Saturday, April 28, 2007

Rules for True Atheists

K.C. over at Bligbi recently wrote a good entry in which she takes a stand against the concept of a “true” atheist. Basically, she wisely refuses to accept that there's some kind of freethinking orthodoxy we all ought to follow. You might notice that I posted a comment agreeing with her.

Rethinking my position, however, I’ve come up with a list of certain minimal and fundamental actions that I feel should be taken by all "true" atheists:

  • Whenever possible, kiss a Hindu actress in public.
  • Affix the following warning sticker to every DVD copy of Going My Way and Boys Town: Caution: Inspiring children to trust Catholic priests may result in molestation.
  • Sponsor an annual contest to award prizes for best cartoons depicting Mohammed as a talking duck. (First prize: One year of free bodyguard service)
  • Issue a statement, allegedly from god, rescinding all supernatural gifts of land to Jews.
  • Cross out the phrase “In God We Trust” from all U.S. coins and bills, and replace it with the phrase “This Is Good for Buying Stuff.”
  • Start each public school day with a silent affirmation of neo-Darwinian theory.
  • Flood televangelist phone lines with the Johnny Mathis/Henry Mancini recording of “When You Wish Upon a Star.” (Other acceptable cheesy versions include those by Dion and the Belmonts, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Linda Ronstadt, Ringo Starr/Harry Nilsson/Herb Alpert, Christina Aguilera, and the Bush White House.)
  • Boycott all Chinese restaurants that serve fortune cookies, unless each fortune is accompanied by the note: "I'm Confucius, and I approved this message."
  • Spread the rumor that Shakespeare’s plays were really written by Dr. Seuss when he miraculously traveled back in time to the 16th and 17th centuries. Then urge school boards to “teach the controversy.”
  • Wait until very late on a Friday night, then go door-to-door to Jehovah’s Witnesses’ residences, and invite them to read the latest copy of Skeptical Inquirer.
  • Avoid quoting from the bible in all biblical disputations, insisting instead on citations from Mark Twain’s diaries of Adam and Eve.
  • Refuse to vote for any political candidate who mentions “god” or “faith.” (Note: Plan to sit out all elections.)
  • After every natural or man-made disaster, attend a house of worship, raise your hand, and ask the officiant: “Could you explain the lord's plan to us again?”
  • Go out of your way to wear garments “mingled of linen and woolen” fibers, in defiance of Leviticus 19:19.
  • Don't believe in any gods.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Too Heavy

I haven’t included anything personal on this blog yet. That doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t love talking about myself, but I’ve been trying to remain “pure” to “my mission.” Still, a few people have asked me recently when and why I happened to decide that there was no god. I’m not really sure how to answer that, but maybe the following snippet from my memoir will do.

Dad was an atheist, not so much because of any deeply held philosophical convictions, but because he was suspicious of perfection. In his worldview, an omnipotent being was impossible. And he could prove it!

“Listen,” he once asked me during dinner, “if god can do everything, can he make a rock too heavy for himself to lift?” Dad sat back, with his hands smugly folded across his chest, and watched in exultation as five-year-old-me struggled with metaphysics.

“Yeah, sure,” I said.

“But if he can’t lift it, then he can’t do everything. Can he? Hah? Can he?”

“Umm. Ok, I guess he can’t make a rock like that.”

Dad was triumphant. “Then he still can’t do everything. Right? I’m right, aren’t I?”

“Well,” I challenged, “who says he can do everything? Maybe there’s some stuff he can’t do.”

“And what kinda god is that to have?” Dad asked. “You want a god who can’t do everything? He’s god, f’Chrissake. You hear me? That’s his job. He oughta be able to knock off whatever dumb task you can think of. Otherwise, he’s just some shmendrick in the sky.”

I wasn’t willing to give in. “Well,” I said, “maybe he can make a rock that’s really, really hard for him to lift, but if he doesn’t give up, and keeps trying, over and over again, maybe he can finally lift it. What about that, Dad?”

Dad didn’t buy it. “You’re getting god mixed up with your little engine that could. I’m telling you, there’s no god. Believe me, nobody’s that perfect.”

I have to confess that I wasn’t completely won over to his point of view, because my mother interceded with a session of heavy eye-rolling.

“Put your eyes back in your head, Honey,” my father pleaded with her. “I’m trying to teach the kid something important here.”

But at our kitchen table, Mom’s facial expressions always trumped Dad’s words. Still, instead of chomping on her inedible meat loaf, I chewed on what he said. Silently, of course.

At this time in my life, I was already a trouble-maker, and I had gone up often against my kindergarten teacher, Miss von Steuben. This neo-Nazi was particularly hot on the concept of “good citizenship,” and, apparently, I was not a good citizen. Maybe this was because I chose not to color between the lines, or it could have been that I just didn’t think skipping to music was a worthwhile activity. Notes went back and forth between Miss von Steuben and my parents. If I didn’t learn to behave, she told them, I might be forced to repeat the grade.

