Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Stermy Awards for November 2007


The other day, SI left a comment here that has impressed me more and more the longer I've thought about it. Talking about atheist blogging, he said: I think on the whole, we do it quite well. Even if you don't agree with us, generally, we do say it with style, panache and savoir-faire.

He's so right. There’s some excellent, even exemplary, writing in the Atheosphere. I’d put it up against some of the very best magazine articles and newspaper columns.

Let’s get this straight: I’m not saying that we produce copyedited, ready-for-publication pieces. As a pedantic prig and a grammar nazi – and a sometime professional editor – I’ll tell you that much of our output is far from perfect in terms of mechanics. We make grammatical slips, spelling errors, even punctuation faux pas. I embarrass myself sometimes when I notice that I've written a particularly ungainly sentence, or used an ill-chosen word. But that kind of stuff is all fixable with a blue pencil or its electronic equivalent. It’s not hard to sneak into a post to correct misspellings or sloppy syntax; I do it all the time.

I’m not talking about content, either. Yes, I think content is very important, but to tell you the absolute truth: I’ve been an atheist all my life. There are very few arguments for or against freethinking that I haven’t already heard hundreds of times. And when one of us posts about a breaking news story, it multiplies like an amoeba, spreading all over the Atheosphere in nanoseconds. Hot YouTube Videos, cartoons, jokes – they all appear in dozens of places simultaneously. So content alone doesn’t make writing great for me.

What I'm referring to is a quality that’s hard to pin down, an urgent shoulder-grab by someone who just has to say something important or hilarious or informative or so interesting it demands to be shared, a feat of linguistic magic that breathes into mere strings of words a life of their own, a mind-meld you're powerless to resist.

And so, I’m going to inaugurate the Stermy Awards for Exemplary Writing in the Atheosphere (with a hat tip to Evo for coming up with the name – although in a different context). I’d like to say that the Stermy Awards Ceremony will occur near the end of every month, without fail, but who am I kidding? We’re talking about blogging here; sometimes real life – or a bad mood – intrudes.

For this first presentation, I’ve decided not to honor any of the writers I singled out recently as being among the ten bloggers I'd most like to break open an expensive bottle of wine with. Not that their writing isn’t great, and not that I don’t expect them to "win" plenty of Stermies in the future. But just for this inaugural post, I decided, pretty much arbitrarily, that I’d already given them a blanket award which they can wrap themselves in at least until next month.

Below, in alphabetical order by author, are the posts that impressed me most this month. I've included a very small snippet of writing from each one, just to give a quick taste.

So, drum roll, please:

EnoNomi at EnoNomi
for Serving Size: One Entry
I love the word Atheist. I love the way it feels in my mouth and rolls off the tongue. I admit to loving the in-your-face-ness of the word, because most of the time I’m not really interested in having a dialogue.

The Lifeguard at The Meme Pool
for Draining the Meme Pool
As I came to realize how faith permeated so much of my own life and the life of those around me, I became entirely too aware of how shocked my loved ones would feel when they heard I had become an atheist. Would they accept it? Would they know I am the same person? That I am still a happy human being? Will they still relate to me? Will I relate to them? How will this all work out? All of this left me very frightened and confused, and I spent a lot of time thinking over my newfound atheism and wondering if I might even find a way out of it. I felt that ashamed and anxious about it.

Lynet at Elliptica
for Penelope
While her husband's in the water
the coxcombs crowd like butterflies.


ordinary girl at tales of an ordinary girl
for More Emails
It seems to me that for you it comes down to likability. What would it take for an atheist to be likable to a theist? Could an atheist feel free to talk at all about atheism and still be considered likable? Or does that make the theist uncomfortable and thus make the atheist unlikable.

Ute at An Atheist Homeschooler
for Homeschoolers are Weird
The thing is... homeschoolers can never do it quite right for society around us. We face expectations that can't be met. Our kids need to be smart, really smart, but when they are, then something is wrong... "You're probably doing nothing but school work all day." (Right) If their intelligence doesn't meet Mr. Smith's expectations then he feels confirmed in his belief that homeschooling is good for nothing.
Although I don't think it's necessary, I will emphasize that these awards are totally subjective and reflect only my own taste. The decision of the judge is final. No animals have been harmed in the presentation of these posts. My name is The Exterminator, and I approve this message.

I can't read everything out there in the Atheosphere. If anyone would like to nominate a December post for the next Stermies, please send me an email with a link to your specific selection. You may even try to lobby for one of your own, but – as I hope you've seen – it better be damn good.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Quazy Quistian Question # 3

Today's installment is not just your everyday inane query. This one is actually seasonal. I hope my ideas will be easier to follow than a mythological star.

So my wife and I were sitting around on Saturday night, reading, watching TV, munching on various unhealthful snacks — we’re famous in our social circle for being able eat our way through a family-size bag of Crispy Cheetos in less than an hour — and just generally relaxing after the pig-out of Thanksgiving and its aftermath. At one point, although I didn’t notice it, my wife must have checked her watch. Sure enough, it had been a few hours since I’d last been given a chore. She likes to suggest little projects for me just to make sure that I don’t wind up starving on the streets like the rest of the deadbeats who hate doing dishes. Anyway, she looked up and said, “Why don’t you jump in the car and go get a few lottery tickets?”

What I should have said was “I don’t feel like it; I’m comfortable.” But, through long experience, I’ve learned: A response like that doesn’t work. My comfort isn’t an issue.

So I needed a good, rational excuse. “I don’t want to give any more of my money to the state than I have to.”

My wife rolled her eyes. That’s when I made my mistake. Like the smart-ass I am, I quoted the bible. “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s. Caesar isn't really entitled to those four bucks I’d spend on some stupid game.”

To which my wife, an atheist like me, said, “Well that money sure as hell isn’t god’s.”

That’s when I decided to run out the clock. There was only a short time left in which to purchase chances for that day’s drawing. I said, “Well, buying lottery tickets is like an act of faith. We don’t want to start being religious all of a sudden. Do we?”

She said, “You have ten minutes.”

As I was driving to the nearby Jiffy Spend, I found myself still chuckling over the Caesar-god dollar dichotomy. Then, as I passed a group of holy-shit-not-already! Christmas lights, I had a thought: According to the Christian fairy tale, the three wise men presented the baby Jesus with gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Today we know, of course, that those things should have cautionary labels on them, stating that they’re choking hazards for children under 3. But this was back in the day when parents actually watched what went into their kids' mouths.

