Friday, March 30, 2007

Question: Were the Nails Made of Almonds?

You've probably read in various atheist blogs, or perhaps your hometown newspaper, about the six-foot tall, anatomically correct, chocolate Jesus sculpture that was scheduled to be hung up in a Manhattan art gallery. That was, until the Catholic League crankily decided that the statue should melt away.

In searching for more info on various candy Christ phenomena, I stumbled across Village Voice Media's Jesus of the Week Web site, which — if you've been looking for J.C. light switches, balloon figurines, rubber squeeze toys, and/or band-aids — I highly recommend.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Religious Literacy: And Behold, It Ain't So Good

In the past few weeks, both Time Magazine and the L.A. Times have published articles on the need to teach the bible in America’s public schools. One of the most noteworthy spokespeople for this view (and the author of the newspaper piece) is Stephen Prothero, chair of the religion department at Boston University. Part of his sense of urgency is related, no doubt, to his shameless shilling of his new book Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know — And Doesn’t. But he does make a few valid points.

Prothero’s argument is, basically, this: Let there be intellectual light! Despite all the constant go-Jesus hoopla from the religious right, most Americans, pious churchgoers included, are biblically illiterate. Their knowledge of their own religious screed has been weighed in the balances, and found wanting. In fact, their scriptural ignorance busts the scale. This situtation makes them unable to understand the history and literature of Western Civilization, which, for better or worse, is rife with biblical references.

It’s impossible to dispute that assertion. As unhappy as we atheists might be with the fact, there’s no denying that the bible has been a major force in shaping our society. It has played, and continues to play, a huge part in economics, politics, and the arts. Throughout the ages, the sciences have had to respond over and over again to its irrationality; the superstitious voice crying in the wilderness has always striven to outshout reason.

Prothero also points out far more dire consequences of our lack of religious knowledge: “Americans are easily swayed by demagogues on the left or the right who claim — often incorrectly — that the Bible says this about war or that about homosexuality.” In other words, the truth shall make us free.

Clearly, the last assertion is Prothero’s attempt to dissociate himself from the godpushers. But it’s disingenuous. Can two walk together, except they be agreed? The theocrats would love nothing better than to have their religion taught at public expense. Behold, they stand at the schoolhouse door and knock! The idea of opening that door to a parade of bible-thumpers should be enough to make the hair of anyone’s flesh stand up.

But Prothero claims that he doesn’t necessarily see eye to eye with the Jesus fanatics. He says that his biblical literacy could be taught in a neutral way, neither favoring nor disfavoring the views expressed. The bottom line, though, is that no man can serve two masters, both secular education and the spread of sectarian religion. How could classroom teachers keep themselves out of the clutches of the evangelicals? It’s hard to kick against those pricks. After all, the voice of the fundy is heard in the land.

Is it possible for all things in a biblical literacy class to be done decently and in order? O me of little faith; I doubt it. But at a bare minimum, public schools should be forced to adhere to the following rules for such courses:

  • God should always be referred to as “the god character in this section.”
  • No events mentioned in the bible may be taught as fact or "truth."
  • Morally abhorrent sections of the bible must be liberally included in the course.
  • For every passage of the bible covered, the teacher must relate it to either an important historical event or literary work to which the verses act as a reference.
  • The teacher must point out parallels to biblical stories in other works of mythological literature, as well as in folklore and fairy tales.
  • The teacher must refer to the “author” of each passage studied, and analyze the writing critically in the same way that other texts would be treated.
  • The teacher must use a textbook or other accepted reference work, not his or her personal bible, for all quotes and information.
  • No teacher of the course may wear any religious item of clothing or jewelry.
  • No teacher of the course may attend any outside religious services at which a student in the class might reasonably be expected to make an appearance.
  • A teacher must not, either explicitly or implicitly, endorse the content of any biblical passage.
  • No teacher of the course, either directly or indirectly, may refer to his or her own religious beliefs, nor allow classroom discussion in which students talk about their religious beliefs.

