We’re Back!

With this blog post, I hereby announce that “life” is returning to thankgodimatheist.com. The podcast itself has been up and running nonstop since we recorded our first episode over eight years ago, but sadly the website has fallen into disrepair. Dusty old blog posts about patriarchal blessings and a road trip to the South we took seven years ago were all that was keeping a broken old podcast player company.

Since starting the podcast back in the fall of 2011, Dan and I have produced an episode every week with the exception of one. We didn’t know what we were doing when we first started, and you can hear it! The audio levels were all out of whack, we yammered on way too long about things that didn’t matter, and we were probably a little too hungry for someone, anyone, to just please listen!

From the earliest weeks of the show, we were amazed that people found us, but somehow the show kept growing and growing. Now we’re jumping off into a new frontier called “trying to do just a little bit more than only recording the show we love so much.” Partially that means giving this blog a little bit of life again.

But what will that new life look like exactly? Well, things are going to start working around here again for one, and we are committing to posting regularly about stories from the podcast that need a little more exploring. Maybe that means making additional fun of some silly believer or possibly digging deeper into the numbers of some poll that’s fascinating us at the moment. We’re not entirely sure. Seemingly it’s when we don’t know what we’re doing, but commit to it anyway, that we do our best work.

Stick around.

Smackdown: Debating Debate

So a couple of weeks ago there was a big debate between noted atheist debater and public-access TV host Matt Dillahunty (TGIA listeners will remember him as our guest on episode 128) and somebody that I had never heard of before, but whose real name actually seems to be Sye Ten Bruggencate. I watched (listened to, actually) most of the debate, and have given it some real thought. Here’s what I’ve come up with: I still think these debates are of limited or negative value to our movement.

Here’s the thing: I didn’t have to see it. I largely knew what they were going to say. So did they! So much so that, as a stunt, Matt read a pre-written REBUTTAL! That’s how confident he was that Sye wouldn’t come up with anything new or interesting to say. And Sye, in what was meant to be a similar stunt (though it was much less effective), played a bunch of video clips of Matt, as if to say “I know all of your arguments ahead of time, too!” Both came totally prepared to talk right past each other, and that’s exactly what they did.

Mr. Dillahunty pointed out there there is no universally accessible or verifiable evidence to support Mr. Bruggencate’s theological claims, and Mr. Bagglecaken claimed that the bible is true because God says so (he’s a so-called presuppositionalist), and that Mr. Dilettantey and everybody else in the world knows that, and any claim to the contrary is just lying out of a desire to sin. Oh, and we can’t know anything if we don’t start with the assumption that God (yes, HIS god) is real, and the final word on all questions.

And thus it went. Each man passionately saying things. Neither conceding any of the other’s points, because they can’t. The problem isn’t that they won’t listen to each other, nor is it that they don’t speak each other’s language (though even that came into question a little when Matt pointed out that words don’t have inherent meaning…). The problem is that they’re coming from entirely different ways of thinking, each of which precludes giving any credence to pretty much anything the other guy has to say. They’re in different kinds of cars, racing on entirely different tracks.

Of course, as Matt pointed out on our show, the point of a debate for him is not to convince the person he’s debating, but rather to convince folks in the audience. His exact words were “I view it as a way of getting out information.” To reach the woman in the third row who has been on the fence, and now can see how rational the skeptic position is, and how ridiculous the religious people sound. And that’s great by me. I want her to be reached!

The thing is, a debate like this has a much larger scope than the one or two fence-sitters in the room. What debates– all debates– do is set up an adversarial dynamic. That is, my proposition against your proposition. That’s fine for most topics, but this is not most topics. The fact is that religious believers don’t see their beliefs as just a series of propositions. They see their beliefs as intrinsic parts of their identities. Therefore, someone debating those beliefs isn’t just exploring the logical validity of the claims, they’re launching repeated. personal. attacks.

