Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Stermy Awards for December 2007

Because the next few days will be taken up for me by (1) entertaining an out-of-town guest, (2) the annual Christmas Bird Count, (3) a five-hour trip to and from a not-so-nearby airport, (4) New Year's Eve festivities, and (5) New Year's Day festivities, right now may be the only opportunity I have to bestow this month's Stermy Awards for Exemplary Writing in the Atheosphere.

In the month since I came up with the idea for these little nods of recognition, I've given further thought to the "rules." Here's what I've decided:

  • Exactly five Stermies will be awarded each month.
  • The awards will be announced on the 28th, 29th, 30th, or 31st of the month, depending on my mood and schedule. Judging for the following month's Stermies will begin the nanosecond after my post is published.
  • No blogger may win more than one Stermy in any month, but a blogger may win Stermies in consecutive months. That would really upset my sensibilities, however, so it will happen only rarely, if ever. And the second month's post better be a real doozy.
  • The Stermy is an award for Exemplary Writing, so a straight graphic, no matter how great, will probably not be eligible, unless I decide it is, which I won't. On the other hand, a scripted video might get consideration, but only if it's fucking fantastic.
  • The subject matter of a post does not specifically have to be atheism for it to be in contention for a Stermy. However, the blogger must be a known atheist.
  • Guest-bloggers are eligible. However, when a guest-blogger earns a Stermy, the blog's proprietor will be disqualified for that same month.
OK, I'm gonna say something here that should come as no surprise to my regular readers. I hate rules of any kind, but particularly arbitrary ones. So fuck the guy who decided only five Stermies would be awarded each month. Here are the Stermy Award winners for December, listed in alphabetical order by name of blogger:
Babs at Flumadiddle
for Dueling Deities
There are deities for thunder, deities for rain, deities for comfort, deities for pain. Deities for hunger, deities for wars, or maybe you would rather choose the deity for whores. Deities for justice, deities for wine, deities for cattle, deities for swine ... So I thought a list of deities might help you get things kickin'. There's over one thousand listed here. Are you ready to start your pickin'?

C.L. Hanson at Letters from a Broad
for The "War on Christmas" and the war on being considerate to others ...
Call me crazy, but to me well-wishing should have some sort of (theoretical?) connection with actually wishing the person well. And especially during the holiday season, what's wrong with a little goodwill to all? Even to those people who are **shudder** a little different from yourself.

Phillychief at You Made Me Say It
for As the Wolves Feast
What I see from everyone involved is, like the video above, a scene of vicious predators tearing into fresh meat to feed themselves. So many rush in for their moment to exploit the situation to advance their goals. Frankly it sickens me almost as much as the thought of the shootings itself since, for my list of douchedom, those who can exploit the misery of others are merely a hair below those who actually inflict the misery on others.

Ric at Grumpy Lion
for Romney: Empty Suit Pandering
Well, no, Willard, the debate is not about preserving American leadership. The debate is about getting that little sot and his friends out of the White House and regaining at least some of the credibility and respect the Republicans have completely trashed for the last six years in the world community. And the religious beliefs of so-called Christians have had a lot to do with driving this country down into the trash heap of immorality and illegality.

Spanish Inquisitor at Spanish Inquisitor
for Make Believe Super Santa!
The point I’m getting at is that the idea of Santa, even though we know it is pure fabrication, is benign when viewed in the limited setting it’s placed - childhood. Childhood, that short period of time where everything is possible, where logic and reason don’t need to exist, where fantasy is welcome, even if fleeting. We grow out of it, we learn the truth eventually, we grow up. No harm, no foul, despite the fact that the entire human population over the age of 10 is engaged in a massive conspiracy to dupe us into believing something that is not true.

the chaplain at An Apostate's Chapel
for I Weep for the Children
As the pastor recounted that story, I had to suppress a shudder. I could not help thinking, “The child is seven years old! What sins could she possibly have committed that would require repentance and divine forgiveness?” I also realized, to my horror, that in order to have learned something about the doctrines of repentance, forgiveness and salvation, Chloe may also have learned something about the corollary doctrines of human depravity and hell.
Once again, I remind everyone that these awards reflect my taste only. There's nothing objective about them. So don't even think about suing me.

I'd like to remind everyone that I'd appreciate a heads-up if you see a post that you think might be Stermy-worthy. If I've left a comment about that post, though, I've seen it already. But if you happen to find exemplary writing that you think I might miss, please do let me know. Thanks.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy Birthday, Jesus and/or Santa

Well, you may think they're both nice,
but he has a definite preference for the left one.

All right, so let me get this straight.
We ask for Grand Theft Auto for me, Resident Evil for you,
Hitman: Blood Money for cousin Max, and peace on Earth for the cow?

You're crazy! He looks just like his father.

And what do you want when you die, little boy?

Forgive them, Father, for they ho-ho-ho not what they do.

Friday, December 21, 2007

An Atheist's Christmas Memory

So many atheist bloggers have written about their Christmas memories, leftovers from the days when they were believers. As I’ve mentioned many times, I was never a believer, and even if I had been, my family was Jewish. For my ancestors, the arrival of a bearded Gentile in a bright red uniform, laughing maniacally and swinging a heavy bag, would not have been a pleasant sight; it would have been another pogrom.

Still, though, I actually do have some fond recollections of the season, not the least of which is my yearly excursion with my grandmother from the Bronx into the heart of Manhattan. When I was a boy, Nanny took me every year to see a nighttime Christmas Show at Radio City Music Hall. This was back in the days when the alleged main attraction was a big-budget first-run movie. But there was also a live stage show and the usual assortment of cartoons, shorts, and newsreels. The full program lasted at least three hours, and was well worth waiting for. And half the world seemed to think so.