While I’m on the subject, I’d also like to address the age-old mantra that the bible should be taught as great literature. Yes, there are some beautiful passages and interesting turns of phrase in various books, and any cultured person should recognize them. (For those interested in games, see if you can find fourteen biblical references sprinkled throughout the above.) But there’s also plenty of inartistic crap. Could anyone read the dry-as-the-desert rulebooks Leviticus and Deuteronomy, and not be bored out of his or her mind? The first book of Chronicles is loaded with uninteresting lists. Dull minor prophets like Obadiah and Haggai? Who would even look at them today if they were collected in any other volume? The Gospel of Mark is mediocre writing at best. And some of those epistles, like Titus and Philemon, are on a par with junk-mail solicitations.

Now, I’d normally be the last person to criticize school systems for trying to teach ineducable louts about important cultural achievements. The bible is certainly one of these. However, it's by no means the only one. Nor is it the most important, unless you already come to the table with a predigested notion that every word was inspired by you-know-who. Lots of the bible is tiresome and/or repugnant — badly written, morally reprehensible, unhistorical hogwash. To civilize our kids, we need to expose them to Greek philosophers, Shakespeare’s plays, Beethoven’s symphonies, Rembrandt’s paintings, and the actual texts of the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. The latter contains a little something forbidding the government from establishing religion.

If Prothero were completely honest — which he’s not — he would also be making a fuss that public school students are taught next to nothing about Greek/Roman mythology, world drama, classical music, fine art, and the history of science. Shouldn’t those subjects be mandated in the public schools as well?

So why is he worried specifically about religious literacy? Anyone who reads blogs regularly — or ever listens to the president — knows how poorly many Americans communicate their ideas. What we really need to teach in this country is just plain old unadorned literacy.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Pass Me My Bible, Bitch

So I’m sitting at my desk, riffling through yet another book written to convince atheists like me that there’s no god. The phone rings, but I’m deep into the author’s argument: his brilliant refutation of a Christian’s sharp repudiation of a Skeptic’s thoughtful negation of the asinine ontological argument. We’re talking thousands of words about nothing. As any reader of this blog can appreciate, that kind of thing is right up my eternally damned alley.

My caller ID shows that the communication originates from a toll-free number with an 888 area code. I’m sure that the person trying to reach me is not from a freethinkers’ organization because, as everyone knows, those groups all use area code 666. I let the answering machine respond.

But I can’t resist phone solicitations for long, so a few minutes later, I check my message. What I expect is a cheery voice telling me how I can claim my four-day vacation in lovely Lake Tahoe by simply agreeing to sit through a three-and-a-half-day sales spiel. Instead, this is what I hear, which I’ve transcribed verbatim:

Hello. I’m calling to invite all of the men in your home 17 years of age or older to Church for Men. Church for Men happens Saturday night, 6:00, at the Salvation Army gym [address]. Men, you’re going to hear fun, upbeat music, a powerful, real message for men, and we’ll wrap it up in one hour or less. Church for Men happens Saturday night, 6:00, at the Salvation Army gym [address]. For more information call [phone number]. That’s [phone number].
Of course, I dial the number. And then I get this recorded message, again transcribed verbatim:
Thanks for calling the Church for Men information line. After this greeting, you’ll be able to leave your name and a phone number. You’re invited to join us Saturday night, March 24, 6:00, in the gym at the Salvation Army. The address is [address]. We promise that church for men will be different. We’re attempting to create a place for men that looks nothing like church. Church for men is in a gym, and you’ll hear upbeat, fun music, a message no longer than 15 minutes, and after the message you’ll get to discuss what was said. No pews: we’ll sit around tables. No need to dress up: come as you are. Flip-flops and T-shirts and shorts or jeans are A-OK. We guarantee that the whole event will be wrapped up in one hour or less. You’re invited to join us, Saturday night, March 24, 6:00, in the gym at the Salvation Army. The address is [address]. And hey, don’t forget about the free food from Chick-Fil-A in [local city]. Leave your name and phone number and we’ll get back to you soon.
Church for Men? Are they addressing themselves to gorillas who can’t be expected to behave themselves in a normal non-gender-segregated environment? What distinguishes Church for Men from just plain ol’ church?

