Friday, May 30, 2008

Quazy Quistian Question # 6

The other night, Mrs. Ex and I sat down to a hot-weather dinner: a little chicken salad, a couple of dollops of potato salad, some green salad, three or four tablespoons of fruit salad, and even a few fistfuls of our beloved Crunchy Cheetos. She said, “When the weather’s like this, I love a big salad.”

“Well,” I said, “technically it’s not one big salad. It’s actually four different salads, all on one plate.” In case you didn’t already know this, I can be a tremendous pain-in-the-ass.

My wife can’t ever resist taking the bait. “It’s one big fucking salad,” she said.

“Ummm, no it’s not,” I insisted. “First of all, the stuff isn’t all mushed together. It’s separate, like the compartments in a TV dinner. There’s a chicken salad compartment, a potato salad ...”

“I can see what’s there.”

“And secondly, no one in his or her right mind would ever refer to Cheetos as salad. So why can’t you admit that it’s a bunch of different salads and some crunchies on the side? While we’re at it, there’s not enough of the potato kind, if you want my opinion.”

Anyway, we went back and forth a few times, at least until we’d both finished cleaning our plates, refilling them, and cleaning them again. Then we stopped arguing while we finished our meal with a sweets course: ice cream on top of baked apple pieces and pastry, which my wife unreasonably claimed was only one dessert called “pie a la mode.” I understand that traditionally this is considered a unitary dish; but since ice cream, baked apples, and pastry are all separable, and since their essences don’t change when combined, I’m fairly comfortable insisting that it’s actually a trio of different things, acting as a team, that's merely masquerading as a single entity. But I wisely kept my mouth shut while I chewed.

I thought of that dinner today when I became engaged in kind of a silly interchange over at You Made Me Say It. A Christian was claiming that his religion is monotheistic. That, of course, is ridiculous.

Here are some reasons why Christianity is, clearly, polytheistic.

1. Dad, Junior, and the Cosmic Goo
That’s three gods. If you challenge Christians to explain how 3 = 1, they’ll usually start spouting some nonsense about the “trinity”: The bible says this, Christian apologists say that. These explanations are, of course, a weasel-y cop-out on a grand scale. Atheists don’t believe in what the bible says, nor do we put any credence in the long, tedious, lying tradition of Christian apologetics.

We’ve got three entities here, not one. For Christians, though, it’s “pie-in-the-sky a la mode.”

But, look. Even according to the bible, when Jesus was on the cross, he cried out to his papa. So god and Jesus, at least, must be different beings — unless the “savior” was just talking to himself like a crazy man. Was the “savior” a lunatic? Are his followers?

And that third god is some vague entity used conveniently to plug the gaps into which neither Jesus nor the Big Guy fit: the “hole-y spirit.” Either he/she/it is an unnecessary concept, or we’re talking about another divine presence here.

2. Satan
Most reasonable people would call the Satan character a god. He may not be the king of the particular gods that the Christians believe in, but he’s clearly got the powers of a deity — albeit an evil one.

There’s no point in Christians arguing that a god can be a god only if he’s omnibenevolent, because even their guy doesn’t fit the bill. He condones ethnic cleansing, the murder of innocents, slavery, the subjugation of women — the list of atrocities goes on and on. And he’s egomaniacal, not a nice trait.

But let’s, for the moment, say that God and Satan are opposites in some way. In Christian belief, Satan has the power to challenge the divine personage they call “God” for people’s souls. He’s either immortal, or, if vanquishable at some future date, at very least unusually long-lived. He’s omnipresent, almost omnipotent, and omnimalevolent. If he were a member of some ancient pantheon, we’d all recognize him as the embodiment of wickedness, a “dark” god. And that’s what he is in the Christian scheme: a fellow god.

3. The Demigods of Christianity
Some Christians —Orthodox and Roman Catholics, for example — address prayers to Mary and/or saints. These heavenly folks may not be full-fledged gods, but they’re certainly demigods. Some of them are acknowledged by scholars of all persuasions as being spin-offs of pagan deities. So if we were talking about a mythology other than Christianity, everyone would acknowledge that these characters are superhuman enough to be classed in the “gods” category.

But not certain Christians. For them, Mary is kind of a real woman, except kind of not. The saints are sort of dead people, but sort of not. But how can you pray to a corpse who isn’t a god; what’s the point? You might as well pray to a cat, or a tree, or a meteor. They’re just more gods.

So it sure looks as if Christianity is a polytheistic religion. Christians may not put any other gods before the leader of the club, but they sure throw in plenty of lesser gods as part of the holistic picture. Most of us would call that “polytheism.”

Now, I’m going to diverge slightly from convention before I ask the following question. Usually, in this series, I’ve been freewheeling about accepting answers — even though no satisfactory ones have ever been provided. For this particular entry, though, I’m going to have to insist that no quotes, links, or historical references be used. I’m interested in responses that are phrased only in your very own words.

Quazy Quistian Question #6
Isn’t Christianity a polytheistic religion? If not, how do you account for all those super-beings running around? Explain your response.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Ten Things I Believe That May Be Wrong

Atheosphere memes are stupid, boring, and annoying. I believe that, but I may be wrong.

So, in case I am, here’s a meme.

Think of some things you believe that may be wrong. Write them on your blog. Don’t tag anyone, but drop the hint that if your friends really care about your feelings, they’ll follow through with their own lists.

  1. A really intelligent person can’t be religious.
    Corollary: If you write in English without knowing the most basic mechanics of the language — spelling, punctuation, grammar, capitalization — chances are very good that you’re either a first-grader or a Christian.

  2. Spectators go to car races mainly hoping to see crashes.
    Corollary: There’s no fucking way that driving is a sport.

  3. You can get almost any household chore accomplished with a Swiss Army Knife and a roll of paper towels.

  4. Most bloggers, including me, are nuts in some way.
    Corollary: I only threw myself in there so the rest of you don't get insulted.

  5. When the word “adorable” is injected into a conversation, it’s time to change the subject.
    Corollary: Neither your cats nor your kids are interesting to the rest of us.