Mom and Dad both pleaded with me to mend my ways. “Just do whatever the old bag tells you,” Dad said. “Is that gonna hurt you so much?”

It took a lot of doing, and a parent-teacher meeting at which my mother cried, but eventually I improved my citizenship. After that, Miss von Steuben went out of her way to commend me whenever I was sufficiently brain-dead to suit her. “Your conduct was perfect today,” she would say. Having lived for over five years with Dad, I found that impossible to believe. But I’d smile meekly and answer “Thank you, Miss von Steuben.” This went on for about three weeks.

So I guess I caught everyone — Miss von Steuben, Mom and Dad, and even some of my classmates’ parents — by surprise on the day that I dropped the burden of perfection with a permanent plunk. It was early in the morning, and Miss von Steuben, as she did occasionally, was reading a psalm to the class. This was back in the days when religious indoctrination was considered patriotic, and not just by theocratic right-wingers.

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Put your hand down, young man, until I’m done. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth ... I see you waving, but now is a time for the pupils to just sit and listen. Do you need the hall pass?”

“I have to ask you a question, Miss von Steuben.”

“This is the bible. Is your question more important than the bible?”

I thought it was. “If god can do everything,” I blurted out, “can he make a rock too heavy for himself to lift?”

I don’t remember Miss von Steuben’s exact response, although her horrified look is still burned indelibly into my mind. I do know that Mom bawled like a baby during her subsequent chat with my teacher. Dad, oddly enough, never said a word to me about it. He must have known that I’d suddenly become a fellow atheist.

Saturday, April 21, 2007


“Impartial” Catholic majority votes against other justices

(to the tune of "Beat It!)
(For your singalong pleasure, download a midi file;
this site
gives you several versions to choose from.)

They told her, “Don’t forget the Pope we revere.
No partial-birth abortion can be gotten here.
That thing inside your womb could become our next Scalia.”
That fetus, your fetus.

Alito says an operation’s forbid,
And Kennedy does, too. You know he ain’t no Yid.
They’ve gotta be tough, cause they worship that kid:
Your fetus. Hey, you gotta give birth.

Your fetus, fetus.
“Bring it round and have it meet us.”
Bortions are gunky. God’s in control.
Doctors don’t matter. Cells have a soul.
Your fetus, fetus.
That fetus, fetus.

They’re out to get you if you plead with your doc.
“It ain’t about your health,” says Thomas. “That’s a crock!”
The Cath’lics are in charge, an’ your body’s in hock
To fetus, your fetus.

They really care about your embryo’s plight.
Your privacy don’t count, cause they have seen the light.
Judge Roberts’ Constitution says your unborn has a right.
That fetus — yeah, you’re gonna give birth!

Your fetus, fetus.
“Bring it round and have it meet us.”
Bortions are gunky. God’s in control.
Doctors don’t matter. Cells have a soul.

Your fetus, fetus.
“Women's rights cannot retreat us.”
Bortions are gunky. God's in control.
Doctors don’t matter. Cells have a soul.
Your fetus (fetus, fetus, fetus).
Fetus (fetus, fetus, fetus).

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Please Explain This to Me

I’m an atheist. When inexplicable tragedies occur, my anger is directed at human agents only. In cases of natural disasters, I often feel no anger, per se, at all — unless the death toll has been increased by human incompetence. In tragedies caused by a person, such as the Virginia Tech shootings, I feel primary rage toward the perpetrator, and secondary fury at any of those whose glaring errors of judgment have failed to minimize the killing.

What I don’t understand in such situations, however, are the platitudes that theists spout about their god. The president has called him “loving,” and religious leaders throughout the country urge believers to turn to him for “comfort.” At convocations large and small, puny mortals send send their prayers skyward, seeking solace.

But where’s their wrath? Why aren’t believers gathering together in open fields and on street corners, in their houses of worship and on rooftops, to scream up at the cosmos, insisting that their “savior” account for his random cruelty? Why don’t they curse and excoriate their allegedly omnibenevolent deity for his act of unspeakable brutality? Why don’t the pious media publicly call on their god to answer for his odious behavior in allowing innocent lives to be taken.

I just don’t get it.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Julie Andrews!

The original 1967 version of Bedazzled, starring Peter Cook & Dudley Moore, was released on DVD earlier this month. Although the movie is not atheistic, per se, it does take quite a few nice pokes at religion. If you’re up for a few hearty chuckles at god’s expense, I recommend it highly.

