What about the “Moderate” Muslims?

In episode 153 “Islam: Take 2,” Dan and I asked the question, “Are there moderate Muslims?” In order to make the point that the teachings of Islam itself are extreme—death penalty for adultery and homosexuality—we played the following video:

One of the things that stood out to me while watching the video is how hard it would be as a Muslim to disagree with the speaker’s position. On what legitimately Muslim grounds could you make your case that a woman who commits adultery shouldn’t be stoned?

The following video from the BBC did shed some light on this question:

What do you think? Is Islam unique in its threat to liberal western values?

The Toaster of Fortitude

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What do you do when you're a 70+ year old man living in rural Prattville, Alabama, you have health problems, and you have more paint than you know what to do with? You proclaim the gospel, of course! And you do it by creating hundreds of crosses and dozens of signs painted on old appliances.

Here's the thing: we didn't really get half of this guy's stuff into this video. It just goes on and on and on! We actually saw one pole that had a bunch of crosses nailed to it, and then a dozen or so SIGNS THAT SAID THE WORD "CROSS"!!! That's right- he stopped making actual crosses, and instead painted the word "cross" onto a piece of wood, and nailed that up. You can imagine the looks on our faces when we realized that we had forgotten to get that on camera for y'all. (Note: we are officially using the word y'all, now)

Oh well, we can't bring you everything. What we can bring you is me (Dan) acting silly at a roadside pile of weirdness commonly known as "The Cross Garden":

 

The Mormon Temple Ceremony: You Make The Call

Ok, folks. Here it is: the endowment ceremonies of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I am not responsible for making this video, mind you, I'm only making you aware of it. And I gotta say, I hesitated to do that.

As we discuss in podcast episode #59, this video represents the laying bare of something that is held so sacred by the Mormons that even I, who never went through the temple, feel like I'm violating something by presenting it here. I've honestly had to wrestle with some fairly deep questions of conscience about it.

"But why, Dan? You don't believe in the Mormon church anymore. Why do you care about what other people think is sacred?"

Well, fictitious questioner, one reason is I know A LOT of Mormons and I have no desire for them to feel hurt or betrayed by me. It's tough because religious people in general, and ESPECIALLY Mormons, feel attacked soooooo easily. Anything you say that questions any aspect of their religion is instantly perceived as an attack. Even stating your own non-belief is thought to be an attack. So, as someone who has a blog and podcast dedicated to looking at the world through the lens of atheism, I'm bound to piss some folks off. That is not my intention.

What is my intention is to take a real, open and honest look at the world and ask the questions that come up. And this video brings up A LOT of questions. For those of you who were never Mormon yourselves, I'm guessing this will positively baffle you. And make you cringe. And possibly wish you could un-see it.

Oddly, it may be even freakier for those of us who were Mormon. To have known so many good, intelligent people who submitted to this weirdness and accepted it as something that would bring them closer to a god for me brings up a cognitive dissonance as powerful as what first-time temple-goers must feel. You have to understand: newbies to the temple go into this ceremony completely unprepared for what they're about to see and do. Nobody explains any of what's about to happen to them. Usually all they know is that what they're about to experience is sacred, and they'll walk out in new underwear that they'll then have to wear for the rest of their lives.

My mind reels thinking about it.

So, rather than droning on more, I'm just going to present the video and let y'all have at it. I'm really interested to hear your reactions. Is it weirder than you expected? More boring? Both? What stands out to you? 

 
UPDATE: As Mike commented below, "This is what Mormons call a "LIVE" session. The movie version of the endowment is a lot easier to hear: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5VrsFEiTpsQ." So here it is:
 

The Pope Is Out To Get You!

So, in the same week that the Mormons announced that they were changing the ages at which young people could serve their missions, effectively increasing their marketing force by a substantial margin (as we discuss in episode 47 of the podcast), I encountered two other interesting articles. This one from USA Today discusses a new study from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life that shows "nones," or people professing no religious affiliation, rising to almost 20% of American adults (yay!). And this one from RNS is about the Pope convening a Synod of Bishops on “New Evangelization” to stem that "tsunami of secular influence.”