Anyway I started wondering: What did Jesus — or his folks — do with those things? The three wise men came from afar, traveling for days over hot desert sands by camel, without air-conditioning, to bring gifts to a tot they thought was the king of kings. There must have been desert-boatloads of the stuff they brought. They were no dopes, remember. So if they really wanted to ingratiate themselves, their presents would have been pricey. We’re talking about major expenditures.

I’m supposing the Jesus family burnt all the frankincense and myrrh over the course of the next few years to make their humble home smell a little less like donkey. But what about all that cash? Did they put it into a college fund for Jesus so he could go study theology, or worse, Aramaic lit? Did they invest it in Joseph’s carpentry business? (“Need a new table or bed? Crazy Joe’s prices are heavenly!”) Maybe they used it to buy toys and clothes for the child? (“Jesus! That’s the fourth pair of gilded sandals you’ve outgrown this year.”) Or did they just piss it away on lottery tickets?

Whatever they did with it, the gift sure set a lousy precedent. Nowadays, Christians still throw money at Jesus in an effort to suck up to him. They do it indirectly, maybe, by supporting god’s houses and his allegedly good works. But most of them feel, somehow, that they’re handing their hard-earned loot over to their lord. And Jesus’s collection agencies sure rake it in.

But why can’t god just take care of his own business without having to resort to cash, checks, and credit cards? What could money conceivably buy for him that he can’t just make for himself? How come he can’t finance his houses on his own, and pay for his ventures without having to ask for handouts? And where does he keep his assets? In a bank? In an offshore trust? In an omnipresent wallet in his omnibenevolent pocket?

Quazy Quistion Question # 3:
Why does god need your money? Explain your response.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

A Challenge to Just 30 of the 130 Million

I’m going to begin my little sermon today with a disclaimer. But even before that, I’m going to beg pardon.

Begging Evo’s Pardon

Well, this is a first. But, seriously, I’ve jumped off from a thread at John’s place (see the link below), and, to set the stage, I’ve quoted from a few of the comments. I didn’t feel as if the debate had been properly framed over there, since it was sort of a digression from the main post; I think, though, that we should focus on the ideas and toss them around. Since the coming challenge emerges out of my viewpoint, with which, I believe, John disagrees, I thought it was only fair to issue it here, in a full-fledged post for which I take sole responsibility. So I ... umm ... stole selections from a few comments to toss them out below.

The Disclaimer

In the course of writing this post, I’ll be referring to the ideas of some of my fellow bloggers. If I’ve misinterpreted what you’ve been saying, do jump on me in the comments and correct whatever opinions I’ve wrongly attributed to you.

OK, now that we all know I’m fallible ...

The Background to the Challenge

John Evo wrote a nice, post-Thanksgiving, warm-‘n’fuzzy post that essentially reminds all of us “veteran” atheists to reach out to recent de-cons. He urges us to actively seek out their blogs, and to invite them into our sometimes rowdy community. I couldn’t agree more. There are probably dozens of new atheists out there who may not be fully comfortable mouthing off in some of the aggessive, confrontational comment threads spawned by our essays. Some of these people may not be used to the kind of raucous give-and-take — complete with jokes, friendly insults, and weird digressions — that occur daily in the Atheosphere. As has been said many times, we freethinkers are most definitely not in lockstep wth one another. We disagree often. That’s one of the pleasures of being an atheist; you can argue about details, sometimes heatedly; nobody has ever been thrown out of the loose community of skeptics because of heresy.

In the course of the comment thread over at Evo’s place, infidel753 pointed out that a recent poll reveals this fact: about 130 million Americans are "adults who describe themselves as Christians, but who are Christian in name only." Infidel goes on to say:

Many of the latter are clinging weakly to the tattered remnants of a religion which they hardly really believe in any more, but which they have never heard seriously or intelligently challenged. These people are reachable.

I disagreed.

If they've never heard their religion seriously or intelligently challenged, where the fuck have they been lately? There are atheistic spokespeople being interviewed on TV and on the radio. There are dozens of skeptical books available in the chain bookstores. There are newspaper and magazine articles about the "new" atheism. There's an entire Atheosphere engaging in dialogue every single day. Quite a few atheist bloggers seek out fundies to debate. And there are even some moderate Christian bloggers who speak of atheism with tolerance and write about it. So you have to be brain-dead not to have heard that there are a few people out here in the world challenging religion.

I'm dubious that those people are reachable. Those people are not seeking answers, as most de-converts begin by doing. No, they remain Christians because it's easy to do so; they don't have to think. I see no indication that they'd like to start.

Evo weighed in.

Even if Infidel's numbers are too optimistic, it seems likely to me that there are millions of people out there who could potentially change their positions on religion. Let's look at the 130 million number he tossed out there. I fully agree with you that the vast majority of those are not on a "quest for knowledge". But say 5% of them are.

A Response to Evo ... and the Rationale Behind the Challenge

So John urges me to “say 5% of them are.” But why should I say 5% of them are? Why not say 55% of them are? Or 95%? These are all made-up numbers, anyway. Does he present any data?

My strong suspicion is that de-converts come from the ranks of the active practitioners of religion, not from the mentally numb 130 million. Three recent de-cons we’ve been thrilled to welcome into our nay-borhood are chaplain, Lifeguard, and JP. I believe that all of them came from among the serious church-going population. As I've been learning from them, the process of de-conversion takes a lot of time and some deep thought about philosophy; a person must be willing to wrestle with his or her "cherished" beliefs. I think the people most likely to want to expend that kind of energy are the ones who already channel their efforts into thinking about "life, the universe, and everything."

In the past, I’ve argued adamantly against both Philly and SI about the value of engaging fundies in blog debate. Philly recently pointed out to me, however, that while he may appear to be debating with one or two stubborn religionists, he’s actually hoping that the lurkers — those who don’t take an active part in the smackdown — will benefit from hearing a rational viewpoint. I’d like to solicit our recent de-cons’ take on that point; it makes sense to me. So maybe Philly and SI are right. Unlike Christians, I’m happy to switch opinions when a preponderance of the evidence shows that I’ve been wrong.

I'll bet, though, that most, if not all, of those silent readers are either practicing or ex-religionists, active in their churches either now or in the past. Somehow, I can't see a single one of those uninvolved 130 million bothering to read arguments for or against Christianity. Which brings me back to Evo and Infidel, and leads me to my challenge.