Background: Peter Cook & Dudley Moore were two of the four performers in Beyond the Fringe, a British comedy revue that tickled audiences in both the U.K. and America in the early ‘60s. (Note: The other two men in the cast were author/playwright/actor Alan Bennett and multi-talented polymath Jonathan Miller, the writer/presenter of the BBC series Atheism: A Rough History of Disbelief.)

Cook & Moore worked well together in Fringe, and decided to team up. For the next fifteen years or so, in their radio skits, TV appearances, and theatrical performances, they poked fun at many sacred cows — including the most sanctified bovine of them all, Jesus Christ.

To give you a taste of their work, without infringing copyright, I reproduce below just a few brief excerpts from two skits written by Cook. These are printed in Tragically I Was an Only Twin: The Complete Peter Cook, edited by the unrelated William Cook. This title is misleading; the book is nowhere near complete. For one thing, it doesn’t include any excerpts from the script of the flick I’m touting here. Still, whatever page I open to, I find something that makes me laugh out loud, even if I’ve already read it dozens of times.

from "Religion:
(Pete and Dud are ruminating on our favorite bugaboo.)
Pete: I often wish [God would] manifest himself a bit more, you know, in the sky.
Dud: Yeah, it’d be nice if every now and again He parted the clouds and in a golden burst of sunshine gave you a wave. “Hello down there, you can believe in me.”
Pete: I asked the Reverend Stephens about this, and he said, “Much as God would like to keep manifesting Himself, He daren’t, you see, because it debases the currency.” He can’t go round all the football matches and fetes and everything, so He limits himself to once in a million years if we’re lucky.
Dud: Well, you’ve got to be careful about over-exposure.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Pete: St. Paul’s got a bloody lot to answer for.
Dud: He started it didn’t he — all those letters he wrote.
Pete: To the Ephiscans.
Dud: You know, “Dear Ephiscans, Stop enjoying yourselves, God’s about the place. Signed Paul.”

from "Gospel Truth"
(Peter is a shepherd who was present when Christ’s birth was announced. Dudley is a reporter interviewing him for The Bethlehem Star.)
Peter: [The angel] said “Unto ye a Child is born. Unto ye a Son is given.”
Dudley: Yes. What was your reaction?
Peter: Total shock. I mean I wasn’t even married at the time. And I thought, you know, “Blimey! What was I doing this time last year?”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Peter: When he said “Ye shall find the Child all meanly wrapped in swaddling clothers,” I thought to myself, “Fair enough. He’ll be fairly meanly wrapped. Nothing flashy, nothing gaudy.”
Dudley: Yes.
Peter: But when I arrived, it was diabolical. It was the meanest bit of wrapping I’ve ever seen. What’s more, that kid was barely swaddled. I’d say, it was the worst job of wrapping and swaddling I have ever seen in my life.

You need be neither wrapped nor swaddled to enjoy Bedazzled. But you might like watching it on a wide-screen TV, if you have one in your manger, since the direction by Stanley Donen is a visually witty accompaniment to the clever screenplay.

By the way, if you’re wondering why this post bears the title that it does, you can find the answer in the film.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Imus in the ... Warning

Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I occasionally listened to Don Imus’s morning show, unimaginatively but accurately named Imus in the Morning, on WNBC radio in New York City. In those days of our country’s — and my own — relative innocence, it seemed enormously funny to hear female callers being asked, “Are you naked?” Just the word “naked” being set loose into the airwaves was hilarious; the fact that many responses were a sultry “yes,” made the humor even more rib-busting.

As I matured, though, I began to realize that there was absolutely nothing even vaguely comical about that repeated interchange. It was moronic, schoolboy comedy, on the level of fart noises and booger jokes. Even before Imus was fired in 1977, he had gone his auditory way, and I had gone mine.

What I did find entertaining, but only slightly, was the fact that Imus later wrote a novel called God’s Other Son: The Life and Times of the Reverend Billy Sol Hargus. Published in 1981, the book’s title was scurrilous, and, to an atheist like me, titillating. I bought it — proud to support any anti-religious sentiment — but I never got past the first few pages. Sinclair Lewis had done a much better hatchet job on the evangelicals in Elmer Gantry, published about 55 years earlier. As I remember Imus's book, it was not very well written, nor was it witty; but it did have that cool controversial title on its cover and spine. It conformed to its author's M.O.: a jolt of superficial shock for shock’s sake, hiding a lack of substance. For years, people who came to my house and goggled at my extensive book collection as if I were running a museum, would notice the Imus work tucked away in a far corner. They’d ask what I thought of it, and I’d confess, “I haven’t read it — yet.” Some time in the late ‘80s, that "yet" became "ever." God's Other Son found its way into a giveaway box of junk volumes, along with Hesse’s Siddhartha, Rand’s For the New Intellectual, The Gospel According to Peanuts, T.S. Eliot’s cat poems, and an anthology of elephant jokes.