That's not my regular Avon rep... 

 "Lock the door and hide!" "Is it the Mormons?" "No…"

What? The Catholics looking at "evangelization"? Shit just got real!

Seriously. Gone, apparently, are the days of the Catholic church resting on its laurels as the all-powerful religious monolith. These days, they're going to have to work for their money like everybody else. I suppose they'll stop short of sending young folks door-to-door for converts, but you can smell the desperation, can't you? I know I can.

We "nones" have gone from 15.3% in 2007 to 19.6% today. That's a pretty speedy ascent if you ask me! I certainly don't think it will continue at the same pace for long- this comfort with not having a religious affiliation is really new, and I suspect this could be termed our honeymoon period. But I'm guessing the pedal will be to the proverbial metal for a while, yet. Where will it slow? Who knows? 30%? 45%? Surely it will slow before it hits 50%, but at that point everything will look VERY different for us.

Mind you, being an out-and-proud atheist, I'm not sure how comfortable I am sitting in the same category as my wishy-washy "spiritual but not religious" friends. I find belief in "Universal Energy" or "healing light" or even just "there's gotta be SOMETHING out there, right?" pretty damned religious, even if the believer can't really nail down any specifics. I'd probably prefer that the Pew people separate them out, when all is said and done, but whatever.

The point here is that we are a very real and rapidly growing force, and the religious world is scared. This isn't just a trend, it isn't just a short-term change from which the pendulum will soon swing back. This is how it's going to be. These noises you're hearing from the mouths of religious leaders the world over aren't the clarion call sounding the rise of religion back to the top- they are the death throes. The long, angry, violent thrashing of an anachronistic institution sensing (but not admitting) it's impending irrelevance.

We're going to win. They're going to lose. Society will be better for it. And yes, I'll take bets on that. Hell, I'll give you odds!

Am I The Only One Who Sees This *Plot To Take Over The World* Coming?

Ok, so a few weeks ago on the Podcast I noted that Mormon church president Tom Monson looks like a cross between Danny Devito as the Penguin and the Emperor from Return of the Jedi. So, as I promised I totally might do, I hit the web for pics to support my claim. That's when the interwebs reminded me of something I had forgotten: that Facebook wanted my attention. But THEN the interwebs reminded me of something else: The Emperor look-alike position has already been filled. Regardez:

Separated at Moment of Evil Spawning?
 Actually, this comparison makes the Emperor look a little weak…

[Side note: I worked for HOURS trying to create a GIF of His Popeness morphing ominously into the Emperor. I put all my After Effects skills into overdrive trying to make something that looked cool and wasn't completely embarrassing. I failed]

Anyhoo, I suppose it's fitting that the Pope would be more like the Emperor, he's a bigger deal than Tommy Monson. However, I stand by my Devito Penguin analysis:

Add some hair, and TA-DA! 
 Holy freaky look-alikes, Batman!

See? Dirty up his teeth a little, give him a hat and an ascot, and boom! You got yourself an arch villain!

So what does all this mean? Is Hollywood purposefully targeting religious leaders FROM THE PAST? Have the evil liberal anti-theists from the movie industry found a way to time travel into the future so that they can cast people as crazy-looking villains who will eventually turn out to look like beloved figure-heads of major world religions? Who will be their next victim? I'm looking at you, Richard Chartres, Bishop of London…

 Bishop Chartres and some fluffy-haired guy
 I honestly couldn't think of a movie malefactor that looks like this… Thoughts?

Mormons Are Liars, But Not In A Fun Way

So, a few weekends from now there will be a big deal in Salt Lake City. Every Spring and Fall, the LDS church (ya know, the Mormons) have their "General Conference", and people come from around the world to attend. For two weekends a year, downtown SLC is awash with white dress shirts and floral patterned dresses. And bad shoes. Always and consistently– the true hallmark of Mormonism– really bad shoes.