  6. Anyone who can’t finish The New York Times Sunday Crossword Puzzle in half an hour or less is inferior to me.

  7. One can live a full life without ever watching American Idol.
    Corollary: One can live a full life without ever listening to country music.

  8. People who shlep their belongings to Antiques Road Show are a little creepy.
    Corollary: Antiques Road Show is a covert arm of the yard-sale industry.

  9. If someone says he’s “for the people,” he’s hardly ever for me.

  10. Raisin Bran tastes better than plain bran flakes to which you’ve added raisins.
    Corollary: Cocoa Crispies taste better than plain Rice Crispies on which you’ve poured cocoa.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Ummm ... You Didn't Make Me Say It

This is my 200th entry here at No More Hornets and so I thought it might be a good time to answer a question posed today by my friend Hemant Mehta, the Friendly Atheist.

Hemant asks: Why Do You Blog?

Here's the answer I left him:

The reason I blog is so that those of us who don’t blog for any reason have a voice in the Atheosphere.

I think that may be a version of Russell's paradox, but I'm not a philosopher so I can't be sure.

(H/T to PhillyChief, whose blog has my favorite title. And thanks for the surprise graphic.)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Pussycat of the Atheosphere

I received an email from an apparently nice guy with whom I’d been “exchanging views" over at Spanish Inquisitor. He senses a hostility from me. From me! The pussycat of the Atheosphere.

In a comment, he wrote: I'm really, sincerely interested in trying to understand your point of view.

So, because I’m all about educating my readers, here’s my response. This is my “point of view” in a nutshell:

I don’t believe in any gods. I don’t believe in a god of vengeance and I don’t believe in a god of love. I don’t believe in the god of the bible, both the old and the new testament, or in the god of the koran, or in the gods of the vedas, or in the gods of any book of the dead. I don’t believe in any gods that have ever been written about anywhere by anyone. I also don’t believe in the individually concocted god who conveniently resides in a commenter’s heart. I don’t believe in a god who made man out of mud six thousand years ago and I don’t believe in a god who set the entire evolutionary ball rolling, possibly more than four billion years ago. I don’t believe in a god who blesses America or one who damns America. I don’t believe in the god whose name appears on my money or in my pledge. I don’t believe in the god of the Republicans and I don’t believe in the god of the Democrats, the god of John McCain or the god of Barack Obama. I don’t believe in the god of Pat Robertson and I also don’t believe in the god of Barry Lynn. I don’t believe in the tinker-toy god of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, the criminal god of the minions and yes-men, both right and left, of this crooked administration. I don’t believe in the state god of Hitler’s Nazis or the people’s god of Stalin’s Communists; I don’t believe in the gods of any totalitarian regimes. I believe neither in the god of Hamas nor in the god of the Knesset. I don’t believe in the god of Osama bin Laden; I don’t believe in the god of Timothy McVeigh. I don’t believe in any god that historically has condoned — and/or continues to condone — the slaughter of whole peoples, the enslavement of the weak, the subjugation of women, and the demonization of homosexuals. I don’t believe in the god who urges his or her believers to attack violently or threaten psychologically those who believe in other gods, in whom I also don’t believe. I don’t believe in a god who discourages learning and encourages committed ignorance. I don’t believe in a god who causes hurricanes and floods and famines; nor do I believe in a god who is not personally responsible for those disasters. I don’t believe in a god who enjoys watching humanity suffer, but I also don’t believe in one who suffered for humanity. I don’t believe in a god who commands the most odious human acts of savagery, or even a god who condemns such acts. I don’t believe in ANY gods.
Here’s what I do believe in: human potential for good — and for ill. Here’s what I’d like to see: far more good, far less ill.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Puzzling Atheists #5: Some Woo

This is a puzzle to test your knowledge of woo.

Each numbered item leads to a term that’s related to woo in some fashion. All you have to do is supply the term. They’re clearly spelled out, so you can consider the numbered tidbits of woo as a gift from WWW.

Unfortunately, since this is a Woo Puzzle, I've had to acknowledge that God works in mysterious ways. So every consonant has been replaced with a W, and every vowel has been replaced with an O. That is, except for the letters W and O, which have been replaced by one another. For the purposes of this puzzle, Y is always considered a consonant. Thus, the word WOO would be written as OWW and the word WOW would be written as OWO. GOD, by the way, would be written as WWW. For ease of reading, if a term contains more than one word, the words are separated by an underline: _.

As an extra help — because we’re all atheists here, aren’t we? — all As have been left alone. So the word HALLELUJAH would be written as WAWWOWOWAW. Leave your solutions in the comments section. To give everyone a chance, though, please post no more than four answers at a time. I’ll give credit to the first person who identifies each term.

Some Woo

  1. You’ll be a black sheep if you mix this with linen: OWWW
  2. A Roman’s dad: WWWO
  3. He was given the laws on which the Constitution is based: WWWOW
  4. She’ll fuck up the whole world, not just Babylon: OWWWO
  5. God's not a comedian, but this is a pretty good rib: OWWAW
  6. You can babble forever, but this won’t get you to heaven: WWOOW
  7. His witnesses don’t call him this: WAWOOW
  8. He never goes commando: WWWWWW
  9. Pasco County can teach a lesson to this guy, but not vice versa: OOWAWW
  10. Try this stuff even if you’re not thirsty: WWWW-AOW
  11. Don’t do this to anybody except God: OWWWWOW
  12. He was designed, but not with a Phillip’s head screwdriver: WWWWWWW
  13. This really kills a person: AWWWWOWW
  14. Israel — or America: WWWW_WAWW
  15. Oh, you, it makes no difference. Don’t dare to draw him out: WWWAWWAW
  16. Maybe not now, but this uprising is coming soon: AWWWAWWWWO
  17. A committed Christian or Muslim: WAWAWW _WWAWA
  18. We can conceive of God having this kind of an argument: WWWWWWWOWAW
  19. All Americans should believe in him: WOWWWO_O._WOWW
  20. Half a dozen of these could surely make our world today: WWWOWAWW_WOAWW
One non-woo tip: Prayer won't help you solve these.