The Challenge

OK. There are 130 million people in this country claiming to be Christian but who are actually indifferent to their religion. John’s 5% of that would be 6.5 million (and not 65,000, as I originally wrote here — Yikes! — before he corrected me). But I’m not gonna ask for 6.5 million. I’m not gonna ask for 65,000. Why, I’m not even gonna ask for 6,500, or a measly 650, or half that amount. (Oops. I've been watching too much TV again.) I’d like to hear from a mere 30 of them who have recently been de-converted by cruising the Atheosphere. The response has to be from the person him- or herself, not via some second-hand anecdote. I trust my regular readers to help me keep count.

There’s no reward for taking the challenge except a warm welcome into the Atheosphere, and a chance to speak out freely about what you stand for.

But isn't that a great prize?

Frequent Updates for Those Keeping Score

Of approximately 130 million adult "casual" Christians in America today,
we've identified 1 de-convert so far.

Friday, November 23, 2007

No, Virginia, There Is No Sanity Clause

OK, now that Thanksgiving’s over, we’re entering loony time.

Each year during the Christmas season, I have to face my atheistic conscience. The truth is: I think Christmas is a huge hoot. I love shopping in crowds for presents, singing and listening to carols, ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the lights, boozing it up with good company, and gorging on excessive sweets. If you take Jesus out of the mix, the rest of it is fun.

Philosophically, I find the idea of Santa Claus revolting; it’s like adding training wheels to the broken-down bicycle of Christianity. But, honestly? I can’t resist smiling when I overhear little kids talking about what they hope he’ll bring them. They’ll soon grow out of that belief, at least, so what’s the harm, really? Children – as opposed to adults – are supposed to have a little fantasy in their lives.

I adore Dickens, and I take great pleasure in rereading A Christmas Carol every year. It’s not a religious story; it’s a parable about greed and mean-spiritedness. No one accuses Scrooge of being a miserable person because he doesn’t go to church; they accuse him of being a miserable person because he doesn’t know how to enjoy the life that he has, doesn’t understand that it takes very little to enhance the lives of those around him. It’s a good, if sappy, lesson for all of us. Yes, the very last line is Tiny Tim’s “God bless Us, Every One,” but so what? The author doesn’t claim that a heavenly miracle is going to cure the kid’s lameness; Scrooge’s money and trained doctors will take care of that.

I don’t even mind if salespeople wish me “Merry Christmas.” It’s how they do it that does or doesn’t piss me off. If it’s said in an offhand manner, just a pleasant kind of mantra, I might even say it right back. But if there’s a meaningful something slogging home the word “Christmas,” I always reply, as condescendingly as I can, “Well, I’m not Christian, myself, but do enjoy your little holiday.”

On the other hand ...

I don’t want to be forced to pay for a public nativity scene or decorated tree. I don’t want to have to detour around the main street in my town during its holiday parade funded by taxpayer dollars. I don’t want the baby Jesus rammed down my throat by proselytizing strangers when I go to buy my groceries. I don’t want United States postage stamps to be emblazoned with religious iconography. I don’t want casual acquaintances and distant relatives sending me biblical verses through the mail. I don’t want my hypocritical elected officials talking about “Christ’s message of peace.” I don’t want to be reminded every damn time I turn on the TV or open a newspaper or read a magazine or surf the Internet of what a petty, materialistic, greedy society we are. I don't want to hear theocrats spouting off about "the real meaning of Christmas" while they obliterate the real meaning of the Constitution. I don’t want to watch my fellow Americans substituting ersatz holiday cheer for the profound joy of freedom that we’re slowly being robbed of.

And most of all, I don’t want to be bopped on the head with Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas every waking hour of every fucking day between now and December 25.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

An Atheist's Thanksgiving Hymn

Sing along with the Exterminator:

We gather together to ask for more dressing,
Potatoes, tomatoes, and turkey piled high,
And plenty of vino --
Let's end with cappuccino.
Sing praises to the cook,
Who forgets not the pie.

[Revised Version: 11/22/07, 10:00 a.m. EST]

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

All Right, So Make it the Bronx

I’m not a big fan of blogging memes, because – let’s face it – they’re not really memes. Also, ever since I’ve started being hit with these things, I’ve been dying to use the pun title Meme Me in St. Louis. But the fact that I’ve never been to that city makes the gag seem inappropriate.

Still, I’ve been tagged by both OzAtheist and ordinary girl to take part in the “memory meme.” Since I put off my good friend OG the last time she tagged me, I’m not gonna snub her again. Ozatheist, a more recent acquaintance, gets a free ride on her coattails.

Anyway, The rules are:

1. Describe your earliest memory where this memory is clear, and where "clear" means you can depict at least three details;
2. Give an estimate of how old you were at this age; and
3. Tag five other bloggers with this meme.

I’m gonna tell you in advance that I won't be tagging anybody, so don’t go scrambling to find your name at the bottom of this post. If you haven’t been tagged already, and want to be, either consider yourself so, or send me an email and I’ll make the tag formal for the Atheosphere record books.

At my age, I sometimes have difficulty remembering what I did yesterday. So it’s almost impossible to sift through the mental clutter of my childhood, filled as it is with breakfast cereal jingles (all of which I can still sing on a dare), the tastes of sweets long ago taken off the market, and numerous instances of being told not to talk back. The child is father to the man, and I must admit that I still love to start the day with a bowl of crunchy goodness, stuff my face with cookies and candy and snack cakes, and talk back, not necessarily in that order.

I'm not able to pinpoint a specific incident that I can authoritatively say is my earliest memory. In general, though, I mostly remember watching a lot of TV. I mean a lot. This was back in the early 50s, and television was an amazing new toy. It was on constantly in my house.

When I was just four years old, in fact, I starred on my very own TV show. Hardly anyone knew about it except me. That was fine, though, because I was the only audience I cared about. From the time I woke up until the time I fell asleep, I kept up a running commentary for my sole viewer. "Notice the firemen on my pajamas this morning. Can we bring the camera in for a better look at them? Let's see if they've moved at all from where they were last night."

I was casual and personable, like Arthur Godfrey, who was ubiquitous on television and radio in the early '50s. Mom and I watched and listened to every one of his programs. Arthur Godfrey had a talent, rare in those days, of making housewives believe that he was talking directly to them. Mom sometimes answered questions that came over the airwaves. "I bet you like Lipton tea, doncha?" Arthur Godfrey would ask. "Not really," Mom would tell him, as she sipped her fifth cup of coffee.

I also asked questions during my continuous broadcast, and responded to them, too. "I bet you like chocolate milk, doncha?" "Oh, yeah, you can say that again."