I hadn’t thought about Don Imus since I kissed his novel goodbye. Until this week, when he became a media un-darling.

I suspect that Imus was paid by his corporate bosses, as all controversial commentators are, to be (1) thought-provoking, (2) funny, and (3) challenging to conventional wisdom — not necessarily in that order. What he said about the Rutgers team was certainly not thought-provoking; it was not funny, except to addle-brained goofballs who laugh, as I did at the word “naked,” whenever they hear something taboo uttered; and it was definitely not challenging to conventional wisdom, since “wisdom,” conventional or otherwise, and “college basketball” are not overlapping magisteria. Here’s what it was: offensive, for no reason.

Now, if Imus had called, say, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, for instance, “hos for publicity,” that might have been (1), (2), and (3). But he didn’t. Instead, he hurled a racist and sexist slur at a group of basically anonymous women who are not public figures deserving of serious criticism — except maybe for the way they played.

The above-named Jackson and Sharpton, sniffing media blood in the water, the possibility of hours and hours of nourishing photo ops and sound bites, then decided to swim in for the self-promoting kill. Jackson, himself, is not exactly innocent of ethnic slurs. His famous anti-semitic characterization of New York City as “Hymietown” was one of the lowlights of the 1984 presidential campaign. Sharpton has been making hay out of racial divisions ever since he became a meme as a spokesperson for the black community in the bogus Tawana Brawley case. It wasn’t long before every third-rate pundit joined the feeding frenzy. Even some of the sharks in the blog-sea are shocked — shocked! — at Imus’s behavior.

Let’s get this straight. Free speech is a right. No government should censor anyone’s expression, no matter how odious. However, broadcasting bigwigs are not the government — not yet, anyway. They can shut up anyone they please, for any reason. They don’t even have to be consistent; they can choose to tolerate specific offensive language from some people and not from others. So Imus has it wrong about rap musicians; it’s perfectly “fair,” in a free-market sense, to single him out. The firings of Don Imus did not infringe in any way on his First Amendment guarantees.

Oddly enough, though, the women who were actually insulted by Imus accepted his insincere apologies. A practical-minded recruiter for Rutgers even pointed out, “You can’t pay for publicity like this.” Ask all those politicans and media mavens who, for years, exploited Imus’s popularity by appearing on his show. They knew that, too. The guy was harmless; his guests must have felt sure that listeners would tune out Imus’s idiocy, leaving interviewees free to use his desirable venue in promoting their own ideas.

Do I think that Imus’s comment was offensive? Definitely; I would choose to have nothing to do with a person who expressed himself that way. Do I care, personally, that Imus was summarily cashiered? Nope; it won’t affect my life at all.

But the incident sets a dangerous precedent, in that it empowers the theocrats, like the reverends Jackson and Sharpton, as well as countless other mind-control freaks of the political right and left. They know that Americans wear their various sensitivities proudly, and, as a people, have forgotten how to shrug off inanities. We have become, all of us, dangerously thin-skinned, regardless of the color of that skin.

What Imus said was nasty and stupid, but it didn’t hurt anyone. He wasn’t calling for an official reaction against his targets, whoever they might have been. He wasn’t asking his listeners to join him in a political campaign to oppose marriage between consenting adults, or to blow up clinics that provide legal medical services. He wasn’t trying to persuade gullible teenagers that they can obliterate their perfectly natural urges by taking a vow to a supernatural being, or deny adequate education to children whose parents would prefer that their offspring remain blissfully ignorant. He was not promoting a war based on lies, not making a mockery of the justice system, not advocating torture, not letting his public policy be bought and paid for by special interests, and not stealing taxpayer dollars to feed into the pockets of the pious mind-twisters. He was just being an ass, and a not very interesting one at that.

So here’s what the Imus situation should teach us. Demagogues of all varieties can use trivial insults to whip up a vast artificial rage that, maybe, most people don’t really feel. The momentum of that spurious anger, unfortunately, can act as a smokescreen hiding the genuine ills in our society. We get hyped up to go on an intellectual rampage over a stupid comment by a no-talent radio personality, but sit apathetically by while our rights are trampled by a no-talent president. After all, he didn’t insult anybody, right?

Meanwhile, the gleeful hierophants wait patiently for us to take umbrage at some frivolous affront. Then they use that latest instance of our national hypersensitivity for their own purposes. In a sudden burst of the news cycle, they rush in and grasp temporary power.

The next target of the rabble-rousers will be, as promised, the music industry. Afterwards, probably that evil Jew-controlled Hollywood will come under scrutiny again. Maybe, in the not-too-distant future, publishers and booksellers who offer those disgusting atheist diatribes will be asked to answer for their transgressions.

And so I say to anyone who has joined in the general condemnatory hysteria: May the farce be with you.