[Update: All items have been de-wooed, but I'm not listing the answers here in case any of you latecomers want to give these a try. You can look through the comments to find the solutions.]
A-List: 1. Renacier; 2. Paul; 3. Renacier; 4. Renacier; 5. SI; 6. Renacier; 7. Ubi Dubium; 8. nowoo; 9. nowoo; 10. SI; 11. SI; 12. nowoo; 13. Sesquipedal; 14. Ubi Dubium; 15. nowoo; 16. Ubi Dubium; 17. nowoo; 18. Sesquipedal; 19. Ubi Dubium; 20. Sesquipedal]

Thursday, May 22, 2008


People whose ancestors were Jews don’t usually feel fully comfortable complaining to governmental officials. There’s a famous picture of a Jew being forced to walk barefoot through the streets during the early years of Nazi Germany. He’s surrounded by mocking polizei. A sign has been hung from his neck, and it says something to the effect of: “I complained to the authorities, and all I got was this lousy T-shirt.”

But this is America, right? And yesterday I wrote that I would take some action about the genuine Jesus Christ paper prayer rug scam. Remember that the thick envelope containing that sacred relic arrived in my mailbox under the no-stamp-required guise of a message from a nonprofit organization.

I neglected to mention in my previous post that I was supposed to return the prayer rug — along with my “seed” money — to Saint Matthew’s Churches. “It is a must that you get this unusual blessing Church Prayer Rug out of this house and back to us, here at the church’s chapel prayer room, in faith.” Why? So that the very same scrap of paper can be rushed to “another family that’s in need of a blessing.”

Essentially, we’re talking about a bogus chain letter here. The urgent plea for me to return the prayer rug is clearly made to encourage an immediate response. It’s a taxpayer-financed get-rich-quick scheme.

So, I made some phone calls: the post office, my U.S. senators, and the IRS.

After introducing myself, here’s how I opened each conversation.

There’s a group of con artists that have apparently been given tax-exempt status as a nonprofit organization. They’re doing a mass mailing of a fraudulent chain letter asking me to send them money to a post office box. The group is posing as a church, but they’re criminals; the whole thing is clearly a scam. I object to using my hard-earned tax money to finance a crooked scheme.

I emphasized "my hard-earned tax money." If I could have spoken in red, boldface, italic, capitalized, underlined type, I would have. In lieu of that, I reached into my linguistic arsenal and found my pissed-off voice. That's the one I've borrowed from Donald Duck.

The Response at the Post Office

The woman at the post office took my name, address, and phone number. Then she asked for the name and address of the bogus church. After she got this information entered into “the system,” she apologized for my inconvenience. I told her that I accepted her apology but that, really, she wasn’t responsible.

“I don’t believe in killing the messenger,” I joked.

She didn’t understand what I meant, so she apologized again. I’m hoping that the Feds don’t show up to arrest me for making threats over the telephone.

The Response at (titular Democrat) Bill Nelson’s Office

I’m not a fan of either political party, but I tend to lean a bit more toward the Democrats’ line of bullshit these days. So first, I called Senator Bill Nelson’s office in Washington.

A too chipper guy answered the phone, and I rattled off my introductory paragraph.

He said, “Thanks for calling. I’ll pass that information along.”

I said, “Wait a minute. I didn’t give you any information.”

He said, “Oh, OK. Give me the information.”

I asked, “Will you pass it along?”

He said, “Mmm-hmmm. Yes. Definitely.”

I said, “No you won’t.” Then I hung up.

The Response at (Republican) Mel Martinez’s Office

The man who answered in Mel’s Washington office listened to my spiel and said I’d better call the senator’s local office in Florida. He gave me the number and told me to say I was phoning about “case work.”

I did so. A very charming woman listened carefully to my gripe and asked whom the letter came from. I told her and she said, “Well, obviously the IRS has given them tax-exempt status because they’re a church.”

I went into detail about the contents of the envelope. She chuckled a few times.

“Doesn’t that sound like a con to you?” I asked.

She laughed again. “I can’t really say,” she replied. “Lots of people have faith in different things. I go to church every Sunday and tithe, so I can understand when someone sends money to a church. But let me look this one up for you to see if there are any other complaints.”

I didn’t know where she was searching, but my astute Sherlock Holmes mind interpreted the tapping and I assumed it was somewhere on the Internet. I waited patiently for a few seconds. “Well,” she said, “you’re not the first person to make a charge against them.”

Then I heard the tapping again. She said, “I went to their Web site. It looks like they actually do have a church building. So it’s not just a post office box.”

“But, tell the truth. It looks kind of fishy, doesn’t it?”

She repeated: “Lots of people have faith in different things. I’ve heard of churches that sell water that’s supposed to be from the Sea of Galilee.”

“Yeah, other crooks. I mean, have you ever heard of a Christian prayer rug? Does that sound kosher to you?”

She tittered ever so slightly. “Well, I can’t say. But you might want to report this to the IRS and have them look into it.”

More tapping. “OK,” she said, “I’m at the IRS Web site and it looks like there’s a form you can fill out to complain about tax fraud.”

“Yes,” I said, “but isn’t that only if you’re trying to report a person or company who’s cheating on taxes? Like Al Capone.”

She giggled. I mentally gave her some points for recognizing my reference. “All right, I’ve got it. Here’s instructions about how to write a personal letter to them. That’s probably what you should do.”

She also gave me a phone number to call. I thanked her and told her that I was impressed with how non-commital she could be. She laughed yet again and wished me good luck.

The Response at the IRS

By now I felt like just some old crank, but I decided to finish what I’d started. After dialing the number and pushing the right buttons to get to the department I wanted, I was placed on hold. The music I heard was from “The Nutcracker Suite.” I checked my calendar to make sure it’s the middle of May. We old cranks sometimes forget stuff.

An agent finally answered and identified himself by name and official number. I went through my intro.