Mom was entertained by this schizoid behavior. Occasionally, she allowed herself to appear on my show as what I called a "special guess."

"Let's ask Mom if she remembered to buy me Sugar Jets, shall we?"

"Well, Mr. Exterminator," she'd say, talking into the microphone that was my fist, "I think Sugar Jets are swell. But Rice Krinkles were on sale this week. I hope that's OK with the folks at home." Then she'd add, "Are you gonna sing something for us?"

Now and then, even Dad could be prevailed upon to make a cameo appearance. My father had aspirations, at one time, of being an opera singer. He had a wonderful tenor voice, but his dreams fell by the wayside when he had difficulty memorizing any aria other than "Vesti la Giubba" from Pagliacci. I liked hearing him sing that because there’s this “laugh, Clown, laugh” moment in it, where the grieving singer bursts into an ironic “Ah-ha-ha-ha-ha.” My father could really milk that sucker for all it was worth.

Anyway, he’d usually oblige me. When he was finished, he'd shout into my hand, "Did you like that, folks? Did you? Well why don't you give me my own damn show, f'cryinoutloud! All I need is a coupla cue cards and I could be a star!"

This always got me annoyed because I thought it was inappropriate to compete with me during my personal airtime.

"Just kidding, people," I'd say.

"Are you apologizing for your father?" Dad would ask, actually getting angry. "Y'know, when I was a kid, if I ever apologized for my father, he'd give me something to really feel sorry about!"

"Honey," Mom would explain, "it's not a real show."

"Do me something, Baby," Dad would yell, "but real isn't an issue here. You don't apologize for a father. Ever! Not just on TV. Ever!"

Mom and Dad weren't the only ones who got into the act. Whenever Nanny, my mother’s mother, visited, I'd introduce her to my viewers. "Well will you look who's sitting in our studio audience, ladies and gentlemen? It's Nanny. Why don't you stand up, Nanny, and take a bow?"

She'd cover my little hand/mike with her palm so nobody else could hear. "Do me a favor, and tell them: I hadda stand on the subway the whole ride here, my feet are killing me, I'm not that big a celebrity they need to make such a fuss. I'll just sit and wave."

"Nanny, everyone!" I'd cheer.

Mom would applaud. Dad would shake his head and mutter, "That's some pffffffff program you got there. " By “pfffffff” he meant “fucking,” but I didn’t figure that out until much later, long after the network of imagination had cancelled my show.

Jesus Christ and the Goddamned Searchengine

This is not really a post, it's just me bragging. Somebody typed the following into Google:

JESUS CHRIST WHY CAN I NEVER FIND ANYTHING I SEARCH FO ON THIS GODDAMNED SEARCHENGINE
and No More Hornets was the first result.

Oddly enough, if the person had spelled out the word FOR, instead of mistyping FO, this blog would have been only the second result.

However, had the person spelled out the word FOR and also separated SEARCH ENGINE into two words, I would have been first again.

The Lord works in mysterious ways.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Join Me in Welcoming ... (Name Withheld)

This is sort of apropos my last post, which talked about women atheist bloggers. Of course, everything at this joint is sort of apropos every post, because it’s an atheist blog, f’cryinoutloud. It’s kind of late to point this out now if you haven’t already noticed it, but there’s a theme here.

OK, so I’m reading my way around the Atheosphere late last night. There are thirty, maybe forty, blogs that I check on regularly, but I frequently try to look at one or two with which I’m not familiar. There are lots of ways to find these new-to-me sites, but my favorite method is to click on the names of previously unheard-of commenters at other blogs I like.

One of these clicks takes me to a post on a politico-legal subject of interest to me, although I’m not going to reveal the precise details. You’ll see why in a minute. I assume the female author is an atheist, both from her comments at the blog on which I found her link, and from the subject she's discussing. And I'm right. I have pretty good A-dar.

Without introducing myself, I proceed to tell her exactly why her post is wrong. Obviously, I’ve never read How to Win Friends and Influence People. As I’ve mentioned here before, tact is not my strong suit.

Today, I get an email from this woman. I recognize the first name – which is the name she goes by on her blog – and open her note. I expect something along the lines of, “You’re a fucking moron,” although maybe a bit more creative.

Instead, I have a rather pleasant thank you for visiting her site, and an explanation of why I was wrong in thinking she was wrong. And I was wrong, because she hadn’t really said everything she wanted to in her post. The reason? It’s a family site, and she’s a recent de-convert. Nobody in her family, and that means nobody, knows. She just wanted to clue me in.

Because I'm not totally insensitive, I understand the message without her having to spell it out: Please don’t refer to her as a fellow atheist. And don’t be too harsh on religionists just yet, because she's not quite ready to jump into the fray. I write back and assure her that I would never “out” anyone. I also say that I think she should pass the word around to her loved ones, not defiantly, not confrontationally, and certainly not out-of-the-blue. But if religion comes up in the conversation, I think she should state her feelings about it.

That’s easy for me to say because I’ve never de-converted; I’ve always been an atheist. But I do have a family story which relates to this. Many, many, years ago, my younger sister decided to “out” herself as a lesbian, just to me and my wife. The problem was: we already knew. Her sexual orientation had been blatantly clear for years. Over a restaurant dinner one night, my poor sister stammered across the table that she’d “like to have a talk with us.” I asked, “What about?” She shrugged. I offered help: “What, like lifestyles?” “Yeah,” she said, “lifestyles.” I looked at my wife, my wife looked at me, and we both burst out laughing. “Listen,” I told my sister, “we don’t need a long, drawn-out, pained 'true confession' from you. We both know you’re gay. We don’t care who you fuck, OK? If there’s somebody you’re seeing regularly that you want to bring around, do it. We'd love to meet her. If you have friends you want to introduce us to, feel free.” My sister’s smile was as wide as the table, and she was sitting on the long side.

So we got to talking, and my sister revealed that she’d carried that “secret” around with her for four years, dreading the day when she’d have to “reveal” herself. I urged her to tell Nanny, our stepmother (our father was dead), our stepsister, and every old friend she had. Nobody gave a shit. She’d agonized about who-knows-how-many imagined shocked reactions for four long years, and all her fears were phantoms. Only one asshole friend, out of probably two hundred people she told over the course of the next few weeks, refused to see my sister because – and get this! – her boyfriend was uncomfortable.