Fortunately, there’s a Web site to tell me. It seems that Christians, more than any other collection of morons, thrive on the communicative ether. So how come it took Jesus nearly 2,000 years to reveal the Internet?

In case you don’t have a chance to check it out for yourself, the Church for Men homepage looks like an ad in a gay journal. Under the headline “IT’S TIME TO GO FOR THE GUYS,” the author writes:

We're only a few weeks away from Mother's Day, and a few more away from Father's Day. These are the perfect weekends to make your worship services man-friendly. Why? Mother's Day is one of the "big 3" weekends that unchurched men come to church. (They come in large numbers to please their wives and mothers). And Father's Day is the perfect excuse to "man-up" the worship service at any church.
Now, I’ve been a man all my life, but I’ve never once felt the need to “man-up.” It seems to me that if you’ve got a penis dangling down there, you’ve already covered just about all the man-upping bases you need. Oh, maybe you feel the urge to let out a good Tarzan yell once in a while, or have your chest tattooed with the picture of a scantily clad woman who magically becomes naked when you stand on your head. But you probably never think, "Gosh, if I don't man-up today, I might find myself barefoot and pregnant tomorrow."

It turns out that the targeted Christian Men all have ADHD. They need, Church for Men claims, “adventure, challenge and risk — but these things are discouraged in church.” That’s why, in most churches, you’ll find the men and boys swinging from the rafters, lobbing spitballs down on the docile females in the pews below.

So what’s a poor preacher to do? Well, he can appeal to that special man-brain. According to an e-report at, god-loving macho guys love to be surrounded by “camping equipment, pine trees, and target deer.” They long to hear the sounds of bongos and harmonicas rather than choirs and pianos. At the end of a church service, they like to get a gift, like, say, a knife, to help them remember really important god stuff.

I don’t know about you, but it cracks me up to picture J.C. and his disciples clothed in camouflage robes, wearing black grease under their eyes, sitting in a Palestinian pine forest waiting patiently for Bambi while listening to Aramaic country music on bongos and harmonicas, cleaning their fingernails with their shiny new knives, and noshing on fried chicken.

But then, I’m just a regular non-believing guy — not a manned-up Christian Man.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Bong Hits 4 ... Establishment?

A nice thing about blogging is that friends and strangers send you email suggestions. Some of the ones from strangers—like “Hey idiot, why don’t you check out” or “I sincerely pray that you find the loving God before your hateful ass is doomed to eternal hell”—are easily dismissable. Others, like solicitations from Web sites that sell, say, condoms for skeptics or atheist-themed cupcakes, are also no problem to brush aside.

The recommendations from friends, however, are not so easily ignored. Some of my classier correspondents deserve to be acknowledged. That’s why I’m finally going to write about Morse v. Frederick, or, as most of us know it, the “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” affair, which was argued before the Supreme Court last Monday. I’ve weaseled out of this one long enough.

And why? Because I’ve got a problem. Which right is more important: (1) Freedom of Speech or (2) Freedom from the Establishment of Religion? Both these rights are guaranteed in the First Amendment. On rare occasions, though, they seem to come into conflict. The Bong Hits case, itself, has nothing to do with religion, despite Jeezy’s name. But the potential ramifications of the forthcoming decision may well be a First Amendment schizophrenic episode waiting to happen.

If you’ve read my posts with even the attention of a stoner, you know that I’m both a free speech absolutist and a staunch opponent of religion rearing its ugly head in the governmental arena.

Because of these two strongly held views, I still find myself scratching my head over the 1995 case of Rosenberger v. University of Virginia. The school had set aside a fund to subsidize the printing of student publications. Rosenberger asked for $5800 to help pay for “Wide Awake: A Christian Perspective at the University of Virginia.” The school said, “Hey, wait a minute. We’re not going to use what are essentially tax dollars to help you preach religion; that’s an unconstitutional establishment.” Rosenberger countered by pointing out that his publication was being unconstitutionally singled out, due solely to its content, from a general program; what happened to his free speech guarantee? The 5-4 Supreme Court majority agreed with him. My gut tells me that I oppose this ruling, but I can’t figure out why. Free speech, after all, is free speech.