He told me I could either write a letter and mail it, fax a note with the appropriate details, or send an email. I said an email would be great, and he gave me the address. Then I asked him if it would be worth my time and effort. He said, “Yes. Give us as much information about the organization as you can. We like to investigate these things.”

So now, having spent a few hours mostly on hold, I’ll follow through. Tomorrow. By that time, I'll have recranked my crank.

More — if I actually get a response — in the future. In the meantime, watch for my barefoot photo in your local newspaper.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

My Friends Call Me "Rezz"

Well, I guess Jesus is all-seeing after all. Even though I’m clearly identified here on No More Hornets as “The Exterminator,” the Christ has figured out that I don’t usually go by that title in my day-to-day life. I got a piece of mail from his representatives today, and it was addressed to me by the actual name I use in my non-blogging existence: RESIDENT. (Confession: It used to be RESIDENTOWITZ, but my grandparents changed it to make it sound more American.)

The envelope was dated “Sunday — May 2008.” I was under the mistaken impression that there were four Sundays in May 2008, but I guess I was wrong. However, I did wonder: If Jesus is so magical, how come I received the letter on a Wednesday? I guess we all know that the lord works in mysterious ways. As god always says: “Sunday, Shmunday. What am I, a watchmaker?”

Also on the envelope, there was a lot of red type and underlining and double-underlining and italics and boldface and BOLDFACE CAPS. And, of course, what would a note from Jesus be without at least one exclamation point! Not only is he omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and omniscient, but he's also omnifonted. In the beginning was the MS Word.

Contained inside the package was some hoopla about an accompanying paper prayer rug, and how the closed eyes on the Jesus face would open if I stared "into" them hard enough. They didn’t, but I was briefly able to see the messiah's face in complementary colors when I quickly looked up at my white wall. There was also the text of some mumbo-jumbo I was supposed to repeat while kneeling on the rug or holding it over my knees, as well as some instructions for where I should stick the thing overnight. No, not there. And of course I was asked — gently — to make a contribution to St. Matthew’s 57-year-old Church (not to be confused with St. Matthew’s 58-year-old Church), the institutional sender of this First Epistle to Residentians.

The prayer rug was a folded piece of 11 x 17 paper, tinted in lavender and orange, which is certainly the most holy color combination. Near the bottom, it was conveniently labeled "Church Prayer Rug," so I wouldn't mistakenly think it was just some run-of-the-mill unfolded picture of Jesus. The thorn-crowned savior's face sat smack in the center and some ersatz Persian-ruggish design surrounded him as a border. On the back of this treasure, a short text informed me that it had been “Soaked with the Power of Prayer.” It didn’t feel moist, but maybe that’s because I’m an atheist. Anyway, I was ordered to use it immediately, and return it because “Timing is important to God.” (That's probably why he's such a great comedian.)

So I had in my hands:

  • a very personal letter (Dear ... Someone Connected with This Address);
  • a genuine paper prayer rug with Jesus's authentic face, complete with a pathetic, solitary tear streaming down from his closed left eye;
  • testimonials from women who had received financial windfalls from J.C., but neither of whom, judging from their pictures, saw fit to use the cash for a much needed makeover;
  • an offer for a “FREE, DEUTERONOMY 8:18 PROSPERITY CROSS, BLESSED BY THE CHURCH (Look it up, you lazy bastards);
  • special Christian fortune-cookie prophecies personally meant for me, RESIDENT (apparently, I may feel my inner power growing);
  • a checklist designating exactly how I’d like the church to use their power of prayer for my family and myself (e.g., A New Car, A Money Blessing, or A Closer Walk With Jesus);
  • an important shilling notice reminding me that I should “Pray about sowing a seed gift to the Lord’s work,” and asking me to “give God your best seed and believe Him for His best blessing" (yeah, I was tempted to do what you’re thinking of);
  • and an enclosed return envelope (addressed to “PRAYER BY LETTERS”).
All this had been stuffed into a business envelope that had a printed notice in place of a stamp:




So our tax dollars, yours and mine, are being used to pay mailing fees for a scamming CHRISTIAN CHAIN LETTER!!!

I’ll be calling the postal authorities tomorrow. I’ll also be contacting my congressman and both senators. More later.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Wait Until She Tells Them About Buridan's Talking Ass!

Today, I want to talk about words and their meanings.

A fourth-grade teacher is reading the story of “Sleeping Beauty” to her class. She comes to the section in which the villainess decides to poison a spindle with a sleeping potion.

The teacher reads:

Ha. Ha,” said the evil witch. “The princess will fall into a deep sleep with just the tiniest prick.”
The class, naturally, erupts in laughter. You and I would, too.

The teacher goes to great pains to explain to her students that, in old-fashioned English, “prick” means a small puncture by a needle. The students nod their heads, seemingly in understanding, so the teacher continues reading until she comes to:
And sure enough, the poisoned needle did its work. Sleeping Beauty didn’t even feel the small prick.
The next day, the teacher is called into the principal’s office because of a parent’s complaint that she used inappropriate language in class.

At that point, a practical teacher would think long and hard about her precious "prick," and emend the text. She’d change the word to “puncture.” End of story.

But a teacher who was stubborn would say: “Look, this is perfectly acceptable English. In order to be educated, the students have to understand that common words can have different meanings in different contexts. That story has always said ‘prick,’ and I’m going to continue to use it.”

Not a good strategy, right?

So, scientists: Find another fucking word for “theory.”

(H/T to Evo and SI)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


When my wife gets a cold, she tries to identify the culprit who gave it to her. Was it that teenage bagboy who sneezed at the grocery? Or, perhaps, the irresponsible co-worker who coughed without covering her mouth. Maybe it was the old geezer with the sniffles in the bookstore, who was browsing through the same magazines my wife was looking at.

Someone must be blamed. The villain must be found.

I’ve been thinking about blame today because we here in Central Florida are experiencing a fiery spring. Throughout the area, dangerous brushfires are raging, and there’s no rain in sight for at least four or five days. About twenty miles from my house, 500 people were mandatorily evacuated from their homes; 300 more were asked to leave voluntarily. Other cities nearby are battling their own conflagrations.