The anticipated conversation my sister tortured herself most about was the one with Nanny. They got together at Nanny's house for lunch. My sister steeled herself over Campbell's chicken soup, a baloney sandwich, and ginger ale. Afterwards, she made her announcement. Nanny, who truly had no idea beforehand, thought for a few seconds about what she'd been told. Then, this is how the dialogue ended. You’ll see why I can still quote it verbatim more than thirty years later:

Nanny: To me, a man and a woman is like bread and butter. A woman and a woman is like bread and ... bread.
My sister: I guess I like bread.
Nanny: I guess you do. (Pause) You want some more Jell-O?

No heartache, no weeping and gnashing of teeth, no accusations, no nothin’. “I guess you do” and a second helping of a dessert for which there’s always room.

Anyway, getting back to our recent de-convert, I returned to her “family” blog and looked over some of the stuff she’d written. She was careful in her phraseology, but the negative attitude toward religion, I felt, was loud and clear, if somewhat obscured. Still, I think, somebody, somewhere in that group of relatives, already knows she’s left the flock.

But she’s terrified that she’ll shock the ones she loves. I know that this is a common fear. But, as I wrote to her: It's amazing how many de-converts don't discuss their new worldview with their loved ones because they're trying to avoid emotional blackmail. That avoidance, though, is also a form of emotional blackmail and you're the one blackmailing yourself.

I told Ms. D-C that I was going to write a post about our email interchange. I invited her – actually strongly encouraged her – to comment here, and share her experiences with us. I know that quite a few of my friends in the Atheosphere have gone through de-conversions themselves, and I assured her that she’d find plenty of supportive pals, all kinds of advice, and lots of understanding, not only here at No More Hornets, but at any of their blogs, as well. She wasn’t sure she’d participate, but I hope she does.

I’ll say once again: I’ve never had to go through that experience. Everyone I’ve ever known, family, friends, casual acquaintances even, has been aware of my godlessness. But I can empathize and sympathize because my sister told me horror stories about the many nights when she couldn’t sleep, when she had the cold sweats, the midnight headaches, and the early-morning panic attacks.

I don’t think it’s worth putting yourself through that.

Friday, November 16, 2007

What About Darla?

In a thread on my previous post, A. mentioned his fiancee. He said: She finds the atheist blogging thing difficult enough to understand as it is. PhillyChief responded: One thing us guys here have in common at least is having women who don't get why we care enough to blog about this stuff.

Now, this exchange reminded me a little too much of Alfalfa and Spanky extolling the He-Man Woman Haters Club. So I'm going to respond. But first, I'm going to make a few observations, and weave in a short personal story.

The comment threads on most blogs that have an open policy – as I do – tend to go astray. My regular readers and I usually try to find a way to re-introduce the topic at hand, but there’s also a lot of good-natured, unrelated banter and teasing between us. Often, we refer to one another’s previous posts, not necessarily with full explanations for casual commenters who may not know exactly what we’re talking about.

I think our comment threads point out one of the main differences between publishing an ezine and a blog. When actually posting, we’re putting our ideas out there for the world. If we refer to someone else’s take on the same subject, we include a link for everyone to see, and, often, a brief summary of what the other person had to say. Our articles are styled to be accessible to everyone, with no prior background necessary.

But when commenting, we’re more freewheeling. We’re continuing a dialogue that has been going on for some time. Often, we twit one another over previous disagreements we’ve had, or support one another’s ideas without having to restate them in their fullest form. I like that. The Atheosphere is not a group of strangers; it’s a community. Some of us have gotten to know one another, at least in our blog personae, pretty well; we’re friends. When you get together with friends of long standing, you sometimes shorthand your mutual references.

I’m always happy when a new reader decides to plunge in and join the group. We’re most definitely not exclusive. Newcomers are welcome to join in the ribbing and the general tone. Folks who comment here have pretty thick skins I like to think; if they don’t, they’ve probably come to the wrong place.

So last night, my wife, who’s far more sensitive to mockery than I am, was looking over one of the threads here, and she said, “It’s like a men’s club. Just a bunch of guys getting together to trade ideas and rag on each other.” Now, my wife knows me very well, and has gotten used to my “style” of using humor to try to make important points. When she says “joking around,” she’s doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re being frivolous. In fact, she immediately qualified what she said: “I’m talking about the tone, not the content. It’s like old male buddies hanging out in a bar.”

However, what I objected to in her comment – aside from the word “old,” which I’ll let pass – was the idea that my blog is a men’s club, a bunch of guys. First of all, I believe that the Atheosphere is gender-neutral. The sharpest writers in it come from both sexes. Secondly, if it were a “men’s club,” how dull would that be?

So, in response to A., Philly and my wife, I’m going to take this opportunity to celebrate – through some links – the women who sometimes hang out in this particular godless nay-borhood. I’ve already mentioned a few of these recently, but I’m going to list here, in alphabetical order, some women whose blogs I read regularly. If you haven’t checked them out, I encourage you to do so. And I defy anyone to show how, in any way, these women are less thought-provoking, profound, skeptical, aggressive, nasty, witty, companionable, and universally relevant than their male counterparts.

I’ve limited this list to only those women who comment here, whose blogs are active, and who write well. Here it is:

Babs
C.L. Hanson
Enonomi
heather
Lynet
ordinary girl
sacred slut
tina
yinyang

All in the “club,” as far as I’m concerned – and not a he-man among them.


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Quazy Quistian Question # 2

A few weeks ago, I set myself the mission of asking Christians the most inane queries I can think of about their religious beliefs. Try as I might, I had difficulty writing a second installment. I just couldn’t come up with anything dumber to ask than: Why did Jesus need to die for our sins? Why couldn’t he just say:

OK, people, listen up. Remember all those bad things you did, the ones that were gonna send you to hell for eternity? Well, f’geddaboudit. Phffft. Gone. Kaput. They’re off the slate. You don’t have to bother to thank me, although a few bucks in the plate would probably come in handy.
Somehow, that question didn’t seem quite as ridiculous as what I’d had in mind. Fortunately, though, my life provides ample examples of preposterousness. All I have to do is be patient.

And so, this evening rolled around. My wife and I went to a wine tasting at what our locals consider a decent restaurant. Where I live, a decent restaurant is any one that doesn’t have a clown character as its representative.

Anyway, we paid twelve bucks apiece for samplings of seven mundane wines, a few little cubes of Kraft cheese, and an antipasto that was heavy on the peperoncini. Now, don’t get me wrong: I love peperoncini in their place. But they’re not really the ideal accompaniment to a wine tasting. Hot pickled peppers tend to clash with any liquids that aren’t made from olives.