We’d stand, Nanny and I, excited and freezing, outside the theater for an eternity, sometimes lasting almost two hours. The long line we were in would snake up and down and around the block, moving just a few feet every now and then until the movie or the stage show had reached an end. Then, as Nanny would say, we’d make “some serious progress.” If we were luckily unlucky enough to be stuck near the back of that line — and we always were — we’d have a great view of the hypnotic Rockefeller Center Tree. I found dozens of ways to stare at those lights to make them look different. I squinted. I turned sideways and peeked out of my peripheral vision. I pulled down my upper eyelids to create a curtain of tears. I closed my eyes really tight until I could see shapes, and then I opened them superfast to find those shapes floating on the tree. I tilted my head all the way over till it touched my shoulder; then I repeated that action in the other direction.

Even Nanny tried to embellish the view. She always wore a hat with a veil, and she’d stare through it at the lights. After a while, she’d lift the veil and gaze at the tree again. When she thought that none of the million other people were looking at her, she’d alternately lift and drop the veil quickly for a few rounds, as if she were playing a frenzied game of peek-a-boo with a giant plant.

Every three minutes or so, she’d ask me, “You warm enough?”


“No, you’re not.”

“Yes, I am.”

“How can you be warm enough in that shmatta coat? You need a heavier one. Or something under. Whatever happened to that nice cardigan I crocheted for you?”

That cardigan would be home in my closet because, as Nanny whispered to my mother once, “I’m not from the measurers.” This was her way of saying that the sleeves ran from my apartment in the Bronx all the way to New Hampshire. She sometimes claimed that she made these things a “little long,” so I could grow into them. But I never did. Even if I’d gotten so big that the bottom of the sweater was up around the middle of my chest, there was no way the sleeves would fit anyone other than King Kong.

Finally, she’d say, “Awright. OK. Be cold. Do what you wanna, just don’t come crying to me next week when you’re sneezing and coughing. If I was your mother, you’d have a cardigan on, believe me. So what if you have to roll up the arms a little?”

Then she’d produce a thermos from the laundry bag she called her purse. “Here,” she’d say. “You’re cold. Have some cocoa. But only if you’re cold.”

“Well, I’m just a little bit cold.”

“So you are cold. Didn’t I tell you you were cold?”

She’d unscrew the lid from the thermos, and turn that lid upside-down to transform it, magically, into a cup. Steam would come rising up, warming my face as I stuck my nose as close as I could to the chocolate-scented mist. Then Nanny would pour some of the piping hot liquid, and take a healthy sip, leaving a smear of bright, red lipstick on the rim. When she’d pass the cup over to me, I’d use my gloved fingers to wipe off as much of the lipstick as I could.

“Whatsa matter? You’re afraid of my mouth? I’m your grandmother, f’heavensake. Drink from the other side if you’re so scared of germs. Believe me, in this dirty air, the other germs wish they could be as clean as mine. How come you’re not so scared of germs when it comes to wearing a nice cardigan?”

Nanny had a fakir’s tongue that could dance across hot coals. But when I’d sample some of the cocoa, I’d burn my lips. Then I’d start blowing furiously into the cup.

“Is the cocoa hot enough?”

“Yeah,” I’d say. “It’s boiling.”

“It’s not hot enough. But drink it anyway.”

As the line would move along, I’d become one with the billions of city lights flickering on and off in the surrounding buildings, reflected in car windows, glass doors, people’s glasses; the sound of Salvation Army bells ringing urgently all around me; the smell of chestnuts from the vendors’ carts nearby, the bite of a cold gust sneaking under the earflaps on my hat, and the taste of cocoa mingled with lipstick. It never occurred to me back then that there were unfortunate boys elsewhere in the country whose grandmothers took them to see movies at places where they walked right up to the ticket window, paid their money, and went in.

When Nanny and I finally got all the way to the main lobby of Radio City, she’d grab my hand and lead me up the enormous staircase to the balcony, which in those days was also the smoking section. With the help of rows of little lights shining from the backs of the seats, we’d find our way to the best place. Nanny always picked a seat right behind the one that would soon be occupied by the woman with the most gigantic hat ever seen. When that villainess would finally show up, Nanny would tap me on the shoulder and stage-whisper, “Uy. Y’see this hat? It’s a wonder her head isn’t crushed.”

“What hat?”


“Just tell me, what hat are you talking about?”

“Shhh. I’ll tell you later. Can you see all right? Or is it BLOCKING YOUR VIEW, TOO?”

Nanny would grumble about the lady in the hat for a while, and maybe even throw in a few nasty remarks about the tall fidgety teenager behind her who kept bumping her seat with his feet, or the old bald man sitting next to her who couldn’t stop passing gas.

But I never noticed them, because there was an exceptional holiday glow in this elevated region, a shimmering constellation of yellow chair-lamp beams and vivid orange dots emanating from hundreds of cigarettes. Candy wrappers crinkled everywhere, including in my seat, because Nanny never forgot to load her bag with a giant-size Hershey bar with almonds and enough sucking candy to moisten the throats of all the children and grandmothers in the tri-state area. The air was thick with smoke and perfume and peppermint and just a tiny bit of resisted slumber, and, although I didn’t know it at the time, I was about as contented as I’d ever be.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

What I Whistle While I Work

Ordinary Girl has tagged me with a meme that asks for a list of my 20 favorite albums. That’s really impossible for me to answer, because I listen to all kinds of stuff all the time. I decided not to include any classical, opera, or (with one exception) instrumental jazz recordings. So I’m limiting myself to the stuff with which I sing (or hum or whistle) along — without doing too much injustice to the original. (I often hum along to classical, opera, and jazz recordings, but it’s artistically criminal when I do so.)