Looked at in the greater scheme of things, a relatively small number of displaced persons can’t compete in the disaster olympics with the thousands killed, hurt, or rendered homeless by the cyclone in Myanmar, or the earthquake in China. Anyone with a shred of humanity, who doesn’t see the world as a collection of ethnic teams, feels for those people. But I have to confess that, one-worlder though I be, there’s a level of “reality” to the disaster here that those others lack. I smell the smoke in the air, hear the pleadings of local newscasters urging their listeners to flee, see the scared looks on the faces of neighbors. Yes, I feel great sympathy toward those poor people in Asia, and will contribute what I can to help them. But they don’t shop at the very same stores that I do; they don’t eat in the very same restaurants; they don’t put up with the very same governmental incompetence. Their misfortunes don’t — as illogical as I know this sounds — enrage me.

Fires are actually necessary for the environment. A number of plants, some of our native Florida pawpaws and orchids among them, get a competitive advantage only when other flora are cleared away. Longleaf pine, with its fire-resistant bark, will not flourish except in areas that have frequent low-intensity burns. Scrub habitats, filled with all those messy, eyesore plants, would wind up being hardwood oak forests if it weren’t for frequent fires; the huge trees would shade out the understory. All the critters who depend on these environments would have a tough time, if it weren’t for the flames.

But, of course, eco-friendliness is no comfort to a family watching their home getting enveloped in a blaze.

Apparently, a few of the fires — not those in my immediate vicinity, but others in bordering counties — were set by humans: arsonists or just plain idiots. There’s almost a tone of relief in the TV announcements that, just as we all suspected, some of those fires were started by human agency. There will be persons to blame, villains on whom to vent our community anger.

Being an atheist during a natural disaster is an existential experience. Despite scientific advancements undreamt of by past generations, there are some things in this world that can’t be controlled, that have to be accepted with reluctant resignation. It’s a sad and scary feeling; I’m not the master of my fate. Yes, I’d love to be justifiably infuriated, but at whom, at what? Only “nature” is the culprit, and, not being an actual entity, it’s blameless. All living things are both victims and victors in its endless cycle; that family in the $2 million house is no more “worthy” of sympathy for getting displaced by the fire than the scrub jay who would be displaced without it.

On the other hand, the theists amongst us do feel that there’s a causative entity, a super-intellect, a maker of cyclones, earthquakes, and fires. The blame is not, of course, his; he’s all good. The homosexuals, the libertines, the infidels, the “others” are responsible for the catastrophe. Even those who don’t take an accusatory position have to admit that “God works in mysterious ways.” Somehow, their supernatural sneezing bagboy is behind the calamity.

To think that some intelligent force is accountable for the tragedies that beset humanity, is, to me, a far sadder and an infinitely scarier explanation than knowing we’re each of us alone in a wild and seemingly random world.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Sunday Drivelers

OK, now to reveal the answers to my musical drivel quiz. I've listed the first commenter to get each answer correct.

  1. A-wha a-wha
    "Diamonds on the Souls of Her Shoes" by Paul Simon

  2. Ayyyyyy-hey. Oh, yeah, baby
    "Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I'm Yours" by Stevie Wonder

  3. Bomp-b-b-bomp
    "Blue Moon" by The Marcels
    Title: Evo; Artists: VforVirginia

  4. Bang bang shoot ‘em up
    "Spaceman" by Harry Nilsson
    Title & Artist: VforVirginia

  5. Botch-a-me I’ll botch-a-you
    "Botch-a-Me" by Rosemary Clooney

  6. Deh dum ah-tah dum ah-tah dum ah doot-doo
    "Why Do Fools Fall in Love" by Frankie Lyman & the Teenagers
    Title & Artists: Evo

  7. Dig, man [HINT: spoken, not sung]
    "Mack the Knife" by Louis Armstrong

  8. Don don-don don
    "Come Go With Me" by the Del Vikings

  9. Doo doo-dee-oot doot doo doo-dee-oot
    "Hot Toddy" by Julie London

  10. Ee-ee-ee-yee
    "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" by the Tokens

  11. Fee-fee fie-fie fo-fo fum
    "Charlie Brown" by the Coasters
    Title: Tina; Artists: VforVirginia

  12. Gadji beri bimba clandridi
    "I Zimbra" by Talking Heads

  13. Hey-ey-ey hey-ey-ey
    "Sisters of Avalon" by Cyndi Lauper

  14. Iko Iko
    "Iko Iko" by Dr. John
    Title: SI; Artist: bullet

  15. I wonder wonder who who-oo-oo who
    "The Book of Love" by the Monotones
    Title: Ridger

  16. Ohhh oh-oh oh wha-ah-ah
    "Earth Angel" by the Penguins

  17. Oh-oh-oh yes
    "The Great Pretender" by the Platters

  18. Ooga chaka ooga ooga
    "Hooked on a Feeling" by Jonathan King
    Title: Evo

  19. Oo yeah-eh-eh-eh yeah
    "Punky Reggae Party" by Bob Marley

  20. Salt peanuts, salt peanuts
    "Salt Peanuts" by Dizzy Gillespie
    Title & Artist: Chappy

  21. Splish splash
    "Splish Splash" by Bobby Darin
    Title & Artist: Chappy

  22. Uh-heyyyyyyyyyy do it now
    "Play That Funky Music" by Wild Cherry

  23. Uh-weh-ell
    "You Might Think" by the Cars

  24. Whoa-oh-oh I
    "When I Get Home" by the Beatles
    Artist: Evo

  25. Yip-yip yip-yip yip-yip yip-yip
    "Get a Job" by the Silhouettes
    Title & Artists SI
Perhaps not surprisingly, the big winner is Evo, who has earned a two-hour Sing-Whatever-You-Want free pass at the blog and/or podcast of his choice. He may use his 120 minutes all at once and in one place, or allot his time and space as he sees fit.