Which brings me to last Monday. Here, greatly simplified, are the facts of the BH4J situation: Joseph Frederick was a senior at Juneau-Douglas high school. He failed to show up for classes at the start of the educational day. Later that morning, the students were let out of the building to watch the Olympic torch being carried by. Some cheerleaders and band members from the school had been appointed tasks to perfrom during the rally, and a few students even got to bear the sacred object. The school system claimed to be sponsoring the event, although those students released from classes were not required to attend. Nor was the hoo-ha in the street limited to students; there were plenty of non-students watching, cavorting, and throwing snowballs in the general moronic celebration.

Frederick showed up, still not having officially checked in at school that day. He and some other individuals — who may or may not have been students — held up a 14-foot-long banner that carried the phrase, “BONG HITS 4 JESUS.” This was an attempt, according to Frederick, to make it onto the TV news that night with a meaningless slogan fashioned to gain attention.

School principal Deborah Morse, seeing a sign that she was convinced encouraged drug use, crossed the street from in front of the school, and approached Frederick. She asked him to take down his banner, which he refused to do. She then forcibly took it down for him, and crumpled it up. Eventually, she suspended Frederick for 10 days.

Morse’s side claimed that at a school-sponsored event, the principal has the right to enforce school policy, which, in Juneau-Douglas’s instance, specifically forbade promotion of drug use. Frederick’s side claimed that (1) he wasn’t at the rally in his capacity as a student; (2) it’s ridiculous to say that the event was school-sponsored, since the members of the crowd were part of the general populace; (3) the phrase was nonsense, so it couldn’t have been promoting drug use; and (4) even if he was a student, and was at a school-sponsored function, and was holding up a sign that promoted drug use, he still had a right to free speech.

The Court’s acceptance of claims (1) and/or (2) would make the case easy. The First Amendment guarantees private citizens the right to behave like idiots in front of television cameras. Accepting claim (3) would make Morse’s actions indefensible under the school’s policy. Only claim (4) raises serious constitutional issues.

In a series of past rulings, the Supremes have said that a student does indeed have a right to free speech; however, that right is not absolute. But the details of specific situations in which a student’s speech might be curtailed are vague.

Naturally, the usual First Amendment protectors —the ACLU, the National Coalition Against Censorship, and the Center for Individual Rights — supported Frederick’s cause. In addition, the Drug Policy Center and Students for Sensible Drug Policy filed briefs high on his argument.

But, then, the bad guys entered. Those great champions of free speech — the Alliance Defense Fund (James Dobson, a founder), the American Center for Law and Justice (Pat Robertson’s legal arm), the Christian Legal Society, the Liberty Counsel, and the Rutherford Institute — also decided that Frederick and students everywhere should have a right to say, verbally or symbolically, whatever they want. School attendees should be able to sport jeans promoting Jesus, wear hats demeaning homosexuals, distribute pamphlets on the evils of evolution, display baby-killer buttons, and tote signs against stem-cell research. Hey, the theocrats had just noticed that it’s a free country.

If the Morse decision, as I fervently hope, reinforces a student’s right to speak his or her mind, then what? Must public schools allow religious proselytizing in their buildings, which, of course, are paid for with taxpayer cash? I’d like to think otherwise, but how not? Under what justification? What content-neutral school policy could prohibit speakers with a religious agenda?

Which First Amendment right trumps the other?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

More Villainy Claimed by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

Well, it's time to give Christians a short vacation, and focus on the misdeeds of a Muslim acting in the name of Allah.

The New York Times today reported that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, one of the chief aides to Osama bin Laden, is said to have confessed to 31 terrorist attacks or attempts. The admissions of guilt were made at a hearing before a U.S. military tribunal in Guantanamo on Saturday. According to Mohammed, these confessions were not a result of "pressure or duress." The Times lists 23 specific acts for which Mohammed claimed responsibility.