Here, then, are the albums or artists I listen to most often while I work, drive, do puzzles, or just lie in bed. These would not necessarily be included in a list of my best albums, which I would never compile anyway. I guess this list is my desert island CD set. No explanations, though; I’m not gonna expound on or justify my taste. I’ll just say that each album listed below is a pick-me-up for me. They all make me smile.

I’m listing only one album for each artist, which accounts for the many compilations.

Louis Armstrong (from Ken Burns Jazz)
Starring Fred Astaire
Rubber Soul: The Beatles
Heartbeat City: The Cars
Blue Rose: Rosemary Clooney & Duke Ellington
Goin’ Back to New Orleans: Dr. John
Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Song Book
Thriller: Michael Jackson
Pop Pop: Rickie Lee Jones
The Essential Cyndi Lauper
Mink Jazz: Peggy Lee
Legend: The Best of Bob Marley and the Wailers
Timeless: Sergio Mendes (and Various Artists)
Louis Prima Collectors Series
Hot Rocks (1964-1971): The Rolling Stones
The Best of Frank Sinatra (the Capitol Years)
Fear of Music: Talking Heads
The Best of Bond – Songs from the James Bond movies: Various Artists
The Buena Vista Social Club (Soundtrack): Various Artists
The Colors of Latin Jazz – From Samba to Bomba: Various Artists

I’m not tagging anyone. If you want to make a similar list, go ahead and post one on your blog. By all means feel free to write comments here about any of your favorite albums or even songs.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Not-So-Magnificent Seven

Well, Philly tagged me with this meme in which I’m supposed to list seven unknown, weird, or unusual things about myself. Thinking about it, I decided I’m alarmingly ordinary. But here goes:

1. My mother was the world’s worst cook, and I was an extremely skinny child. I’m still not sure if these two facts are related. But friends’ parents felt some kind of holy obligation to try to fatten me up. I never turned down an invitation to dinner, of which I received at least two a week, because there was no doubt that it was going to be better than the underdone chicken and burnt canned stringbeans my mother would serve. When I’d get home, my mother would make me describe in glorious detail every single thing that had been ladled onto my plate, and she’d say, “Boy, were you lucky. Why didn’t they invite me, too?”

2. My Jewish-Russian grandfather told me his favorite joke in broken English every single time I saw him when I was a child. He would laugh uproariously when it was over and wait for me to respond accordingly. Here’s the joke, exactly as I heard it: So vwatz de deef’rens bitveen meshed pittaytahs en’ pyee soup? I don’t know, Grampa. What IS the difference between mashed potatoes and pea soup? You ken mesh pittaytahs ... [long, long pause, while he got his finger in perfect position to emphasize the punchline by poking me in the chest] ... but you ken’t [poke] pyee [poke] soup [poke]. I still find that funny nowadays when I think of it, and it hurts a lot less.

3. My first hero was Davy Crockett. My second hero was Perry Mason. I haven’t had a hero since then.

4. I always get teary during the last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. It moves me so much, but for reasons I can't verbalize. That's saying a lot, because, obviously, I have no compunction about verbalizing at great length on most other subjects.

5. My last full-time job was as the “fine arts” writer and reviewer for a rag in a cultureless small Southern city. I complained all the time about the general lack of standards for theatrical and musical performances, and was kind of infamous in town as “the guy who never likes anything.” One fall, when I was ordered to write a chirpy news story previewing the upcoming “arts” season, I did so — except that the first letters of the sentences, when read in order, spelled “Help! I’ve been lobotomized! Help!” (The “Z” was “Ziegfeld,” as in “Ziegfeld, himself, could never even ....”) I was so proud of myself that I made sure everyone in the newsroom heard about the joke. Oddly enough, I was not fired over this incident, which I think disappointed me. I heard very recently that now, thirteen years later, the legend is still repeated at the newspaper. But the people who tell it, none of whom were there at the time, claim that I’d spelled out “Fuck this shit.” That’s not clever at all and I’d have considered it beneath my wordplay skills. But I must admit, it’s not completely out of character.

6. I’m afraid of heights. My wife is afraid of enclosed places. We did very poorly as a couple when we stayed at a hotel with an elevator attached to the outside of the building.

7. I lied once in a post on No More Hornets, just for humorous effect. The truth is: I actually like Brussels sprouts. They’re not my favorite vegetable by any means, but I don’t hate 'em. However, try to understand. It’s much more fun to say “Brussels sprouts,” than French-cut canned stringbeans (although now that I read it aloud, I realize that FCCS is a pretty funny term, too). Anyway, that’s the only vegetable I really hate. On the other hand, I stand squarely by what I’ve always said: There is absolutely no dessert in the world superior to a Hostess Sno Ball.

I really hate tagging people. I think the original version of this meme asked the writer to pass it along to seven others. Fortunately, the half-assed version that came to me from Philly via chappy (who shamefully neglected to tag her own husband) seems to require only three. I’m gonna further whittle it down to one.