One of the offerings on the pouring cart was a white merlot, which, despite its name, was pink. In my opinion, pink is to wine as white is to chocolate. As green is to beef. In the food world, only M&M’s are color-transcendent. All other foods ought to stay in their own corners of the spectrum.

So there we were, sipping on our pink wine, nibbling on our peperoncini, and trying to decide which of the processed cheese cubes would be the least tasteless, when, suddenly, Jesus popped into my head. This wasn’t so remarkable, since almost every time we have cheese of any kind, I feel obliged to say, “What a friend we have in cheeses.” Then I usually launch into a series of the world’s worst dairy-and-religion puns, only one example of which should suffice.

It is easier for a Camembert to go through the eye of the needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Gouda.
Take it from my wife: You wouldn’t want to be there when I get started.

Be that as it may, the combination of Jesus and wine and bad puns immediately brought to mind the miracle at Cana. According to the gospel of John, Jesus arrived at this fancy shindig only to discover that there was no wine left. So, rather than running out to the nearest liquor store, he got a few servants to fill some pots with water, and presto – let there be White. Or Red. Or maybe Pink.

I know that some fundamentalist teetotalers dispute this. They insist that the word for wine in Koine Greek can also be translated as “grape juice.” I know zero Koine Greek, so I’m not equipped to enter that linguistic controversy. I will say, though, that it’s impossible to imagine the son of god and his followers getting their robes in a twist over being stiffed out of their Welch’s.

Also, according to John, the “governor” of the feast noticed that this particular whatever-it-was was of superior quality to the whatever-it-was that had been served earlier, before Jesus and his thirsty band had arrived. In my experience, grape juice is pretty much grape juice; I’ve never noticed a dramatic difference from one brand to the next. Superiority of quality isn’t really an issue.

Plus, of course, a wedding at which only grape juice was served would be pretty fucking dull, even if the bandleader was the Messiah.

Therefore, I’m gonna stick with the idea – believed by most Christians – that Jesus turned the water into wine. But what kind of wine? Hmmm, this was a Jewish wedding, right? But no, it couldn’t have been Manischewitz, because nobody, not even the most orthodox and soused of Chasidim, would ever rave about the relative quality of that.

Jesus must have made some pretty decent stuff; the water-into-wine trick was considered a miracle, don’t forget. And let’s assume it was something red, maybe even made, appropriately enough, with water from the Red Sea. And remember that later in his life, Jesus, himself, equates his blood with wine (almost certainly not grape juice). So I’m pretty sold on the idea of a red, unless his blood was pink like white merlot, or overly oaky like a California Chardonnay.

Let’s go with a fine red wine then. I’m guessing that the Christ would not have settled for anything short of a first growth Bordeaux, say, a Ch√Ęteau Latour or a Mouton-Rothschild. The Romans ruled the land, so an excellent vintage Barolo is not out of the question, but somehow that doesn’t strike me as sufficiently impressive to make it into the bible. Of course, it could have been a great Australian shiraz, or a California zin (red, not white!), or even a rich vanilla-y Spanish rioja. The truth is, there’s a lot of terrific wine out there in the world, and god’s palate works in mysterious ways.

Even so, with all the noble grapes that abound, there’s still plenty of swill lurking on wine store shelves. Like pink white merlot, for example. Some of the stuff is lousy because it’s not produced to the exacting standards of oenophiles (that’s wine-lovers, for you Bud drinkers). But a lot of the crap that passes for wine is made from grapes that are just plain inferior.

And that got me thinking. Assuming, as many Christians do, that god stamped his idea of perfection on each thing he chugged out during the creation, why aren’t all grapes equally good? I can understand that he might have said to himself:

Well, variety is the spice of life. (Which reminds me: I’d better get some cinnamon and cloves going somewhere.)
But why would he bother to plant those grape species that aren’t even fit to make raisins? Why, in fact, is there such a large discrepancy in quality between different variants of essentially the same food plants, from grapes to lettuce to corn to coffee beans? How come some are considered by gourmets to be far more desirable than others? Why are some fruits too sour for people to eat, and others succulent and sweet? Why don’t all vegetables grow with butter already on them? And what’s the deal with poison mushrooms that look exactly like the ones you throw on pizza? And most of all: Could it conceivably have been in god’s plan for mankind to discover white merlot?

Quazy Quistian Question # 2:
Why did god create food plants with such gross inconsistencies in quality? Explain your response.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Not Rational

John-Evo has been selling rationality big-time over at Evolutionary Middleman. (I’m not going to link to any particular post except this latest one, because you really ought to be reading everything he has to say. Even if you don’t agree with all of it.)

Now, we atheists pride ourselves on being rational, but what do we mean by that? Is it possible that there can be two, or even more, different versions of rationality? Does a purely scientific rationality always trump the others? What about common sense and practicality? Where do they come in?

I’m not inclined to use this blog as a place to talk about my personal problems, but I do have an example from life that — although trivial in the grand scheme of things — I think illustrates very well the question I’m asking.

Last year, late at night on November 30, one of my cats started struggling to breathe. It looked like it was going to be a losing battle for her. My wife and I felt that if we didn’t get her immediate medical attention, she wouldn’t make it to the morning. We rushed her to our local animal emergency clinic, where she was put into an oxygen tent and given a battery of fancy tests. The doctor came back about an hour later with a dire diagnosis: our pet had lung cancer. The X-rays showed it clearly. The other tests confirmed it. The doctor’s considered advice, based on the scientific evidence and long experience: euthanize her immediately because it would be cruel to stand by and watch her suffer.

But my wife and I were not feeling very rational at the time. We insisted on bringing her home and taking her to our own vet.

Our vet is an old-fashioned, tobacco-chawin’ kind of guy. He’s definitely not someone who would strike you as being on the frontiers of science, although you might want to join him for a beer. His office is filled with all kinds of quasi-religious embroideries spouting “uplifting” nonsense about how your pets will be waiting in heaven for you when you die, how “dog” is “god” spelled backwards, that kind of drivel.

But he’s pretty practical. When I showed him my cat’s X-rays, he agreed that she was probably on death’s door. But he asked me one important question: what was her quality of life like? Then he followed with what passed for diagnostics: Before the episode the previous night, had she been eating and drinking normally? Could she still urinate and defecate without any problems? Was she able to curl up and sleep comfortably? Did she groom herself the way cats are supposed to? Most of all, did she seem to be “enjoying” being alive? Maybe it was wishful thinking on my part, but I answered: yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes.