 The great and spacious building
 "Is that Joel Osteen?" "Shut up."

If you've never experienced the Mormon General Conference, please, allow me to set the stage:  Imagine a huge room, tastefully decorated in warm wood tones and understated but classy decor.  In it, 20,000 faithful members sit in quiet decorum as the top leaders of their religion impart messages of scripture and doctrzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz… Oops. Sorry. Dozed off for a moment there.  As I was saying, the "brethren" give heart-felt talks about how to live better livzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…  

What? Huh? Oh… sorry. What was I saying? Oh yeah- I was saying that General Conference is TORTUROUSLY BORING! It's old men in dark business suits intoning the same old recycled messages year after year after year after year after year….  If you're used to Catholic or Anglican church (or the like), just imagine if the "sermon" part of the service (as opposed to the stand-up-sit-down, recite, recite, recite part of the service) lasted much, MUCH longer and was given by someone who never formally studied theology or public speaking, but just had to pick it up as they went along. So they all just mimic each other, with the effect being that there is a distinctive "General Conference" cadence.  A drone that is absolutely unique to this event, and is instantly recognizable to Mormons the world over. Mormons who, sadly, are expected to watch and/or listen to this miserable broadcast semi-anually (can't we do something to help these poor people???).

 
 Look-they even bore themselves!

You may ask yourself, if G.C. is so boring, what's to keep members paying attention? If they've heard the messages before, why don't they all just glaze over and go to their happy-place for two hours? First- you should know that most Mo's will tell you that Conference is their happy place. They will say this because they get the glorious opportunity to hear their god's message through his appointed representatives here on Earth. They will tell you that Conference is a special time, because they feel "the spirit." They will tell you how much they LOVE conference.  They are liars.

NOBODY can love that drivel! It's awful! However… people can so muddle their own brains that they can convince themselves that they love it. When I say that the "conference lovers" are lying, I don't think they mean to purposefully deceive you or me. I mean that they are constantly and completely lying to themselves. It's fascinating. I've even tried confronting some of my hard-core Mormon friends about the lie that they love conference. The mental twists and turns that they've had to navigate to convince themselves that conference is even tolerable is far too thick a maze to ever penetrate with logic.

I'll say something like "But at it's core, he's saying EXACTLY the same thing they always say, just with a different [made up] "inspirational" story to illustrate the point."

Then they'll say something like "Yes, but the story was so beautiful, and it's always good to be reminded of god's love/forgiveness/laws…"

Then I'll say "Yeah, but… it was… such a long talk, and not particularly well written…"

Then, they won't say anything, because they're too absorbed in feeling sad about how I'm not going to be with them in Heaven, but I have free agency, and I make my own decisions, so I'm bringing it on myself, and why would I be trying to make them feel bad about the church, anyway, when it brings them so much happiness, but that's Satan's way of luring people away from god, and it's really sad that Satan has such a hold on me, but maybe there's a way that they can bring me back into the fold if they just can be a good enough example and show me how happy the gospel of god has made them…. Then their eyes glaze over and their mouths freeze in an awkward (and frequently Prozac-enhanced) half-smile. That's when the conversation is over.

It's tricky inside a Mormon brain. 

Anyhoo- if you want to see this phenomenon for yourself, you can come to downtown SLC this April or October and wander among the flock. Just mind that you don't get stepped on- those shoes are DEADLY!

Atheists Really Know Their Religion

This morning, a couple of my Facebook friends posted a quiz they'd taken on their walls.  That's usual. As you know, dear internet savvy reader, people take stupid quizzes on FB all the time. How else are they going to know which 19th Century novel heroine they most resemble or how well they would fare in a zombie attack? Or this?

This quiz was different, though. It wasn't from Facebook.  It was from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. It's called the U.S. Religious Knowledge Quiz (you can take it yourself here). Its goal is simply to test basic knowledge of the world's major religions (and, apparently, Mormonism… What, Pew guys, nothing about the "Society of Friends"?). 