SARGE, I hope you’re reading this, because YOU'RE IT! You can leave your response as a comment here, or as seven separate comments, one for each thing. Get busy, buddy.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Sparrow and the Large Steel Pipe

I don't like small birds. They hop around so merrily outside my window, looking so innocent. but I know that secretly, they're watching my every move and plotting to beat me over the head with a large steel pipe and take my shoe.
Jack Handey

In fact, I do like small birds. But since the sparrow is a small bird, and since reading The Sparrow is like being beaten over the head with a large steel pipe, I thought the quote was apt.

I don’t even know where to start explaining how much I loathed this book. I suppose the tiresome theme is as good a place as any. Characters don’t just look in a mirror in this novel; they study themselves and think about whether there’s a god or not. They don’t just stare out a window; they look at the landscape and think about whether there’s a god or not. They don’t just go to sleep; they lie in bed and think about whether there’s a god or not. They don’t take a walk, or have a meal, or fly through space in a hollowed-out asteroid, or get forcibly fucked up the ass by carnivorous aliens, without missing an opportunity to think about whether there’s a god or not.

If the writing were good, or even acceptable, that kind of endless contemplation might be interesting to follow. But years ago, in Mary Doria Russell’s Composition 101 class, someone must have told her to “describe what you 'see.'” She apparently took this to mean: “Describe whatever you 'see,' using as many similes as possible, the more unrelated to the content, the better.” So she piles irrelevant detail on irrelevant detail on irrelevant detail until you wish you had a sharpened blue pencil at the ready, either to start editing ferociously or to rouse yourself out of your stupor by stabbing yourself in the forehead.

Here’s the kind of stuff I mean:

He was not handsome. The nose was too long and no particular shape, the eyes too close together and set deep as a monkey’s, the semicircle smile and the red curling hair like scribbles in a child’s drawing.
This just reeks of phoniness, and half the words are extraneous. He’s got a long nose, close-together eyes, and curly red hair. The shape of his nose, the monkey business, the semicircle smile (what else would it be, a hyperbola?), and the child’s scribbles don't help us picture the guy. And they have nothing to do with plot foreshadowing, character analysis, mood, anything. They’re just stuffing.

Dialogues, of which there are many, are endless. That’s because Ms. Russell includes a description of every single “reaction shot.” No one ever just speaks; no, they brush their hair out of their face, kick at a rock, walk around the room, touch or wiggle or scratch various body parts. If a character makes a wisecrack, the author feels obliged to show us how the others react to it. If a character shares an intimacy, the author must tell us about the listeners’ facial expressions, and explain exactly what they were thinking about right before, at the moment of, and immediately after the revelation.

Here’s an example of a short conversation. I’ve substituted blah's for the actual blah dialogue, but I've included the endless descriptions of the participants. The words and phrases in blue are padding.

Blah blah blah blah blah....” Emilio ran his fingers through his hair, a nervous habit he had never been able to break. He let his hands fall and rested them on his knees. Blah blah blah blah blah.... Blah blah blah blah blah....” Jimmy said nothing, so Emilio went on, voice quiet, face and eyes serious. “Blah blah blah blah blah. Many more sentences of blahs.”

Jimmy was quiet. He looked at the grave and unusual face of the man opposite him and when he spoke, he sounded older, somehow. “Blah blah blah blah blah?”

Unexpectedly, Emilio’s face lit up and he seemed about to say something, but then the fingers combed through the dark hair again and his eyes slid away. “Blah blah blah blah blah,” was all he said.

Oh, did I mention that about half the book takes place before and during the trip to another planet, and about half of it takes place after? But the time sequences are all mushed together, so you jump back and forth. When an artist like Faulkner does this in The Sound and the Fury it's beautiful, evocative, mysterious. When a talentless hack like Ms. Russell does it in The Sparrow it's a chance to telegraph and foreshadow like crazy. The effect is that any time something actually happens — which is a rare occurrence what with all the descriptions, and reactions, and wondering about god — you've already had dozens of hints about it in "the future."

The plot? Here it is: A bunch of people, including some Jesuits, decide to go to a distant planet, much in the same way that Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney used to decide to put on a show in someone’s barn. Before they leave, though, they have to talk and think a lot about whether there’s a god or not. They finally get to the planet, where they continue to talk and think about their favorite subject. All of them die, some of them by being eaten, regardless of whether there’s a god or not. Except one. Luckily for the author, he’s a Jesuit priest, who, having nobody to talk to, merely obsesses over the god thing. This character is, as I said before, forcibly fucked up the ass by carnivorous aliens, an event which, although it lasts for only one or two pages worth of text, is just about the only action in the novel. And which, really, should have pretty much given him the answer to his question. But, no. He eventually comes back to Earth, at least physically, where he continues to talk and think about whether there’s a god or not.

Spoiler Alert: The author thinks maybe there is.

Of course, it’s obvious to the reader that there isn’t. The Sparrow, itself, furnishes the proof. If there were a god, would this terrible book have gotten published?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Yes, Virginia, There Is a Nonbelieving Literati

DEAR EXTERMINATOR: I am 58 years old.
Some of my little friends say there is no Nonbelieving Literati.
Papa says, 'If you see it in NO MORE HORNETS it's so.'
Please tell me the truth; is there a Nonbelieving Literati?

Yes, Virginia, there is a Nonbelieving Literati. It exists as certainly as freethinking and literature and intelligent conversation exist. In fact, Virginia, the discussion of The Sparrow will begin tomorrow. In the next few days, John Evo will announce a new selection.

