her life spreading superstition among the world’s poor and helpless. She may have had her occasional doubts, but they sure didn’t keep her from ramming religion down people’s throats. Good Catholic that she was — and funded in large part by the Church — she once said that abortion was “the greatest destroyer of world peace.” Oh, yeah, Mom T. thought it was just peachy to make sure those destitute people didn’t kill their defenseless unborn babies. What a small price for the pitiable masses to pay to ensure peace on Earth.

8) I’ve been getting a lot of traffic from the Jesus in Food Web site. Since his appearance in edibles seems to inspire so much interest, I’m thinking about trademarking the name of a frozen pizza that would feature his picture buried somewhere under the pepperoni and mushrooms: Christ on a Crust. I’ve also got an idea for a new variety of deli sandwich: Him on Rye (made from the ultimate mystery meat.) In the candy department, how about Sermon on the Mounds (“blessed are the coconut makers”)? Of course, each of these products would come with all the wine you can drink—just add water.

9) Why do I keep receiving emails from sexy women who wonder if I’d like to be their “pen pals”? These notes hardly ever come to the address bearing my actual name, but at least five a week are sent to The Exterminator. Where in this blog have I ever depicted myself as someone who needs more writing to do? Obviously, my head is cluttered enough.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Nonbelieving Literati: Update

OK, so some of you feel like you’ve got homework, right?

Well, John P., the Spanish Inquisitor, made a suggestion this week which I’ll share with you. Please comment so we can shape our little club.

John recommended a different format from the one I’d originally proposed, and I’d be happy to go along with it if enough of you like it better.

My original proposal, you’ll recall, was for us to write a series of independent essays (not book reviews or summaries) based on ideas suggested by the book we’ve read. We’d “launch” on a given date (September 15 in this case) and, eventually, perhaps, I’d collect all essays into a carnival. I hadn’t thought about responses we might have to one another’s essays; I suppose I just assumed we’d either leave comments on the essayists’ blogs, or, if our reactions were complex and long enough, post again.

John posits an ongoing blogversation instead. He proposes that I alone start with an essay, and that others post responses to it, and then we all post reactions to one another, leading to more feedback, etc. Personally, I think his idea is a bit unwieldy because (1) we’d each have to decide whether to respond via comments or posts and (2) when do we stop? Also, it has the topical limitation of jumping off from just one person’s take on the book. (Last, I’m concerned that some of you may already have written or planned your independent essays, and will feel “betrayed” by a sudden change of format.)

On the other hand, John’s recommendation does have the tremendous advantage of being a genuinely interactive event, rather than merely a simultaneous series of interrelated ones.

Frankly, I’m torn. But I haven’t written my essay yet. If we follow my original plan, I’ll try to fashion my commentary to be self-contained, thoughtful, and only mildly outrageous. If we follow John’s plan, I’ll probably craft my essay to be downright provocative and argumentative — in order to engender a hotter level of dialogue.

I’m comfortable with either approach here. You folks decide. The “voting” is open to all members, including our two newest: vjack at Atheist Revolution and Darren (both of whom said they won’t be taking part in the Julian discussion but will hop on board for the second book.)

[By the way, John P. was the quickest person to respond to my original post. Since that made him the first member, I thought he should select our next read. Tentatively, he has — something lighter and shorter than Julian. That’s a relief, eh? Watch here for the announcement some time in the next week or so.]

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Puzzling Atheists #3:
A Goddamned Scavenger Hunt

I’ve been kind of hard on some of my fellow atheists lately, so I’ve decided to make it up to them by challenging you to a scavenger hunt through the Atheosphere. There’s no hurry; you can go on your search in one sitting or you can feel free to make your trip last for as long as you like. I’m not going to give you any direct links in this post — figuring out where to go is part of the puzzle — but I will tell you that you can find all the relevant sites just a click away on one or more of my blogrolls: “Nonbelieving Literati,” “Godforsaken Blogs,” and “Frequent Commenters.”