Friday, April 13, 2007

The Course of Human Events, 2001-2007

Today is Thomas Jefferson’s birthday. As a reminder of how prescient he was, I offer the following collection of Jeffersonian quotes on issues confronting contemporary America.

on Our Declaration of War Against Iraq
It is much easier to avoid errors by having good information at first, than to unravel and correct them after they are committed.

on the Troop “Surge”
Peace is our most important interest, and a recovery from debt.

on Congress’s Continued Funding of the Iraq War
The privilege of giving or withholding moneys is an important barrier against the undue exertion of prerogative which if left altogether without control may be exercised to our great oppression.

on Treatment of “Enemy Combatants”
The General Assembly shall not have power to ... prescribe torture in any case whatever.

on Abortion
Our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions.

on Faith-Based Initiatives
History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance, of which their political as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.

on Evolution vs. Intelligent Design
Read the bible then, as you would read Livy or Tacitus. The facts which are within the ordinary course of nature you will believe on the authority of the writer, as you do those of the same kind in Livy and Tacitus. The testimony of the writer weighs in their favor in one scale, and their not being against the laws of nature does not weigh against them. But those facts in the bible which contradict the laws of nature, must be examined with more care, and under a variety of faces. Here you must recur to the pretensions of the writer to inspiration from god. Examine upon what evidence his pretensions are founded, and whether that evidence is so strong as that its falsehood would be more improbable than a change of the laws of nature in the case he relates.

on Prayer in Public Schools
To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.

on “No Child Left Behind”
They pretended to praise and encourage education, but it was to be the education of our ancestors. We were to look backwards, not forwards, for improvement.

on the Scandal in the Justice Department
The whole art of government consists in the art of being honest.

on the Self-Destructiveness of the Right-Wing's War on Science
Science is important to the preservation of our republican government.

on Stem Cell Research
The priests of the different religious sects ... dread the advance of science as witches do the approach of daylight, and scowl on the fatal harbinger announcing the subdivision of the duperies on which they live.

on Human Responsibility for Global Warming
We want [a theory of climate] indeed for all the States, and the work should be repeated once or twice in a century, to show the effect of clearing and culture towards changes of climate.

on the White House’s Lack of Bipartisanship
The denunciation of the Democratic Societies is one of the extraordinary acts of boldness of which we have seen so many from the faction of monocrats. It is wonderful, indeed, that the President should have permitted himself to be the organ of such an attack on the freedom of discussion.

on the Proper Role of Religious Leaders
Preach a crusade against ignorance.

on Media Concern with the Personal Lives of Presidential Contenders
I shall... return with joy to that state of things, when the only questions concerning a candidate shall be, is he honest? Is he capable? Is he faithful to the Constitution?

on the Inefficiency of the Current Administration
Ignorance and bigotry, like other insanities, are incapable of self-government.

on Bush and the 2000 Election
To retain the office, when it is probable the majority was against him is dishonorable.

on the President’s Mangling of English
What has no meaning admits no explanation.



on the Presidential Veto of Funding for Embryonic Stem-Cell Research
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public Good.

on the Bush EPA’s Conflict with California's Proposal to Reduce Carbon Emissions
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing Importance, unless suspended in their Operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

on the Patriot Act
He has combined with others to subject us to a Jurisdiction foreign to our Constitution, and unacknowledged by our Laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation.

on the Executive’s Office of Faith-Based Initiatives
He has erected a Multitude of new Offices, and sent hither Swarms of Officers to harass our People, and eat out their Substance.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Shop at This Mall for Free

It should come as no surprise to my regular readers that I’m a curmudgeonly old atheist, and fairly set in my conceptual ways. As a libertarian and First Amendment purist, however, I think it’s essential that all –isms be entitled to a fair hearing unrestricted by government. Every now and then, I like to go browsing through the marketplace of ideas; the more varieties available, the more interesting my intellectual saunter is. Yes, for the most part, I’m highly selective about the vendors that grab my attention. However, once in a while a new seller catches my eye, and I wind up trying something on for size. Sometimes, I even find myself buying a useful notion.

American Bloggers for Inclusive Debates is a blogroll that offers one-stop shopping in the Mall of the Mind. I’ve decided to join, and am honored and delighted to take part in the dialogue. Naturally, I don’t agree with everything I encounter there. Nor do I expect all the other alliance members to agree with me. It’s reassuring to know, though, that there are so many bloggers willing to work together to create a forum for free thought.

You’ll notice that I’ve added the blogroll’s link not only to this specific post, but also to my Political and Legal category over there on your left. Go examine the merchandise.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

About-Face the Nation

Reporter Bob Schieffer is a great example of exactly how useless — and potentially dangerous — the mainstream media are. On today’s Face the Nation broadcast, he helped theocratic candidate Mike Huckabee spread misinformation that, if accepted by enough viewers, would lead the country backward into the church-dominated Middle Ages.