Not believe in Nonbelieving Literati! You might as well not believe in John Evo, and Spanish Inquisitor, and Ordinary Girl, and Enonomi, and Sacred Slut, and Yinyang, and the Ridger, and Ute, and . . .

No Nonbelieving Literati! A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, as long as some server continues to hold every stray thought and piece of drivel launched into the Atheosphere, Nonbelieving Literati will still be around to lay a guilt trip on those bloggers who haven't finished their reading on time.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Christ's Christmas Gift from the House

You may have seen the following in the Atheosphere already. If you have, it's worth reading a second time, particularly if you like horror stories. If you haven't seen it yet, you'd better read it twice, carefully. Then go look at yourself in the mirror to check if your hair is standing on end.

It's H. Res. 847, which passed in the United States House of Representatives yesterday by a vote of 372 to 9 (you did not read that incorrectly). Friendly Atheist, where I first learned about this piece of crypto-theocratic garbage, lists the names of the brave nonet who voted against it.

This is a resolution, which does not have the force of law. Technically, it's just self-serving babble by the 195 Democrats (stop doubting yourself; you read that right, too) and 177 Republicans who voted to pass it.

However, the House has now formalized, in whatever small way, four very scary ideas. They're not stated explicitly, but implied, although the meanings are clear nonetheless. In the following list, the numbers correspond to the highlighted portions of the document that support each idea. (The highlighting and numbering are mine.)

Idea 1:
America is a Christian nation: 1, 2, 3, 5
Idea 2:
America was founded as a Christian nation: 3, 5
Idea 3:
Christians in America are being assailed by secularists and need support: 4, 6
Idea 4:
The United States has a mission to defend worldwide Christianity against its enemies: 2, 6, 7


Recognizing the importance of Christmas and the Christian faith.

Whereas Christmas, a holiday of great significance to Americans [1] and many other cultures and nationalities, is celebrated annually by Christians throughout the United States and the world;

Whereas there are approximately 225,000,000 Christians in the United States, making Christianity the religion of over three-fourths of the American population; [2]

Whereas there are approximately 2,000,000,000 Christians throughout the world, making Christianity the largest religion in the world and the religion of about one-third of the world population;

Whereas Christians identify themselves as those who believe in the salvation from sin offered to them through the sacrifice of their savior, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and who, out of gratitude for the gift of salvation, commit themselves to living their lives in accordance with the teachings of the Holy Bible;

Whereas Christians and Christianity have contributed greatly to the development of western civilization;

Whereas the United States, being founded as a constitutional republic in the traditions of western civilization, finds much in its history that points observers back to its roots in Christianity [3];

Whereas on December 25 of each calendar year, American Christians observe Christmas, the holiday celebrating the birth of their savior, Jesus Christ;

Whereas for Christians, Christmas is celebrated as a recognition of God's redemption, mercy, and Grace; and

Whereas many Christians and non-Christians throughout the United States and the rest of the world, celebrate Christmas as a time to serve others: Now, therefore be it

    Resolved, That the House of Representatives--

      (1) recognizes the Christian faith as one of the great religions of the world;

      (2) expresses continued support for Christians in the United States and worldwide; [4]

      (3) acknowledges the international religious and historical importance of Christmas and the Christian faith;

      (4) acknowledges and supports the role played by Christians and Christianity in the founding of the United States [5] and in the formation of the western civilization;

      (5) rejects bigotry and persecution directed against Christians, both in the United States and worldwide; [6] and

      (6) expresses its deepest respect to American Christians and Christians throughout the world. [7]

Now that you've read the resolution, I urge you to go back to the third paragraph and look at the number of yea votes given by members of each party. Please remember those numbers the next time you're tempted to spout off that Democrats are somehow safer for atheists and other secularists than Republicans. While Democrats may not be pushing forward such blatant theocrats as Romney, Huckabee, and Paul as presidential choices, many a Democratic heart still beats with the same theocratic zeal that made William Jennings Bryan the party nominee three times.

Be warned: Take nothing for granted.

Monday, December 10, 2007

I Saw Romney Kissing Santa Claus

Santa Claus Endorses Governor Romney! OK, I hate to do this to you, but you're gonna have to click on that link and at least watch the video (not the one to the right of the post, but the one embedded in it) before you read any further.

All done? Now maybe you're prepared to sing along:

I saw Romney kissing Santa Claus,
Underneath the chimney flue this year.
That Santa, what a creep,
In his bag reached really deep,
And handed up a gift to Mitt for
Luring in the sheep.

Then I heard Romney telling Santa Claus,
“'Under God' is what I love to hear!"
Oh, what a tragedy it was
For secularists becuz,
Romney’s kissing ev'ry fundy's rear.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Making a Great Noise about Religion

[NOTE: This post is expanded from a comment I left at my friend Chuck Blanchard’s blog, A Guy in the Pew.]

Mitt Romney’s speech the other day was despicable, and it’s getting attention all over the Atheosphere. It’s also being criticized on the Web sites of the many believers, like Chuck, who are strong advocates for the separation of church and state.

But I’m not sure we can, or should, make a distinction between Romney’s blatant “Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom” and all the other presidential hopefuls’ incessant professions of faith. Not one of those candidates, of either party, has come out unequivocally to support the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. Nor have any of them argued strongly for the continued separation of church and state in all situations — including the courting of votes.

Oddly enough, some of the most vociferous early proponents of separation were Baptists. Today’s fundamentalists, many of whom themselves claim to be Baptists of one denomination or another, forget or ignore how vehemently their church forebears championed the clear division between religion and government.