By the way, the challenge question asked for the phony line, included on the page, that was actually made up of two different real lines. Readers were asked to figure out what those actual lines were, the names of the songs, and the artists. My challenge wasn't phrased as well as it could have been; I should have asked for the phony line that was reminiscent of two different real lines. In any case, no one got it wrong. Kudos.
  • Phony Line: A Bop Bop a Loola
  • Real Line: Be-bop-a-lula
    Song: "Be-Bop-A-Lula"
    Artist: This song was recorded by dozens of artist. I can't remember which version I remember remembering, but it's probably either the one by Elvis Presley or the one by Jerry Lee Lewis. I know it wasn't the recording by David Cassidy.
  • Real Line: A-wop bop a-loo-bop
    Song: "Tutti Frutti"
    Artist: Little Richard. There are some other versions, too, including the vanilla-est vanilla Pat Boone recording. Of course, if anyone had identified that one, I would have subtracted points.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

An Atheist Goes to a Wedding

On Sunday, I went to a wedding.

Intellectually, I’m a cynic when it comes to weddings. Not marriages, necessarily — but weddings. I believe that neither a god nor a government should have a role to play in announcing that two people love one another and have decided to make a mutual commitment. In the United States, as in many other countries, there are certain legal ramifications to being married, but I don’t see why families should spend thousands and thousands of dollars to declare, in essence, that a man and a woman have decided to pool their property. It’s a contract, is what it is.

Emotionally, I’m not such a cynic. Weddings are symbolic rituals that go back to the beginnings of civilization. When a couple gets married, they’re joining hands with their ancestors, with all of our ancestors. They’re enrolling in a very non-exclusive club of humans who have recognized that life, in one way or another, is more livable with a partner. They’re making the same kinds of promises that their great-great-grandparents made, promises that may be kept or broken, but promises that are as old as history. Time stops. The couple reaches backward to the past and forward to the future to carve out their own traditional but complex relationship that we need only two words to define: “They’re married.”

The wedding that I went to on Sunday was held on a large projecting balcony area of a hotel. Beyond it lay the ocean, a beautiful and natural backdrop. As the guests seated themselves, the waves, timeless but ruled by time, pleaded again and again with the shore: Let us stop moving; let us stay here. Give us a break.

Pelicans, whose faces resemble the flying lizards from whom they’ve evolved, soared in formation overhead. They flapped their wings infrequently and — to my thinking — reluctantly: Let us stop moving; give us a break.

In the distance, someone on the beach was listening to rap music with a bass beat we could feel in our shoes, music that tried to propel us up out of our seats (and onto an imaginary dance floor) as it competed with the Bach, Vivaldi, and Pachelbel played so solemnly by the string quartet. Our bodies cried out to the faraway sounds: Let us stop moving; give us a break. Wedding marchers walked slowly and awkwardly in time to the strings, pausing every few steps so as not to get too close to those who preceded them. Their nervous eyes and pasted-on smiles said to one another: Let us stop moving; give the people in front of us a break.

So here’s what the preliminaries of the wedding made me think of. In all the crazy motion of life, a wedding is an attempt to fix a certain moment in time: If only for a few minutes, let us stop moving; give us a break. We humans, for whatever evolutionary reason, require our ritual occasions to put us back in touch with the rest of our species, both living and dead. Some of us may even choose to reflect for a short time, to revel briefly in our commonality. Let differences be forgotten for this instant; give our reciprocated animosities a break.

But, of course, that was not to be. The fatheaded officiant brought her god into the proceedings and made the whole thing trivial and silly. She rattled on and on and on: Jesus wants the couple to do this, Christ wants the couple to be that. Her ADHD deity, who never takes a break to smell the roses that he allegedly created, after who-knows-how-many failed attempts, had hand-selected this pair to be “one.” He was deliriously happy that they’d come together in front of relatives and friends to build their futures on the rock of his Christianity. Despite all the crap that’s going on in the world, he managed to put other concerns aside to come to this insignificant small-time wedding on a beach in the middle of nowhere. He smiled on the bride and on the groom and gave them their marching orders; get busy leading a holy life. In Jesus’s name amen.

Meanwhile, the sea — carrying countless lifeforms as it has done, without any supernatural commands, for well over three billion years — kept saying to the priestess: Give them a break. Shut up, and give them a break.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

A Bop Bop a Loola

All right, I stole the following meme idea from Ordinary Girl and Ridger:

Step 1: Put your MP3 player or whatever on random.
Step 2: Post the first line from the first 25 songs that play, no matter how embarrassing the song.
Step 3: Post and let everyone you know guess what song and artist the lines come from.
Step 4: Strike through when someone gets them right. I'll put it in italics if the title has been gotten, but not the artist.
Step 5: Looking them up on Google or any other search engine is CHEATING.
Unfortunately, right now I’ve got only Latin Jazz on my iPod. No words whatsoever.

So I decided that I would go through my iTunes library and select songs. Since I’ve been accused by some in the Atheosphere of being elitist and snobbish, I wanted everyone to see the kind of musical drivel I sometimes enjoy. Here are the first lines, although I use the word “lines” loosely.

  1. A-wha a-wha
  2. Ayyyyyy-hey. Oh, yeah, baby
  3. Bomp-b-b-bomp
  4. Bang bang shoot ‘em up
  5. Botch-a-me I’ll botch-a-you
  6. Deh dum ah-tah dum ah-tah dum ah doot-doo
  7. Dig, man [HINT: spoken, not sung]
  8. Don don-don don
  9. Doo doo-dee-oot doot doo doo-dee-oot
  10. Ee-ee-ee-yee
  11. Fee-fee fie-fie fo-fo fum
  12. Gadji beri bimba clandridi
  13. Hey-ey-ey hey-ey-ey
  14. Iko Iko
  15. I wonder wonder who who-oo-oo who
  16. Ohhh oh-oh oh wha-ah-ah
  17. Oh-oh-oh yes
  18. Ooga chaka ooga ooga
  19. Oo yeah-eh-eh-eh yeah
  20. Salt peanuts, salt peanuts
  21. Splish splash
  22. Uh-heyyyyyyyyyy do it now
  23. Uh-weh-ell
  24. Whoa-oh-oh I
  25. Yip-yip yip-yip yip-yip yip-yip
Good luck!