It is my belief that most people– and I include non-believers in this– don’t walk away from these debates feeling like a good, healthy examination of thought has just occurred. I’m guessing that most people walk away from these debates feeling like they’ve identified an enemy. “A ha!” we all think, “I am part of x in-group, and now I know that y in-group is against us and we must fight them!”

I have two major problems with this. First, I don’t think it helps ANYBODY to think of someone who thinks differently than you do as your enemy. It doesn’t lead to empathy, it doesn’t lead to understanding, it just leads to more and deeper antipathy. Second, if my in-group is atheists, and our enemy is religious believers, we are going to LOSE! In the U.S. anyway. They have us wildly outnumbered, and they control every channel of power. All this enemy stuff just makes us WAY easier to marginalize without the least bit of sympathy.

Think of the recent Supreme Court decision Greece v. Galloway. That, to my non-legally-trained mind, should’ve been an easy slam-dunk for our side. Giving constant Christian prayers (or any prayers, for that matter) in town council meetings clearly favors the religious over the non-religious. It is an obvious first amendment violation. But when that question is put before a panel of nine judges, six of whom are Catholic and three Jewish, suddenly questions of tradition come up. As does a shoulder-shrugging “what’s the harm?” attitude.

To my mind, the Greece v. Galloway decision was a failure of empathy. The justices just had no compelling reason to even attempt to see the non-believer perspective. That’s because we’re not people or citizens, we’re the enemy. I mean come on- it was less than a year ago that justice Scalia did an interview where he ACTUALLY SAID that atheism “certainly favors the devil’s desires.” He had no trouble saying that.

As long as we let the Christian majority (and the Jews and Muslims, etc) see us as the enemy, rather than fellow citizens who want to be treated fairly, we’re going to lose battles like this. And every victory that we manage to get is going to be viewed as a loss to their side. THAT DOES NOT HELP OUR CAUSE.

Our goal as a movement, at least for the near future, needs to be to break down the walls that separate us from the religious, not build them higher. And whether it’s inadvertent or not, I believe that wall-building is the main thing accomplished by debates. Matt Dillahunty said it himself on our show:

It’s sad that we live in a world where it may not matter who makes the best case or who has the best arguments or who has the facts on their side; that there’s an element of theater to this.

That’s the truth. Do we have the best arguments on our side? Of course we do. Do the facts all point to our conclusions? Absolutely. So the fuck what? The debate was never about the facts or arguments. The debate was about drawing lines in the sand. And those lines can only hurt our movement. The second we start debating, we’ve already lost.

A Mother’s Warning

Last Friday morning my Mormon mother called me with a warning, “be careful this weekend.” I was a little taken aback so I asked for clarification. “I was painting out back and had an impression. You were involved.” I acknowledged hearing her warning and–annoyed–ended the call abruptly.

This was not the first bit of “personal revelation” my mother has directed toward me, but it was the first in a very long time. I had almost forgotten that this was a habit of hers. Growing up, mom had impressions from the “still small voice” all the time. In fact, to a casual observer the voice probably seemed large and loud.

Mom had a bumpy road toward family prophetess though. When I was around eight years old, she scraped her leg really bad on the concrete decking surrounding the swimming pool. The “Holy Ghost” had whispered to her not to go outside, and she heeded the warning until she noticed that a planter on the other side of the pool was turned the wrong way. She slipped out the back door, corrected the planter, and while backing up to admire her work, fell backwards into the pool dragging one of her legs across the sharp little rocks embedded into the concrete.

Later that day, she commented that when you fail to listen to “His” promptings the Lord steps aside letting you face the consequences of your actions. I was mesmerized, and over the next decade, I would witness her sharing premonitions about black ice, ladders, river trips, and anything else that would be of mild concern for a typical mother.

Her prophesying probably seems fairly innocent, and my rudely getting off the phone probably seems, well… rude. But her phone call on Friday stirred up old emotions, and I feel like it was violation of the unspoken terms of our almost fifteen-year truce on the topics of faith and religion. I let her tell me about the goings-on at church, and she never ever asks me when I’m going to return to the gospel (or any other crap like that). I keep details about my life to a minimum. Everything works great!