Here are a few quotes from two notable Baptist preachers:

Isaac Backus (1724-1806):

[When] church and state are separate, the effects are happy, and they do not at all interfere with each other: but where they have been confounded together, no tongue nor pen can fully describe the mischiefs that have ensued.

Religious matters are to be separated from the jurisdiction of the state not because they are beneath the interests of the state, but, quite to the contrary, because they are too high and holy and thus are beyond the competence of the state.

John Leland (1754-1841):

The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever. ... Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.

Every man must give account of himself to God, and therefore every man ought to be at liberty to serve God in a way that he can best reconcile to his conscience. If government can answer for individuals at the day of judgment, let men be controlled by it in religious matters; otherwise, let men be free.

I’ve emphasized a section of this next Leland quote with boldface. It could apply to every politician in the United States today.

Never promote men who seek after a state-established religion; it is spiritual tyranny the worst of despotism. It is turnpiking the way to heaven by human law, in order to establish ministerial gates to collect toll. It converts religion into a principle of state policy, and the gospel into merchandise. Heaven forbids the bans of marriage between church and state; their embraces therefore, must be unlawful. Guard against those men who make a great noise about religion, in choosing representatives. It is electioneering. If they knew the nature and worth of religion, they would not debauch it to such shameful purposes. If pure religion is the criterion to denominate candidates, those who make a noise about it must be rejected; for their wrangle about it, proves that they are void of it. Let honesty, talents and quick despatch, characterise the men of your choice. Such men will have a sympathy with their constituents, and will be willing to come to the light, that their deeds may be examined.

Modern-day evangelicals have tried to spin these kinds of quotes to mean that the government, while not allowed to recognize a specific religion, ought to recognize religion as an innate value. But I think it's pretty clear to anyone who reads English that neither Backus nor Leland meant to say that. They meant to say the same thing that many of us mean to say now: There should be absolutely no crossing of the line between church and state. Guard against those men (and women) who make a great noise about religion.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

My Own De-Conversion Story

I’ve been reading some recent de-conversion stories lately, chaplain's, JP's and Lifeguard's. In their way, they’re helping to inspire me to complete my own de-conversion.

The god I’m trying to leave behind is ... well, please keep reading. I’m getting something off my chest here; this is a cathartic ramble for me. I'd love to have you come along to keep me company.

My god is a god of wrath, one that commands obedience to its will. Sometimes, I take great joy in my god, or even solace, but those feelings are short-lived. Mostly, my emotion is fear: How can I live without my god? Who will then comfort me when I need consoling, fortify me when I need strengthening, spur me to action when I need prodding?

I grew up in a family in which that god was taken for granted. Although ever-present, we never talked about god much. My father worshipped often. My grandmother was a great believer, too. They had slightly different interpretations of their god, and swore by their own choices. As a small child, I saw no difference; I figured that when I got old enough, I’d form my own opinion.

And I did. When I found god, it was a different one than either my father’s or my grandmother’s, similar but not exactly the same. Each of our gods had a slightly different message, and I found one I responded to.

As I aged, I began to read science that contradicted everything I thought I knew about my god. Not only that, but my own experiences planted seeds of doubt. After communing with my god, for instance, I almost always felt awful, as if I’d been betraying myself. Why would a benevolent entity allow that? I also worried constantly about my relationship with my god. Why did I need my god so often, when I got nothing in return? And I began to wonder: have I been misleading myself?

So I became, essentially, an atheist for a while. But I still thought about my god often. Even though I was no longer practicing actively, when I dreamed about myself, I was a believer. And I knew I'd be returning to my god someday.

Clearly, I was not ready to give up on my delusion. A spiritual friend I knew introduced me to a ritual common among Native Americans. I tried it. Occasionally I’d see the light, but it flickered off more often than not. Then, another friend inspired me to seek out the “true” god in its many manifestations; that was a rewarding effort for a time, but it left me drained of both energy and finances. In order to participate frequently in the higher forms of mysticism, particularly when they're well-publicized and have become almost "chic," you need plenty of cash.

So I returned to my original fundamentalism. Various state governments, in the meantime, had made it more and more difficult to worship. They’d passed laws that forbade open displays of my religion in public places. That only made me even more stubborn. After all, many of the founding fathers had the same opinion of my god that I did. Although that god is not mentioned directly in the Constitution, it’s clear to me that many of the framers, particularly those from the South, had my god in mind.

I continued to worship for years, still harboring enough doubts to get more and more depressed about my reliance on faith rather than reason. But I was never able to break free of my basic belief that my life would be meaningless without that higher power.

Recently, I promised myself that I would once again embrace my skepticism and follow my intellect wherever it leads. This time, I was determined to leave my superstition for good. I sought out help from scientists and other rationalists I knew, all of whom had a lot to say. I got plenty of encouragement; but, in the end, each person’s difficult mental journey is his or her own to make.

I discovered that there’s actually a pill I can take, twice a day, that may help me let go of god. It’s not fool-proof; a fool will still find excuses to revisit his or her beliefs. And the pill isn’t cheap, but it’s not as expensive as dropping more than forty bucks into the collection plate each week.

Armed with my pill, I decided to cut myself off from my nonsense completely. Last Sunday was the first one on which I didn’t head for church immediately after I woke up. But by the end of the day, though, I had prayed — more than once. I also worshipped in a somewhat abbreviated way on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, although I felt both guilty and dirty about it. Today, I haven’t prayed yet. I find that I’m thinking about my god all the time; the longer I don’t pray the more insistent my god becomes. But I’m hoping that as the minutes, hours, and days pass, my thoughts of my god will fade, slowly, ever so slowly, but increasingly, too.