That roster, although impressive, is obviously incomplete. Here are some other heinous acts to which Mohammed confessed while not under torture:

  • killing JonBenet Ramsey
  • murdering Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman
  • shooting JFK
  • kidnapping the Lindbergh baby
  • causing Hurricane Katrina
  • firing federal attorneys
  • outing Valerie Plame
  • voting to stop the 2000 Florida recount
  • burying Jimmy Hoffa's body under an oil rig in Saudi Arabia
  • fixing the 1919 World Series
  • encouraging CBS executives to hire Katie Couric
  • splitting up the Beatles
  • popularizing Merlot
  • teaching President Bush how to pronounce nucular
Regardless of the truth or falsity of any of these claims, it's clear that Mohammed is definitely a bad guy. Now, you might think that a high-ranking Al Qaeda mastermind like him has no connection to the type of Christian Evangelicals normally criticized in these posts. But you would be wrong. Because lo and behold, according to numerous Internet sources, the villainous Khalid is said to have attented Chowan College for a short time beginning in 1983. Chowan (now referred to as a university) is a small Baptist school that has been located in Murfreesboro, North Carolina since 1848. On its Web site's overview page can be found this inspiring paragraph:
Faith is a word that you will hear frequently in our classrooms, in our dining halls, and on the athletic fields.
Although Chowan's page doesn't mention it, faith is a word also heard frequently during Muslim terrorist training operations.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The "Good Book" Is No Good Here

A friend of mine recently asked me why I don’t exterminate some of the sillier comments made on posts to this blog. Here’s my response to her — and to all my other readers:

I’m a First Amendment purist; I don’t believe in public censorship of any kind. No More Hornets is intended as an open forum, and will be maintained as such.

So stop by and voice your opinions. I won’t delete any comments except spam. It would be nice if you made an attempt to be coherent, but drivel will not be expunged. Also, if you must, feel free to call me any names you can think of, although do try to be inventive.

That said, I would strongly encourage all commenters to avoid using the bible as your reference source for any of your “ideas.” Roy Rogers and Dale Evans were once able to get away with singing “How do I know? The Bible tells me so.” But even if you're the King of the Cowboys or the Queen of the West, or both simultaneously, I urge you to refrain from trying to rope me in with your clever roundup of “god’s word" (a.k.a. intellectual cowflop).

As far as the creator of this blog is concerned, all supernatural entities are fictional characters for children — or adults with childish minds. Telling me what Jesus thinks is no more valid than telling me what Rumpelstiltskin thinks. I don’t expect serious people to claim that the sky is falling because they read it in the story of Chicken Little. Likewise, I don’t expect them to claim that the sky is calling because that’s what it says in some other fantasy tale.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Florida's Worst Storms

The latest lie by the affright-to-lifers is the alleged rationale behind a new bill they’re trying to pass in Florida. Ostensibly, the legislation, if passed, would enable police to find and punish sexual abusers of young girls. Those who, like anti-abortionists, abuse young girls in nonsexual ways will not come under scrutiny.

SB 2546, which is still in its embryonic stage, would force healthcare providers to report to the cops whenever they found out that a girl under 16 is pregnant. If the girl reasonably chooses to have an abortion, samples of both her and the fetus’s DNA would have to be turned over to the authorities after the operation. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement would then have the job of identifying the male “culprit.”

State senator Ronda Storms, a Baptublican from the Tampa Bay area, is one of the sponsors of the bill. Thundering her support, Storms says that if a girl is “the victim of some sort of crime, then we are going to go after” the abuser. Sounds good, right? What kind of monster isn’t against child abuse?

The truth is: the state already obligates health care providers to report cases of child abuse. The new notification requirement is tied merely to the pregnant girl’s age, not to her specific circumstances. In other words, if a young pregnant woman is not yet sweet 16, the state is free to make her life really sour. Under the bill, the minute a pre-16’er is discovered to be in the family way by any medical professional, she’s ripe for governmental intervention.

Doctors and nurses will no longer be bound to keep their patient’s information confidential. On the contrary, these professionals would be compelled, under threat of losing their medical license, to report — within 24 hours of finding out — that an underage patient is pregnant. And the requirement won’t be limited strictly to physicians and their assistants: even orthodontists better brace themselves.