I don’t know if I have any answers about how to deal with this. In fact, I don’t even think I’m asking any questions. My f’ed up relationship with my mother (and father for that matter) is what it is. I guess what intrigues me the most about her warning and the overall effect it had on my weekend is that I did change my behavior. I was more careful. It clearly wasn’t for the reason she had hoped——that I would start trusting her faith.

I just didn’t want to die in a car accident and leave her feeling like she was right.

9/11: A Time For Directionless Musing

Today is September 11. The anniversary of an attack. A national tragedy. A victory for those eager to instill fear in the American psyche. A work day. A deepening and widening of the U.S. political chasm. It's the anniversary of a really rough day.

My Facebook feed is alive today with different takes on what today means. For some of my friends, it is a day to praise God for the freedoms our Country still affords us, even in the face of those who would deprive us of those freedoms. For others, it's a time to remind the world that those who committed the acts of 9/11 did so in the name of God, and to warn of the dangers of religion. For some it's a time for introspection, for others a time for open discussion.

I don't know what to do with today. Days like today ignite a war between the cynic in me and the sentimentalist. I'm annoyed at pretty much everything I read, no matter what side of any argument the author takes. Talk of God's blessings on some level deny some fundamental problems with religious belief vis-à-vis tragedy. Anti-theists, however, tend to get awfully strident, cocky, and condescending when they see a chance to hit religion where it hurts. Neither side seems to care that this tragedy belongs to all of us, and that maybe the actual anniversary might be a good day for a moratorium on divisive talk.

Then again, maybe I'm wrong. It's been over a decade since the towers of the World Trade Center came down. Maybe there's been enough time since then to open this day up. After all, we all-too-easily forget to consider important ideas. Without markers like the anniversaries of tragedies, when would we actually remember to delve into some of these ideas? Maybe I should be totally pro-debate on days like today! That sounds good too.

Dammit. Now I'm annoyed at my own whining blog post. How did that happen?

Well, ok. I guess rather than just blather about how everybody else is doing today wrong, I'll just write what's going on with me. That is, what 9/11 is meaning to me today. Yeah. Make it personal. That sounds better.

First, I'm apparently easily annoyed. That probably indicates that I'm a little emotional. It's an emotional day.

Second, I guess I have to admit that I do hold religion partially culpable for 9/11 attack. It's just far too easy to rally people to do horrific things when you can martial them to your cause using God's clarion call. It's also WAY easier to create an us-against-them tribalism thing through religion. If your holy book says it's ok to kill, how much easier is it to ignore the fact that you're clearly doing something very very wrong?

Third, 9/11 for me was not as simple as "terrorists attacked America". It was that, of course, but it was also a lot of equally ugly things. It was the day assholes got an excuse to practice racial hatred with a degree of impunity. It was the day George "W." Bush found the most dickish means imaginable of distracting the Country from how shitty a president he was. It was the launch of a particularly despicable jingoism in the U.S. of A. where any dissent (or even honest discussion) was immediately branded "unamerican", and could therefore be written off.

Maybe that's the real sticking point for me. That last thing I wrote. Maybe in my mind 9/11 has become the day that discourse died in America. The day that politicians learned how to lock in their base voters by sticking red white and blue earplugs in their ears, and eagle-emblazoned blinders over their eyes. It's the day that America forgot that listening to each other makes us stronger, not weaker.

Yep. That's it. That, for me, is the true and lasting tragedy of September 11, 2001.

You see what happens when you let jingoism flourish? SARAH FUCKING PALIN!

"When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."

Not Sinclair Lewis

 

Bible Belt or BUST!

Ok, so… Remember our last post, where we went through and told you EXACTLY where we were going to be, and when? Well… we lied. Sorry- I mean we have since revised. Based on a number of factors including listener/reader comments, events we didn't want to miss and things we wanted to see, we now have a NEW AND IMPROVED itinerary!

BEHOLD!!!