So this guy examined the cat, confirmed that her lungs sounded awful, and said that he wasn’t confident that he could do anything for her. Oh, maybe he’d try giving her some steroids to make her feel a little more comfortable for a short while. They might work; they might not. “Well,” I asked, “should we just do the humane thing and put her out of her misery? Does that make the most sense?”

He shook his head. “It depends what you mean by ‘sense.’ I wouldn’t put her to sleep right now if she were my cat. Why not try a steroid? It’s cheap and it can’t hurt.” Frankly, he told me, he didn’t really know whether there was any point; he knew of no scientific tests that dealt specifically with that kind of treatment for my cat’s condition. But, hey, who knew? There was a chance it would work. “We’re not talking about faith-healing here, right?” I had to ask. He howled. No, he assured me, prayer was not going to be a factor on his end. Of course, I was free to pray, he pointed out with a big grin, which made me explode in much-needed laughter.

It has now been almost a year. I’ve brought that poor cat in for steroid shots every week-and-a-half or so. Whenever she starts having trouble breathing, I call the vet and ask him if he can see her right away for another “treatment.” No matter how crowded his office is — and it’s often overflowing with patients — he never turns me down. That’s not too rational of him, but I don’t argue. “Hey,” he’ll say, “we still don’t really know what we’re doing here. This isn’t good science. We’re just giving her a shot and holding our breaths.”

It’s certainly much less rational than just reading the X-rays and drawing the most reasonable conclusion would have been. But, although her death may be just around the corner, my cat is still eating, drinking, peeing, shitting, complaining loudly about the lousy cleaning service that takes care of her litter, licking herself into feline fashion, sleeping whenever and wherever she damn well pleases, blackmailing us into giving her treats, scratching the furniture just for the fuck of it, looking for affection at inconvenient times, and, in general hanging on to the only life she’ll ever have. Not rational at all.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Five-Seven-Five

Friendly Atheist,
Running a haiku contest.
I thought I'd enter.

That's up my alley.
I knew I could create some,
Like god did with Earth.

Ten minutes it took,
Not six days. And I wonder:
Why'd god take so long.

Maybe he's lazy.
Maybe he was on something.
I mean: look around.

My haiku? Not great.
But nobody worships me
For making this junk.

Here are the haiku
I submitted to Hemant.
Hope you enjoy them.

Haiku 1
No god in the sky.
Shocking to some, but not me.
Why would I want one?

Haiku 2
He died for my sins?
Did I ask for that favor?
Keep it to yourself!

Haiku 3
Christians and Muslims,
Jews, and Hindus, and Buddhists:
All pains in the ass.

Haiku 4
Wanted: messiah.
Must be a Republican.
Apply to: Karl Rove.

Haiku 5
Creationism —
Fill their young heads with nonsense.
But claim it’s science.

Haiku 6
Faith for Obama
Clinton, Edwards, Richardson:
Democrats suck, too!

While I think of it.
Nonbelieving Litera-
Ti. (That's a mouthful).

Next book? The Sparrow.
Ordinary girl picked it.
Check out her post here.

Comments are welcome.
But please don’t write me haiku
Unless you can count.

It’s five-seven-five.
Those are the specs to follow.
If you can’t, write prose.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Maybe Tomorrow Isn't Another Day

On Saturday afternoon I got a call from the Fred Thompson campaign. The woman on the other end had about the ooziest Southern accent I’ve ever heard; I felt like my phone was sticky. Now, I have nothing against Southern accents in general; I really enjoyed them in Gone With the Wind. But I will not vote another one into the White House. Sixteen years of good ol’ boys and grits is sufficient for me. However, that’s beside the point.

This is probably not exactly verbatim, but it’s my best recollection of the phone conversation:

Ms. Oozy: Hello. Is this Mr. Exterminator?

Me: Yes.

Ms. Oozy: My name is Marci? I’m calling from Fred Thompson’s presidential campaign?

Me
: Are those questions?

Ms. Oozy
: No, those weren’t questions? I was just telling you that my name is Marci? And I’m calling from Fred Thompson’s presidential campaign?

Me
: So lemme get this straight. You’re name is Marci. And you’re calling from Fred Thompson’s presidential campaign.

Ms. Oozy
: Yes, umh-hmm. As I said: My name is Marci? I’m calling from Fred Thompson’s presidential campaign?

Me
: I know. My caller ID said “Fred Thompson.”

Ms. Oozy
: Well, Mr. Exterminator, I’d like to ask you a few questions to help Fred understand what’s on the mind of Americans?

Me
: Why did my caller ID say “Fred Thompson” but it turned out to be you?

Ms. Oozy
: Well, as you can imagine? Fred is very busy these days?

Me
: Doing what?

Ms. Oozy
: He’s trying to understand what’s on the mind of Americans? So when he becomes president, he can do the best job for all Americans?

Me:
Are those more questions?

Ms. Oozy
: Well, Mr. Exterminator, I’m coming to the questions?

Me
: Oh, well those sounded like questions already. When is Fred going to become president? I haven’t heard about it?

Ms. Oozy
: Well, he’s running for president now? He plans to be the next president? May I play a special message for you? From Fred? Would you like to hear that?

Me
: Why didn’t Fred just call me himself? It seems like a lot of trouble to record a message when he could have just dialed the phone himself. I’d be happy to talk with him.

Ms. Oozy
: Well, Fred is trying to understand what’s on the mind of Americans? I don’t think he has time to call them all?

Me
: Marci, are you saying that you have time to call them all? Everyone in the country? You sound like you’re too attractive to be cooped up on the telephone all day.

Ms. Oozy
: Well, I’m not calling everyone, Mr. Exterminator? I’m just selecting some special people? Some people who care about America’s future?

Me
: OK, now I can understand why you picked me. You found out I was special. But I wish you’d stop asking me so many questions.

Ms. Oozy
: Well, actually, Mr. Exterminator? I haven’t asked you any questions yet? But this won’t take very long? May I play Fred’s special message for you?

Me
: Listen, Marci. Since you made the call, why don’t you give me the special message yourself?

Ms. Oozy
: Well, Fred would like you to hear it directly from him? So may I play it?

Me
: Now that was a question, right?

Ms. Oozy
: Yes, umh-hmm. May I play Fred’s special message for you?

Me
: I don’t see why not.

Ms. Oozy
: You’ll hear Fred in a sec? When he’s done, stay on the line? ‘Cause I’d like to ask you some questions so Fred can understand what’s on the mind of Americans? ‘Kay?