SB 2546 goes way beyond the typical repulsive anti-abortion legislation. A few years back, Ronda Storms, as a Hillsborough County Councilwoman, successfully spearheaded the defunding of a Planned Parenthood program to teach local teens about safe sex and pregnancy prevention. Now, what those youngsters don't know will hurt them. In the Tampa Bay area, and others like it, the new bill would be punitive. It’s clearly aimed at terrorizing teenagers of both genders who dare to abstain from abstention. Ronda Storms and her ilk are determined to enforce family values, even if they have to ruin entire families to do it.

Not surprisingly, Storms has also been a big windbag in pushing for the Florida Marriage Protection Amendment, the name of which is an out-and-out, or perhaps not-out-and-not-out, lie. The proposal should be called the Florida Gay Marriage and Substantial Equivalent Thereof Non-Recognition Amendment, since it reads. “Inasmuch as marriage is the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife, no other legal union that is treated as a marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.” Bible thumpers like Ronda Storms want their thumping to be done in one way only.

When I looked up Ronda Storms’s bio on her member page at the Florida Senate’s Web site, I discovered that she was once on the “Value Adjustment Board.” It turns out that the VAB is simply involved in disputes between taxpayers and property assessors. But could you blame me for mistakenly thinking that it must have been a religio-fascistic organization?

Citizens of Florida should rain down letters, phone calls, and emails to Storms and her fellow Thugs for Christ. I urge everyone concerned to contact their state legislators and insist that SB 2546 be aborted.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Could YOU Be an Intelligent Designer?

Once in a while, even the most dedicated of us get tired of separating church and state. That’s when Jefferson would pull out his fiddle, or make a trip down to his wine cellar. Me, I go trolling through the Internet to find mindless time-wasters.

So, okay, if you pull the elephant’s back legs down slowly, first to the right and then to the left, you can fashion a decent tail; to form two distinct flukes, put a little indent in the middle. Then stretch the front legs slowly, one at a time to turn them into flippers. If you press down on the critter’s back, not too far behind its head, and then do the same around its rear end, you’ll be left with a bump on its spine that you can shape into a fin.

Thus, your elephant becomes a sea mammal.

You can perform this little exercise in unintelligent design by playing a kids’ “game” called Animal Warp at Besides the elephant, you can try your hand improving a toucan, a rhino, a monkey, and various other species. What, exactly, this activity has to do with Christianity is sneakily withheld during the game. Just a few clicks away, though, you can learn all kinds of wondrous misinformation about nature, creationist propaganda written in the kind of simple language that any Christian — child OR adult — can understand. The most important lesson, of course, is:

In the beginning God created everything perfect ...
If you’re an inventive and shameless parent, you can use “Animal Warp” to show your offspring what a shitmess they could make out of god’s allegedly perfect creations. When they push and pull the poor animal's picture, they're probably gonna wind up with some unidentifiable goo, looking like a chocolate Easter beast that has melted way beyond recognition. Why? Because your kids don’t have a really great plan like the big guy's.

One thing he probably didn’t anticipate, however, was sea debris: floating condoms, cigarette butts, plastic straws, indestructible gum, pages ripped out of bibles, and the like. Which is why I went to the bottom of the elephorpoise’s trunk and pulled on both ends until it looked like a vacuum cleaner attachment.

Why didn’t god think of that one, huh?

Sunday, March 04, 2007

If I Only Had a God

(to the tune of "If I Only Had a Brain")
(For your singalong pleasure, download the midi file.)

I could while away the day in
A fit of fancy prayin’,
And never think it’s odd.
I’d condemn Richard Dawkins
And his atheistic squawkin’s
If I only had a god.

I could be like all the fundies,
My head inside my undies:
No brain, but what a wad!
My ideas no cigar win,
But I’d have no need for Darwin
If I only had a god.

J.C., be good to me,
And clean out from my head
All the science and the history I’ve read.
Then make your face appear on bread.

In a public school position,
I'd foster superstition,
Ignoring what is mod,
Teach the Bible as true, no
Problem with Amendment Uno
If I only had a god.