I’ve listed 20 items below, 17 of which you can find by following my not-so-simple directions. Cross off each item as you find it. The three items left over are things you’ll never see on any of the blogs you visit during your journey. Well, maybe you’ll see them, but you certainly won’t see the two-word phrase you can get by anagramming the letters in their names.

Here, in alphabetical order, is the list of items you’ll be looking for:

cut fencefingrandfathergrapes
kiltslinen lidmesanuts
rainratryeslinky Stonehenge

Directions to items:

  1. Find a frequent commenter who is not quite a heathen. Visit the commenter’s blog, and look at the picture. That’s the first item to cross off the list.

  2. Are atheists revolting? I don’t think so, but a nonbeliever who quoted the bible on August 28 may agree to disagree. Go to the appropriate blog post, read the quote, find an item on the list, and cross it off.

  3. On August 5, an atheist blogger had a great realization that a lot of people make idiotic comments. I’m particularly fond of the photo of George W. Bush in a dunce cap. But there’s an even cuter picture on the appropriate post, and it shows the next item to cross off the list.

  4. Recently, the reverend Spooner was looking for a new blog about spiritual exercising. He meant to go to “Ab Road of Light.” But you know reverend Spooner. Instead, he clicked on an atheist blog. You should click on it, too, and look for the July 21st post. The blogger digresses and tells a story which includes the item you should cross off your list.

  5. PhillyChief has hidden an item in the name of his blog. Find it, and cross it off the list.

  6. Go visit the hooker. It’s been a long time since you’ve seen her — not since April 22 to be exact. The last time you stopped by, she was holding an item in her right hand that made you whine. Cross it off the list.

  7. Care to learn about the Friendly Atheist? You should, if you want to find the next item to cross off the list.

  8. Three of my frequent commenters have the same first name. Select the third sentence in the third post written in the third month of the blog written by the third of those. There, you’ll find an item to cross off the list.

  9. You can never know enough about the author of Pharyngula. But don’t believe everything you read about him, at least not until you check for errors. The last person who did that added one of the items to the list. Find it and cross it off.

  10. Most of us in the Atheosphere don’t need to renew our skepticism every day. But those who do can visit the appropriate blog, the heading of which contains a word that sounds like an item you can cross off the list.

  11. Uh-oh. The reverend Spooner is back on his exercise kick again. He’s afraid the right side of his ass is not as tight as the left side, so he tried to google the key words “slack bun.” But, remember: he’s the reverend Spooner. When he arrived at the site he found, he clicked on a few tabs, but was shocked by what he considered pure decadence. "I can't believe I clicked on the height of Rome!" he muttered to himself. But of course, he wasn’t looking for an item to cross off his list. [NOTE: 09/07, 11:15 p.m. EDT -- This clue has been altered from its original wording to accommodate changes made by the blogger. Sorry.]

  12. Hard to believe, but some dame wrote an epistle on August 23, 2007. It’s a long missive, with dozens of items in it. Fortunately, if you flip through the post very quickly, you’ll see the item you need to cross off.

  13. Some stupid celebrity-worshippers stumbled on an atheist blog because they thought it was based on the ideas of the star of Pirates of the Caribbean. They refused to believe they had arrived at the wrong site, even though the picture of the blogger should have been a giveaway. Still, they wanted to make sure by looking at his profile. Had they been scavenging, they would have found an item to cross off the list.

  14. Remember those three guys with the same name? This time, find the August 25th posting written by the first of them. Hidden in the title of the post is an item you can cross off.

  15. One member of the Nonbelieving Literati actually thinks the rest of us might want to study her autobiography ... well, maybe. In any case, on August 27, she mentioned an item you can cross off the list.

  16. If you like to laugh, one atheist blog can really give you a shot in the arm; at least it seems to have the elements of mild dead flu. Find the appropriate site and look at the labels, one of which contains, hidden within it, an item you can cross off the list. In addition, if you click on that label, you’ll find the last item you can cross off.
Happy hunting! When you’ve solved this puzzle, email me the two-word phrase, and you’ll earn an honorable mention in a future post. Comments will be greatly appreciated, but please don’t spoil the fun by posting your answer.