Huckabee, for those of you unfamiliar with him, is a Baptublican who served as a pastor from 1980-1992. That should make him no stranger to bilking money from the gullible. But, so far at least, Huckabee’s candidacy doesn’t seem to have a financial prayer.

A graduate of Ouachita Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, the candidate is a firm believer in a woman’s right to have a baby whether she wants to or not. He also supports a Constitutional ban on unbiblical gay marriage, and opposes federal funding for soul-killing stem-cell research. His view of science education was enunciated a few years ago on “Arkansans Ask,” a radio call-in show:

I think that students should also be given exposure to the theories not only of evolution, but to the basis of those who believe in creationism....I do not necessarily buy into the traditional Darwinian theory, personally.
No, what he necessarily buys into, personally, is a collection of unsubstantiated fairy tales. The sad thing is that if he had his way, it would be U.S. citizens’ taxpayer dollars that he uses to make his purchase.

In introducing this medieval crank, Schieffer twice told viewers how remarkable Huckabee was.

SCHIEFFER: Even he would admit he’s at the back of the pack, but he is among the most interesting of the candidates this year.
SCHIEFFER: He is also a candidate who says what he thinks, and he is one of the more interesting people around politics, if I do say so.
Schieffer’s idea of “interesting” sets an unprecedentedly low standard for the usage of that word.

During the interview that followed, the reporter kissed the candidate’s behind so hard, that Huckabee will have trouble sitting down for a week. Schieffer spoon-fed the blandest of questions at the interviewee, and accepted without question the predigested answers. An early response of Huckabee’s showed the audience just how interesting he is:

HUCKABEE: ... [T]hose who claim that they represent a certain branch of our party, primarily the Christian evangelicals, got into politics because of adherence to certain moral principles. Now, if those moral principles no longer are the driving force, they render their whole purpose for being in politics irrelevant ...
At least Huckabee was honest in this blatant endorsement of a taliban-style state. But Schieffer was so uninterested in the implications of Huckabee’s statement that he let it go.

The most infuriating interchange during the interview was this one:

SCHIEFFER: Well, let’s talk a little bit about what you’re for and what you’re against. I noticed that you said at one point, “We have to stop driving god out of the public square.” You are an evangelical, I take it?


SCHIEFFER: What is the connection between government and god in your view?

Notice that Schieffer gave Huckabee yet another opportunity to thump for theocracy.
HUCKABEE: Well, the First Amendment’s pretty clear, and it’s simply this, that government should neither prefer or prohibit the practice of religions. Government shouldn’t go and tell people how to worship or even that they should worship. Government ought to have a hands-off attitude. [Correct so far: The Exterminator] But what government shouldn’t do is tell people that they can’t, or put restrictions. And so I think we’ve made something complicated out of something that the founding fathers really made very simple in the First Amendment. You neither prefer one religion over another, but you don’t prohibit the free exercise thereof. And so when there are efforts made, whether it’s because of political correctness or court decisions that have run amok, where you say you can’t have a nativity scene or a menorah on capitol grounds, that’s absurd ...

SCHIEFFER: All right.

HUCKABEE: We ought to welcome the discussion of faith in the public square.

Now, Schieffer could have said any of a number of things here that would have gently — not adamantly, but amicably, and merely for clarification’s sake — pointed out how Huckabee’s reading of the First Amendment is wrong, wrong, wrong. He might have explained to Huckabee that Congress is forbidden to make “any law respecting an establishment of religion.” The clause does not say a religion, but religion in general, religion of any kind. Thus, according to the Constitution, the government is most definitely not prohibiting the free exercise of religion when it refuses to spend public funds supporting anyone’s beliefs.

Perhaps Schieffer might have at least said, emulating Huckabee’s phraseology on evolution: “I do not necessarily buy into your interpretation of the First Amendment, personally.”

Instead, here’s what he did say:

SCHIEFFER: And where do you come down on the war?
New subject. Huckabee’s antihistorical drivel went undisputed.