I want my mind to be free. I'm hoping for the end of Nicotine. It's time to shake off my Smoking delusion. Tobacco is not great. Cigarettes poison everything.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Attention GodMart Shoppers

[NOTE: Vjack has a post today linking to a story at Democracy Now! that tells about Christian retailers and churches in the United States selling crucifixes produced by Chinese sweatshops. That information helped me understand the following announcement, which I heard this morning while doing my Christmas shopping.]

I can't get this fucking mike to turn ... ATTENTION GODMART SHOPPERS:

We are removing all Buddha Bob brand crucifixes from our shelves due to the potential for lead poisoning. If you have one in your cart, please pray to it for one last time and then return it to the display where you found it, in front of check-out aisle 666. You may also give your cross to one of our many in-store elves who are wearing protective gloves and mask.

Copies of the Christian Poor Editing Society’s Bible are being recalled because the word “not” has erroneously been omitted from Exodus chapter 20, verses 2 through 17 and Deuteronomy chapter 5, verses 6 through 21. These passages are commonly known as “the Charlton Heston Movie.” We apologize for any inconvenience the typos may have caused you, your neighbor, or your neighbor's wife. The Bad News for Morons New Testament is also slightly flawed in that our Lord’s name has been spelled throughout as C-R-S-H-I-T. You may return these books for a full refund. Or pick up a free Santa’s List marker and make the corrections yourself.

Please be advised that our Fisher-of-Men candy canes are, in fact, intended to taste like sardines. The management regrets that it cannot accept returns of unwrapped or licked candies. We will, however, allow you to trade those candies for any of our other wonderful unwrapped or licked food products.

Customers wishing to buy the Rolling Eyes Baby Jesus should be warned that the removable rolling eyes are a choking hazard for children under three as well as for inebriated adults. Note, too, that the odor from the frankincense accessory available as a separate purchase for your Three Magi Gift Set may induce vomiting, and is not advisable for use by any persons allergic to peanuts, shellfish, or camel dung.

Our weekly special on the Silent Night Ambient Sounds Sleep Machine has been suspended after customers pointed out that the item didn’t make any noises whatsoever when plugged in. We thought this would be evident from the name of the device, but once again we've overestimated your intelligence. Your machine may be exchanged, no questions asked, for the Manger-Smell Aromatherapy System.

We’re sorry for the misunderstanding at the factory producing our lovely Rudolph Visits Bethlehem paintings on velvet. Apparently, the foreman had red-green colorblindness. Substitute, self-sticking noses are available by mail from the manufacturer. Be warned, though, not to lick the adhesive, since it tastes like sardines and is made from non-sterilized reindeer hooves.

Unfortunately, we have to report that the Virgin-Mary Pop-Out-a-Baby Doll is no longer available. But we're pleased to announce that the store still has a large supply of Joseph "Who-Did-It?" talking action figures and Make-It-Yourself Flying Invisible Penises. Be aware that the FIP kit may appear to be missing a small piece, but that omission is intentional.

Any volunteers wishing to roam through the store shouting “Merry Christmas” at our patrons are encouraged to do so. The “ability to smile” requirement has been relaxed. We do continue, however, to urge our volunteers not to punch anyone.

Thanks for shopping at GodMart, where you can follow the star ... to savings.

All right, now how do you turn this goddamn thing ...

Saturday, December 01, 2007

My Friend "Fuck": A Tribute

[NOTE: I’m not gonna lay responsibility for this post on anyone, although some flippant conversations in various comment threads over at Flumadiddle had a lot to do with it.]

OK, let’s start with a kinesthetic exercise. Pull your lower lip up and over your lower teeth. Almost simultaneously, bite down as hard as you can stand it with your top front teeth, trying to get them to crunch against their toothy siblings hiding under that labial covering. Propel your entire skull forward quickly as if you were beginning a head-butt against the world, and at the same time snap your top teeth upward, opening your mouth wide to scream silently; if you hear a slight explosive sound, you’re doing it correctly. As you do this, pretend that you’ve been punched by the entire cosmos hard in the gut, and react with a pained “uhhhhhhhhhh.” After a while, bring the back of your tongue up to the place where your hard palate meets your soft palate, and then force the tongue and the roof of your mouth apart by propelling a compressed, but noisy and disgusted, loogie of air forward.

Isn’t that fun? Try putting it all together, and doing it faster. Short of putting your fist through a wall, can you think of a better way to express anger, or annoyance, or exasperation, or extreme disappointment? It made you laugh, too, didn’t it?

Congratulations. You’ve just said “fuck,” a word allegedly frowned on by polite society. If you like saying it, you can turn it into an adjective: “fucking” or the Noo-Yawky “fucken.” You can follow it with a preposition to express an action: “fuck up” or “fuck off.” You can merge it with other words to make composites: “fuckface” or “fuckwad.” You can use it to emphasize a simple yes-or-no answer: “fuck, no” or “fuck, yeah.” You can throw a pronoun after it to make a complete sentence: “Fuck it!” or “Fuck you!” You can play with it by adding any syllables that sound good to you and/or by repeating it a few times: “fucka-fucka-fucka” or “fuckety-fuck-fuck.” Or you can just bang it out as many times in a row as it takes you to calm down: “fuck fuck fuck fUck fUCK FUCK.”