Fred Thompson’s voice
: Hi. This is Fred Thompson. I know you’re concerned about the direction America is moving. And I am, too. I think we need to move forward. I’m sure you think that, too. Because the best direction we can move is forward, if you ask me. And I’m confident that you’ll agree with that. So if you vote for me, we will move forward. Thank you.

Ms. Oozy
: Did you hear Fred’s special message all right?

Me
: He sounds better on Law and Order. His voice was kinda scratchy.

Ms. Oozy
: But you heard Fred’s special message all right?

Me
: It wasn’t much of a message.

Ms. Oozy
: Well, of course, he could only touch on the main points? Did you agree with what Fred said?

Me
: I thought it was brilliant.

Ms. Oozy
: Well, I’m sure Fred will appreciate hearing that? May I tell him you said so?

Me
: Sure. And tell him he should feel free to call me himself.

Ms. Oozy
: Yes, umh-hmm. Are you ready for the questions?

Me
: Is that one of the questions?

Ms. Oozy
: Well, umh-hmm. That was a question from me? Asking you if you were ready for Fred’s questions? Because, like I said, he’s trying to understand what’s on the mind of Americans?

Me
: OK, what are your questions?

Ms. Oozy
: Now I want you to listen to this list? And then tell Fred if these are your concerns, too? Jobs going overseas too much government spending the country moving forward good values cutting taxes public education moving forward values illegal immigrants abortions values that are good moving America forward politicians you can trust the war on Tyr good values and the country moving forward?

Me
: I think you said a few of those more than once.

Ms. Oozy
: Shall I read the list again, Mr. Exterminator?

Me
: No, I think I've heard it a few times already.

Ms. Oozy
: Well, do you agree that those are your most important concerns?

Me
: Not really.

Ms. Oozy
: Yes, umh-hmm. Are there any other concerns you’d like to tell Fred about?

Me
: Sure. How about adherence to the First Amendment?

Ms. Oozy
: That sounds interesting? I’m sure Fred will want to hear about that one?

Me
: And you neglected to mention that whole Iraq thing.

Ms. Oozy
: No, I did mention it? I said the War on Tyr?

Me
: Yeah, you did. But the War in Iraq is not the War on Terror.

Ms. Oozy
: Yes, umh-hmm. They’re pretty much the same thing?

Me
: No, they’re not.

Ms. Oozy
Well, Fred thinks they’re pretty much the same thing?

Me
: If Fred thinks that, he’s an idiot.

Ms. Oozy
: Mr. Exterminator? Are you a Democrat?

Me
: Why do you ask?

Ms. Oozy
: You sound like you might be a Democrat?

Me
: Nope.

Ms. Oozy
: Well, thank you, Mr. Exterminator?

Me
: Aren’t you gonna let me tell you the difference between ...

Ms. Oozy
: I have to say goodbye now?

Me: Can you just say "fiddle-dee-dee" once for me?

Ms. Oozy: I'll be saying goodbye now?
I don’t know how you readers feel, but I think Fred would do a heckuva job. In fact, in anticipation of his election, I’m getting ready to move forward right now. I just can’t decide if I should move forward to Canada, England, or Australia.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

A Dog in Sheep's Clothing

Some say that anger is the root of comedy. Underneath the greatest comic novels — like Huckleberry Finn, Bleak House, and Pride and Prejudice — lies a solid foundation of wrath.

So a writer who makes it his business to poke fun at Christianity needs to be careful. He should take great pains not to sound as if he’s being bitchy about a deity in whom he still, secretly, believes.

“Bitchy” is the operative word here. You’ve read those atheist bloggers who blaspheme incessantly because they’re pissed off at their god for not existing. Their ranting and raving about Jesus is not convincing, nor is it funny. It’s pathetic.

Which brings me to Christopher Moore’s Lamb. I suspect that I’m about to become mighty unpopular with some of the other members of the Nonbelieving Literati, because I found Lamb almost impossible to stomach. It’s allegedly a humorous novel, but I didn’t laugh once. It was kinda like the book equivalent of a Three Stooges short, complete with all the subsurface cruelty, except that there were only two stooges instead of three. Jesus was Moe, and Biff, the narrator, was Larry and Curly. There was a ton of verbal eye-poking.

In Lamb, Christopher Moore fills in the “lost” thirty years of Jesus’s life. The Christ’s constant companion on his search for “truth” is his childhood pal, the aforementioned Biff. I suppose the inappropriate name is supposed to elicit giggles, but I just found it — not unlike the rest of the book — unbearably stupid. And sad.

Biff is sarcastic enough (he claims to have invented sarcasm), but he’s never, ever witty. The “jokes” that Moore puts into his mouth are all on the level of high-school locker-room exchanges. They involve inane observations about sex, food, work, and life, as well as pointlessly sacrilegious critiques of his friend. Now, I’m a big fan of sacrilege when it’s clever. But as I said, this was Three Stooges stuff. I felt like I was reading a troubled teenage boy’s blog.

Moore tries to appeal to bible-literate readers. Throughout the novel, he sprinkles references to minor passages in the gospels, passages with which the average reader might not be familiar. Now, truth be told, I’ve read those silly things, all four of them plus a few apocryphal ones, at least half a dozen times. They contain far more belly laughs than Lamb.

According to Moore’s tale, Jesus spent most of his young adulthood searching for truth via various versions of Eastern mysticism. Through Biff, the author tries to sound condescending about this spiritual quest, but you can tell, underneath the cynicism: Moore really digs that claptrap. His Jesus becomes an orientalized holy man. At that point, for me, the book turned into one huge gag, not in the comedic sense, but in the esophageal one. Lamb, which had never been particularly appetizing, became absolutely nauseating.

When I arrived at the unhappy happy ending, I was angry at Moore for turning into a serious, albeit unorthodox, Christian. Later, I felt sorry for him. To have that much antagonism and contempt for a god in whom you actually believe must be emotionally wrenching. That was Biff’s problem throughout the book; that was Moore’s problem when he wrote it; and, for all I know, that’s the problem shared by many readers who are tickled by this third-rate literary slapstick sketch.

But it’s not my problem. Never having believed in the biblical Jesus, I have no reason to feel any animosity toward him. He’s a cartoon character, like Bugs and Daffy. (Duck season. No, rabbit season. No, son-of-god season.) As drawn by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, he entertains me, and sometimes makes me laugh. Lamb did neither.