[NOTE: Italics didn't show up so well with these nonsense syllables, so for clarity's sake I've added red as well. Evo came up with a novel twist: right artist(s), wrong song. That's what the blue is for.]

[CHALLENGE: Somewhere on this page is a nonsense line that never existed, but it's made from two different nonsense lines that did. I thought some wiseass would call me on it, but nope. So: (1) What's the line that never was, and what are the two lines that it's made from? (2) What are the names of the songs? (3) Name the artists that recorded them. Question 3 is ambiguous, since one of those lines was recorded by many artists. But since I have neither of those songs in my iTunes library, I'll accept any artist that recorded either of them.]

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Nonbelieving Literati Update for May 3, 2008

Lynet has been kind enough to pick our next selection: Zadig by Voltaire. It has two things to recommend it highly to our group: (1) It’s very short, and (2) it’s by Voltaire, f’cryinoutloud.

Evo has suggested that I add to the Nonbelieving Literati feature in my sidebar the names of the people responsible for picking each book. I'll do that if enough members would like me to.

If it were up to me — which it’s not — I’d rather have each book just stand for itself, rather than as an indication of a specific member's taste. There’s a slight danger in associating a book with one of us, rather than just reading every new selection in a "vacuum." None of us wants fellow members to ever feel like, for instance: "Gee, last time I really hated OG's book, but I like OG a lot. So I'll try to say something nice about this one."

I think listing the members with their selections can potentially inhibit free discussion. What does everybody else think?

Thursday, May 01, 2008

A Blog of One's Own


It’s always a pleasure for me to read a book in which the ideas come rushing onto the page almost as if they had lives of their own and were eager to escape the confines of the author’s brain to run about freely in the world. Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own is a good example of what I’m talking about. If one had to answer the question “What’s the main idea?” it would be easy enough to say that it’s a long essay about Women and Fiction, the place of women in the literary sphere, the place of women in society as a whole, and the role of fiction in the life of the mind. It can be thought of as a proto-feminist call to arms, as an introspective examination of the historical plight of the mass of women for whom a literary calling was out of the question, even as a self-justification for the writer’s own passion about putting pen to paper.

But for me, it was a collection of rich nuggets of almost perfect prose, all of which got me thinking about something or other, topics that were not necessarily related except insofar as they sprang from my reading of Woolf’s book. When I originally conceived of Nonbelieving Literati, I hoped that some of our posts, at least, would be “essayistic rambles, ruminations triggered by ideas the book suggested to each blogger.” For me, this is the first book the club has read that has actually engendered such a ramble — or rather, a series of rambles. Some of them, not all, are responses to Woolf’s specific words. Others are notions that struck me as I paused to digest what I was reading.


When I opened to the first page, and saw the words “women and fiction,” I thought: Oh, how tedious and dated. People don’t care about the gender of writers nowadays; I certainly never think of novels in terms of the author’s sex. I just buy whatever I want to read. To prove that to myself, I looked through my fiction bookcases. I was amazed to discover that almost every single novel, story collection, play, or book of poetry that I owned had been written by a man. Yes, there was a smattering of females who were represented. Every work by Jane Austen. A few Dorothy Parker anthologies. A stack of Agatha Christie mysteries. Edith Hamilton’s retelling of Greek myths. Various single examples of work by Alison Lurie, P.D. James, Edith Wharton, Patricia Highsmith. The Emily Dickinson and Christina Rossetti volumes in the Everyman’s Library Pocket Poetry series.

I turned to essays and nonfiction next. A few more women there, but not enough to strike a balance. A couple of books by Florence King. Three volumes of Sarah Vowell’s essays, two of Nora Ephron’s. Four nature books by Diane Ackerman, one science book by Natalie Angier. Eight or nine tomes on history, law, and atheism. Five memoirs.

I think of myself as a non-sexist person. I have as many female friends as male friends, maybe more. But I own somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 books, and not even 100 of them are by women.

... [A] woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction...
And a man? What must a man have? I’d argue: money and a room of his own. Of course, for Woolf those requisites were symbolic of the entire history of the subjugation of women by men, decades, centuries, millennia in which women had neither money nor rooms of their own. But Woolf means her words to be taken literally as well. And, on that level, all I could think was: me, too!

Without self-confidence we are as babes in the cradle. And how can we generate this imponderable quality, which is yet so invaluable, most quickly? By thinking that other people are inferior to oneself. By feeling that one has some innate superiority — it may be wealth, or rank, or a straight nose, or the portrait of a grandfather by Romney — for there is no end to the pathetic devices of the human imagination — over other people. Hence the enormous importance to a patriarch who has to conquer, who has to rule, of feeling that great numbers of people, half of the human race indeed, are by nature inferior to himself.
Many of us in the Atheosphere — myself included — if we’re honest with ourselves, admit that we feel superior, at least intellectually, to theists. Even writing that sentence, I can’t keep myself from chuckling over how ironic it is that I seem to be critical of that feeling. Because aren’t we, in fact, superior? Or am I just being sarcastic?

The crux of Woolf’s paragraph, of course, is that every individual and every group likes to think that he or she or it is better than others. We atheists, for all our own feelings of superiority, encounter the tremendous “superiority” of religionists every single day. We’re outnumbered and, usually, outmaneuvered. They’re going to heaven; we’re not. They’ve got god on their side; we don’t. They control the political dialogue in this country; we can’t get a word in edgewise. The only thing we can do, as Woolf points out, is to bolster up our own self-confidence, to refuse to accept being treated by the vast quasi-theocratic establishment as if we’re godless babes in the spiritual cradle.

Perhaps that’s why we blog, why we argue about our own individual approaches to living a faith-free life, why we see the news through skeptical glasses and discuss it incessantly, why we philosophize compulsively. It’s all about bolstering our own atheistic self-confidence by reaching out to others of like minds. We want to feel that we’re members of a community. And not just any old community, but one that’s superior.