I, of course, immediately took the quiz and, not surprisingly for someone who occasionally writes a religion-themed blog, I aced it (honestly, I guessed on the last one…).  Actually, I spent most of the quiz asking myself how anyone who had any religious history at all in the U.S. could get any of the questions wrong (except, as I mentioned, that last one… guess I should bone-up on my "preachers of the First Great Awakening"…).  But then, nobody lately has accused Americans of being over-educated. 

Things became more interesting when I looked at the analysis of the results (which you can find here)(I'm using an awful lot of parentheses in this post). As it turns out, "religion bloggers" is not one of the categories of people who were rated for accuracy on the test.  Atheists and agnostics, however, were.  And they really knew their stuff!  

Take THAT, "Nothing in Particular"s! 
 Just like white folks- to "mainline" Protestantism

This chart, which I simply stole from their website, 'cause that's easier than typing out the results myself, shows something I've often suspected: Hispanic Catholics don't know shit about religion! HA HA… I kid, of course. Actually, I honestly would've thought Hispanic Catholics would be closer to the top.  They seem like such churchy people. Do you think there was a language barrier? But I digress…

No, what I suspected is that atheists (American atheists, anyway) are more knowledgeable about world religions than the people who practice them.  It makes sense to me that this is the case. Many American atheists were raised in one religion or another. That means two things: A) They learned about at least that one religion pretty well, and B) they probably went through some sort of process of intellectual examination of that and other religions.  People who believe in a religion all the way turn off their critical eye.  They no longer look honestly at their beliefs, they just skip blindly down the path that's been laid out for them (and let's face it- if you feel like somebody's given you the combination to the "eternal glory" safe, you don't want to rock the boat)

I suppose that one possible interpretation of these results would be that the more you know about religion, the less likely you are to want to be a part of it.  While that seems likely to be the case to me, I don't think that you can come to that conclusion just from these little statistics.  It's a fun thought, though.

Anyhoo- just thought I'd make you aware of this.  We'll bring you new developments as they come…  Or whatever.

How To Be A Christian With Integrity

What an asshole. 
 The face of integrity

Remember Scott Roeder? He's the guy who freely admitted to killing abortion doctor George Tiller in the church Tiller attended back in May.  Well in January he was convicted of premeditated, first-degree murder. 

That's a good thing. He's a murderer and he'll hopefully spend the rest of his miserable life in jail. As a matter of fact, I hope they offer him parole a couple of times, and then take it away the day he thinks he's going home.  Since he's into killing, maybe he'll take his own life and save Kansas taxpayers some money.

That said, I also must say that, as despicable as this murder was, it was also the action of a Christian with integrity. The number of times faithful followers of the Bible's god are commanded by that god to murder someone who has acted sinfully is… well, I'm not going to go through and count them, but it's high.  (If you want a list of 130 instances of horrific violence in just the first four books of the Bible, here you go). That crazy book actually commands the murder of several kinds of sinners explicitly.

My point is that if you read the Bible, with so many references to killing as an appropriate response to perceived sin, and you believe that the Bible is true and that its prescriptions are in any way applicable today, shouldn't you be out on a killing spree?  It makes sense to me… I mean, Old Testament is absolutely chock-full of thou-shalt-kills, and the New Testament, which many argue supplants the word in the O.T. actually affirms the philosophy as well. Check the last verses of Romans 1:

 28Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. 29They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

Of course, nowhere in the Bible is abortion expressly forbidden (as a procedure, it's a pretty new phenomenon), so maybe Roeder's actions are based on a questionable premise, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. He believed somebody was killing dozens of humans, and the government was doing nothing about it.  What else is a good Christian to do?  

As far as I'm concerned, this bastard Roeder is one of the only real Christians around.  Christians were expressly commanded to kill.  For a hell of a lot of reasons. If it's important to be true to your insane beliefs, then get out there Christians!  Y'all have some killing to do!