Technically, of course, the word means “to have sexual intercourse with.” If you look up “fuck” on Wikipedia — and I’ll bet some of you have already done that just for fucking fun, haven’t you? — you’ll find all sorts of bogus derivations, none of which makes a fuck’s worth of difference in the context I’m discussing here.

Some fuckwit blogger who pretends to understand sociology, psychology, culture, and linguistics wrote this:

Americans prefer to think of themselves as a classless society, but in fact there are some pretty clear distinctions along linguistic lines. If you take the number of "fucks" spoken by a person in their daily conversation and divide it by the total number of words they speak, you will come up with a stable fraction that could be called that person's "fuck quotient." Statistically, a high fuck quotient corresponds to low education, economic opportunity and social standing. In some inner-city neighborhoods, "fuck" may be one of the most-used words; in posh suburbs, it is hardly ever heard. Occasionally, people of high social standing will use "fuck" to indicate theatrically that they are street-wise, but a high fuck quotient usually signifies frustration and powerlessness. You wouldn't have to use it if you were respected and getting what you wanted.
Now, I don’t know what “posh suburbs” this jerk has been hanging around in, but I’ve heard “fuck” everywhere. In fact, I’d guess that the use of the word is not class-rooted, but rather, education-based. (By “education,” I ‘m not referring only to classroom stuff; I mean the mental activity we call “learning.”) People with the lowest levels of education use it a lot because of its “magical” properties; “fuck” and its variants help them get their mojo on. People with the highest levels of education use it a lot because it’s so much fucking fun to say; they realize that words, in and of themselves, have no dark, mystical powers; and they have big enough vocabularies and sufficient linguistic awareness to know that English lacks a suitably forceful synonym to express their strongest emotions.

Steven Pinker addresses some of his ideas about “swearing” in his new book, The Stuff of Thought. Usually, my lack of knowledge about a subject doesn’t keep me from spouting off about it, but I have so much respect for Pinker that, since I haven’t read his book yet, I won’t comment on it. I did find a quote from an article (now, alas unavailable for a link) Pinker wrote for “The New Republic.” He said:
When used judiciously, swearing can be hilarious, poignant, and uncannily descriptive. More than any other form of language, it recruits our expressive faculties to the fullest: the combinatorial power of syntax; the evocativeness of metaphor; the pleasure of alliteration, meter, and rhyme; and the emotional charge of our attitudes, both thinkable and unthinkable. It engages the full expanse of the brain: left and right, high and low, ancient and modern. Shakespeare, no stranger to earthy language himself, had Caliban speak for the entire human race when he said, "You taught me language, and my profit on't is, I know how to curse."
(You can also listen to this short excerpt re this subject from a Guardian Unlimited interview with Pinker.)

The problem I have with Pinker’s take on “fuck,” at least from what I’ve seen and heard so far as representative of his position, is that he lumps that delicious nugget of language in with other so-called “swear-words.” He does say: "Since swearing involves clearly more ancient parts of the brain, it could be a missing link between animal vocalization and human language." But he doesn’t seem to focus on how terrific you feel, physically, when you drop, specifically, the f-bomb. But saying “fuck” is different, somehow, from intoning “shit,” or “hell,” or “goddammit.” Those latter words are all expletives derived from unpleasant associations. But let’s face it: most of us enjoy the act of fucking. It’s not unpleasant at all, unless you’re doing it wrong. Even then, it’s probably better than lots of things you’re doing right. Religions may frown on fucking in many contexts, but that doesn’t keep humans —even devout ones — from taking indescribable glee in jumping on one another’s intelligently designed bones whenever and wherever they can. Yet, none of the other synonyms for “fuck” has been classified in quite the way that “fuck” has. Sure, you might say, “Screw you!” or “Go bugger yourself,” but they’re not the same, are they?

So why this long testimonial to “fuck”? Because I’ve noticed — and you’ve probably picked up on this, as well — that it appears a lot in comments throughout the Atheosphere. We freethinkers really like to say it. What’s more important, though, is that we’re not afraid of saying it, we’re not restrained by a need to make a hypocritical nod to convention, we don’t feel that we’ve demeaned our ideas by seasoning them with some verbal salt and pepper. Not only do we not believe in any gods, we also don’t believe in ridiculous “standards” of speech and behavior that have no moral basis whatsoever.

So we use “fuck” for emphasis, humorous value, expressing irritation, and just plain for the fuck of it. And the simple usage of that word is sometimes sufficient to enliven a piece of writing. You can’t just read “fuck” with your eyes. In order for it to have any effect, you have to hear it in your head, or, better yet, say it out loud. Inserted into a text at the right point, “fuck” adds an intimacy and conversational quality to even the driest argument. At that very moment, the writer is speaking directly to the reader; he or she asks you to listen to that “fuck,” and maybe even sing along.

So should you use “fuck” all the time? No, please don’t. It gets boring after a while, like too many episodes of Seinfeld back-to-back; it starts losing its flavor, like the sixth glass of fancy wine during dinner.

But by all means, use it when it feels right, when your emotions need that kind of bang for their buck (or fang for their fuck). The Atheosphere is about freedom from religion, but it’s also about freedom of speech. Nobody’s gonna call “foul language” on you for saying whatever you want. In fact, I’d guess that many of you, as I do, enjoy reading “fuck,” writing “fuck,” hearing “fuck,” and saying “fuck.” As I noted at the beginning of this post: it’s fun. In fact, it’s the funnest English word there is.

This episode of No More Hornets was brought to you by the word “fuck.”