Shortly thereafter, the candidate ended the interview by pulling a familiar rabbit out of his hat:

HUCKABEE: Thank you, and happy Easter to you and all your viewers.
Schieffer did not remind Huckabee that at least some of his viewers — say, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Wiccans, Zarathustrans, and, of course, atheists — might not care for such a benediction. Instead, the great reporter replied:

Thus, in just a few short minutes, Face the Nation became a venue for unchallenged propaganda. The program helped a godpushing humbug hurl his half-truths without rebuttal. Is that an example of irresponsible journalism? To quote Schieffer: You bet.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Don't Expect These on Meet the Press

The media have obviously been scrambling to come up with interesting new interview questions for the various presidential contenders. In the spirit of helpfulness, I’d like to suggest the following:

  • The First Amendment forbids the establishment of religion. So how come Congress gets an Easter break?
  • The framers of the Constitution omitted any reference to a supreme being in the document they so carefully crafted. How do the sentiments of those founders justify keeping the words “under God” in the pledge of allegiance?
  • How do Jewish and Christian lawmakers reconcile the concept of “eminent domain” with the 10th Commandment, “Thou shalt not covet ... anything that is thy neighbor’s”?
  • A person who believes that the United States is a Christian nation must believe, therefore, that our Constitution is a Christian document. Article VI contains the words “... no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” If this is a true Christian sentiment, aren't Christian voters being unChristian to insist that public servants conform to litmus tests on their religious views?
  • Some politicians assert that their religion is a private matter. So why do they hold a photo op every time they go to church?
  • The First Amendment says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion ....” Using a "strict constructionist" analysis of the Constitution, can you explain how the original 18th-century intent of the phrase "make no law" has been interpreted to mean "allow some laws"?
  • A person who went to a fundamentalist Baptist law school presumably claims to follow the Ten Commandments. These include a taboo against bearing false witness. So how can such a person — like Monica Goodling, for example — refuse to answer questions under subpoena because she’s afraid she’ll incriminate herself by lying?
  • Article II of the Constitution requires a president to “swear (or affirm)” that he “will faithfully execute the office of the president of the United States.” Would the founders have included the “affirm” option if they expected all future presidents to be practicing mainstream Christians?
  • Imagine a president who advertises that he regularly seeks advice from god about leading the country. Is it possible for such a man to claim honestly that he, as the chief executive of the government, is upholding a Constitution that prohibits the establishment of religion?
  • If people need to have “in God we trust” printed on their money, what do they need that money for?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Open Letter to Mojoey

You wrote in your most recent post:

Despite the assertions of the New Atheist movement ...
I think you're buying into a myth created by the media anxious to stir an empty pot. I've been an atheist all my life, and have many friends who share my irreligious views. None of us are aware of any "atheist movement," new or otherwise. I'll bet you're not aware of one, either.

Thanks to your blogroll and various other atheist clearing-houses on the Web, we may be described as a loose community of freethinkers. But the main thing we have in common — maybe, in some cases, the only thing — is that we're a-theists, that is, we don't believe in any gods.

If there are any card-carrying atheists pushing a "movement," I haven't been invited to join. Nor would I. Like you, I champion the cause of religious freedom. People should have the liberty to believe whatever trips their trigger, just as long as they don't impose their silly belief-systems on me.

Yes, I get furious when I think about all the theocrats who strive to foist their nonsense — often dangerous — on society. Atheists like me don’t want ourselves or our school-age children being forced to mouth daily mumbo-jumbo to a magical being whose existence we highly doubt; we don’t want the advancement of humanity to be hindered because some primitive sand-laden book conflicts with the findings of science; we don’t want the alleged leader of our country claiming that he or she hears and obeys fascistic directives coming from the sky; and we don’t want to live in a world where other people’s deities encourage followers to appropriate land, blow up buildings, and kill fellow human beings on a whim.

But I also get furious at the thought of anyone trying to control what others think.

The press would have people believe that there's a dangerous movement of atheists who are determined to do that very thing. I'm not convinced, though, that there are any atheists in the so-called free world who would support a governmental ban on religion. If such atheocrats do exist, I'm sure that most members of the loose atheist community would be proud to stand together with you and me against them.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Next: Kucinich as the Baby Jesus?

According to an AP story today, a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago has sculpted a papier mache figure of Barack Obama in full messianic regalia: white robe, orange drape slung over his shoulder, wide welcoming smile, and a big blue halo. His hand is raised in a benediction, or perhaps merely a vote-getting wave. Actually, the figure looks like an advertisement for a black cartoon version of Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

To a sophisticated viewer, it should be evident that the artist, David Cordero, was making a sarcastic comment about media attention and pseudo-religiosity in politics. In fact, Cordero said that his work was a response to “the idea that Barack is a sort of a potential savior that might come and absolve the country of all its sins.” The sculpture is clearly an indirect criticism of those journalists who assign, in Cordero's words, “all these inflated expectations.”

Of course, the media doesn’t see itself this way. Instead, newspapers and TV stations nationwide have slyly chosen to sensationalize the statue, despite the fact that it’s just, after all, a student project. But now, it’s big news. The AP story has been picked up by dozens of dailies all over the country, including The New York Times.

Never ones to miss a publicity opportunity, the Obama camp has chimed in. The candidate’s spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, released a statement supporting the artist’s First Amendment rights, but implying that the statue might be viewed as “art that offends religious sensibilities.” Interestingly, the campaign made no attempt to deny that Obama might, indeed, be a savior.