And one gathers from this enormous modern literature of confession and self-analysis that to write a work of genius is almost always a feat of prodigious difficulty. Everything is against the likelihood that it will come from the writer’s mind whole and entire. Generally, material circumstances are against it. Dogs will bark; people will interrupt; money must be made; health will break down. Further, accentuating all these difficulties and making them harder to bear is the world’s notorious indifference. It does not ask people to write poems and novels and histories; it does not need them.
Sometimes, in dark, introspective hours, that’s how I feel about writing these little posts. Why do I bother? Isn’t the world indifferent to my blogging? Who needs it?

One answer is: I bother because I’m bothered. As PhillyChief’s title notes: “You made me say it.”

Another answer is: I bother because I can’t not write. My words are who I am.

Money dignifies what is frivolous if unpaid for. It might still be well to sneer at “blue stockings with an itch for scribbling,” but it could not be denied that they could put money in their purses.
Well, having written both for pay and, allegedly, for sheer pleasure, I can say from experience that I share Woolf’s sentiments. Samuel Johnson said, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.” Years ago, I was chugging out essays like these in my job as a newspaper columnist, and being paid rather well. Nowadays, I sling the language much better than I did then, but often I feel that I’ve become a blockhead. In fact, once in a while I wonder whether all of us in the Atheosphere are blockheads. We spend hours and hours composing, commenting, replying, and earn no financial reward.

But Johnson also said, “The purpose of a writer is to be read.” So as long as we have readers, we’ve fulfilled our purpose, whether we’re blockheads or not.

[B]ooks continue each other, in spite of our habit of judging them separately.
I agree with that. Everything we read is filtered through our previous reading. And that’s doubly true of everything we write. To quote Johnson once more, “When a man writes from his own mind, he writes very rapidly. The greatest part of a writer's time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.”

By the way, you can reread Woolf’s sentence and substitute the word “blogs” for “books.” Maybe the statement is even more appropriate in that case. All of us in blogworld are part of the ongoing buzz of humanity. We may have thousands of readers or only just a handful, but we do continue each other every time we publish anew.

It was tempting, after all this reading, to look out of the window and see what London was doing on the morning of the twenty-sixth of October 1928. And what was London doing? Nobody, it seemed, was reading Antony and Cleopatra. London was wholly indifferent, it appeared, to Shakespeare’s plays. Nobody cared a straw — and I do not blame them — for the future of fiction, the death of poetry or the development by the average woman of a prose style completely expressive of her mind. If opinions upon any of these matters had been chalked on the pavement, nobody would have stooped to read them. The nonchalance of the hurrying feet would have rubbed them out in half an hour.
I like to think of myself as the chalker, the one who always has opinions on literary matters and who cares deeply about writing. But in my daily life, if truth be told, I’m frequently the hurrier. There are so many things to read, so little time to do it. On my bookshelves, I have four stacks of five or six books apiece. Each one of those stacks is the next one I’ll “attack.” I move the stacks from one place to another, and re-arrange the individual volumes within each pile, in order of their priority. That order changes from day to day, and sometimes within the same hour. And I’m not even counting the newspapers and magazines that I “have to” go through, the dozens of blogs and online journals I “need” to keep up with.

Sometimes I feel as if I’m controlled by the billions of words waiting for me on pages and screens. And, as I do whenever I want to re-assert my freedom in any arena, I rebel. Occasionally, therefore, I wake up and declare a publication-free day, a short vacation from written material.

But then I shortly find myself reading the back of my cereal box. Those proclamations of non-literate bliss never work.


Now and then I wonder: if I forced myself to read less, would I be able to write less, too. Or is writing a compulsion. Maybe I’d write more, to fill the time with the words I’m not reading. I’m sure, and everyone who knows me can confirm this, that I’d never be able to talk less.

I use language, therefore I am.

Are not reviews of current literature a perpetual illustration of the difficulty of judgment? “This great book,” “this worthless book,” the same book is called by both names. Praise and blame alike mean nothing. No, delightful as the pastime of measuring may be, it is the most futile of all occupations, and to submit to the decrees of the measurers the most servile of attitudes. So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say.
I can say, almost with certainty, that our blogs, if they matter at all, matter only for hours. But I doubt that they matter even for that long, except to ourselves and our comparatively few loyal readers. And, at least in my own case, I’m not always convinced that I’m writing what I wish to write. Frankly, I’d rather be creating quality fiction, even though I doubt that I have the skill or the patience to do that.

But for me, using language, reveling in the way words can be selected and organized on the screen to communicate ideas, or to make people laugh, or to express anger and frustration about the seemingly arbitrary way the human part of the world works ... for me, that’s reason enough to write.

Here I would stop, but the pressure of convention decrees that every speech must end with a peroration.
This essay breaks one of my cardinal rules of blogging: Keep it short, if not always sweet. In my personal aesthetic, a good post should be only as long as a newspaper column, about 750 words. Anything over that, I feel, asks too much of a casual reader. Who am I to require such an investment of time?

However, I’ve already gone over 2,000 words, and obviously I’m not quite done. Are you still with me? (Happily for me, if you’ve actually read all the way up to that question, there’s no honest way for you to answer “no.”)

So do I have a peroration, as “the pressure of convention decrees” that I must? Not really. Instead, I’ll end with an observation about reading and writing.

There are times when I fear that reading and writing are becoming things of the past. Talk to average Americans today and ask if they read or write for pleasure, if they take some indescribable enjoyment out of seeing words marching before their eyes.

RU 8-}?

According to an AP-Ipsos poll, more than one out of every four Americans read no books at all last year. Literature — and maybe literacy, too — is slowly disappearing.

As literacy slowly disappears (or at least as I perceive that it does), I sometimes feel that my essence, my word-core, my entire conception of myself as, primarily, a reading and writing being, is threatened. However, in a small way, my own blogging and my reading of others’ blogs keeps my pessimism from overwhelming me.

As I’ve said: I use language, therefore I am. I think that was how Virginia Woolf felt, too. I was happy to spend some time with her; she’s a kindred spirit.