Of course, the mosquitoes in the reportial world immediately set about trying to draw blood. They contacted a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Chicago, who wisely (surprise!) refused — at least for the time being — to comment. But why not stir up some religious trouble anyway? The article ends by comparing the student’s piece to the anatomically correct Choco-Christ sculpture banned last week from a New York City art gallery. As an atheist, I rarely find myself in the position of disparaging the media for trying to bait the theocrats, but come on. The reporter’s attempt to get the over-sensitive Christians whining again is pretty lame. After all, Obama’s privates remain demurely covered in Cordero’s work. Also, the senator’s sculpted body doesn’t appear to be edible.

So why am I writing about the thing? Because it’s quirky and funny, and the artist seems, implicitly anyway, to share my view that messiahs of all kinds should be kept out of government.

I wonder: will Hillary now insist that someone portray her as the virgin Mary?

Sunday, April 01, 2007

The Devil's Chaplain Joins the Foe's Army

Although I don’t usually like writing about subjects that are certain to be flogged to death all over the atheist blogosphere, I couldn’t resist weighing in on the amazing news that Richard Dawkins has become deluded himself.

Per today’s New York Times, Dawkins apparently has suddenly discovered evidence in the evolutionary record that indicates “the hand of a higher power of some kind.” Dawkins refuses to refer to this entity as “god,” but it’s clear that he’s not talking about any natural biological process. “I can say with some certainty,” he says with—alas—some certainty, “that there’s a power out there outside human understanding. It’s not the Old Testament psychotic delinquent, for sure, but it’s not chopped liver. I suppose most people would say that it’s a Creator or a Prime Mover. For now, I’ll call it Force X.”

Religionists have been quick to make hay out of Dawkins’s conversion. “Although Christians everywhere know that Our Lord Jesus Christ is not Force X,” the Times quotes Jerry Falwell, “we welcome Richard Dawkins to the bosom of God. It won’t be long now before the full frontal Truth is revealed to him.” Falwell also added, “Wait till I rub Larry Flynt’s nose in this!”

In a stunning turnabout, Sam Harris—who along with Dawkins has been hailed as one of the “new atheists”—is considering becoming what he calls “an old Jew” instead. “Richard and I have been working so hard to eradicate faith,” Harris said. “We had plans to organize a group of militant secularists who would sneak into people’s homes at night, steal their family bibles, and replace them with Darwinian devil-texts. Richard was going to tear the crosses from around their necks; I was going to rip up their yarmulkes. Now I’m not so sure we’ll want to do that. ”

Late yesterday morning, Dawkins met for a hush-hush luncheon with Daniel Dennett, his friend and co-founder of the clothing line “Selfish Jeans.” Dennett is still stunned. “I couldn’t believe my ears,” he said. “Richard Dawkins speaking seriously about a skyhook!” A “skyhook” is Dennett’s term for a hook in the sky. This is how the author/philosopher pictures the god he refuses to believe in. According to Dennett, Dawkins told him that Force X is much more like an eyedropper than a hook.

Following his conversation with Dennett, Dawkins immediately phoned entertainer Julia Sweeney, writer and performer of Letting Go of God. “You might want to grab on again,” Sweeney said Dawkins told her. Later, speaking in a whiny androgynous voice under the alias “Pat,” Sweeney broke the story to the media.

Outraged at Dawkins’s apostasy, atheists worldwide have vowed to boycott sales of The God Delusion, which has been on the bestseller list for weeks, mostly because nonbelievers have been buying multiple copies as gifts for religious relatives. But the rejection of his book suits Dawkins just fine. “Look,” he says with a shrug, “I made a little mistake.”

Oddly enough, Dawkins does not believe that Force X is angry with him. “I don’t think the higher power cares that much about us humans,” he asserts. Instead, Dawkins insists, the Creator seems to have gotten bored with Earth “shortly after the flood. I think he cleaned out the place, and then lost interest. Yes, he probably found dinosaurs as fascinating as the rest of us do, but when they refused to get on the boat with Noah, I think he just said said to himself, ‘screw this planet.’ He might have continued to tinker a little bit with nature, but he was like a blind watchmaker, which is why it’s so hard for us to tell time in the dark.” Dawkins adds, “And his aloofness makes it almost impossible to keep the guy involved in an intelligent conversation; he just doesn’t seem to listen. I know he supposedly talks fairly frequently with Pat Robertson, but you know how easy it is to tune Pat out.”

Later this year, Dawkins says, he will publish a book to be titled God Does Play Dice With the Universe—And He Cheats!, which will explain in scientific depth his creationist hypothesis. Then he adds with a chuckle, “Force X willing, of course.”