 Woah. That suddenly looks like a lot of driving...
 That's right, upper-left corner! It IS in the Unites States!

This is where we're really going. Like, for sure. For total sure. 

Unless something else comes up.

And here's what the timing pretty much looks like:

Monday, May 13– Texas panhandle: Amarillo and Groom. Spend the night in Groom (I checked this place out on Google. Small town Texas. Wow.)

Tuesday, May 14– Lunch in Wichita Falls, TX on our way to Dallas. Spend the night in Dallas.

Wednesday, May 15– Lunch in Waco, on our way to Houston. Sleep in Houston.

Thursday, May 16– Stay in Houston (we get to not drive for a day!). FUN MEETUP at night at the Fox & Hound Pub (11470 Westheimer Road)- Houstonites, be there or be square!

Friday, May 17– Drive to Shreveport, Louisiana. Have some fun (TBA). Sleep.

Saturday, May 18– Head to Jackson, Mississippi. Sing "I'm going to Jackson" in the style of Johnny Cash the entire way.

Sunday, May 19– AM church in Jackson, lord help us (yep- that means a church review), then press on to Montgomery, Alabama

Monday, May 20– A long and rather circuitous route through 'Bama will eventually land us in Murfreesboro, TN.

Tuesday, May 21– We leave early, 'cause we gotta make it to Memphis before Graceland closes (though we'll pass through another town called Jackson, so we'll be singing Cash again before we start singing Elvis).

Wednesday, May 22– Wave at Little Rock (maybe have lunch there- any Little Rockers out there wanna join us?) on our way to Hot Springs, Arkansas. Why Hot Springs? Who knows.

Thursday, May 23– Drive through the beautiful (one supposes) Ouachita National Forest to Muskogee County, Oklahoma. Frank's old stomping grounds! I get to see where Frank practiced his trombone for marching band! I'm not making that up!

Friday, May 24- Frank Family stuff. You're not invited.

Saturday, May 25 Passion Play in Eureka Springs, Arkansas! EVERYBODY SHOULD COME TO THIS WITH US! Seriously, if you live anywhere even remotely close to Eureka Springs (and remember, compared to, say, Poland, most American locations are pretty close), you need to join us for this event! Then, we'll go find a place nearby that serves alcohol. Lot's of alcohol. So help me if Eureka Springs turns out to be in a "dry County", I'll know FOR SURE that there's no god.

Sunday, May 26– Party in Bonner Springs, Kansas! We'll send you a full report.

Monday, May 27– Stop in Topeka (home of those nice Westboro Baptists), do some stuff, have lunch, and then put the pedal to the metal, and get our asses home!

KABAM!

So that's it. That's where we'll be and a lot of what we'll be doing! If you want to be a part of it, hit us up! If you're in one of these fine towns, let us know, and we'll try to announce where we'll be, so y'all can join in the festivities. See you soon!

Travel Itinerary for our Bible Belt Tour

Frank and Dan are hitting the road starting May 13 through May 27, and we’d love to meet as many of you along the way as possible. Please let us know if you’d like to meet up.

Mon, May 13 – en route to Dallas from Salt Lake

Tue, May 14 – DALLAS

Wed, May 15 – AUSTIN

Thu, May 16 – HOUSTON

Fri, May 17 – NEW ORLEANS

Sat, May 18 – MONTGOMERY

Sun, May 19 – ATLANTA

Mon, May 20 – MURFREESBORO, TN

Tue, May 21 – MEMPHIS

Wed, May 22 – CLARKSDALE, MS

Thu, May 23 – EUREKA SPRINGS, AR

Fri, May 24 & Sat, May 25 – MUSKOGEE COUNTY, OK

Sun, May 26 – TULSA

Mon, May 27 – TOPEKA

 

It is unlikely that these dates and stops will change, but please let us know if you think they should!

Look Out, Bible Belt- Here Come The Atheists!

Well, y'all, we're doing it! This Spring, Frank and I will be touring this fair Country of ours. Well, we'll be touring part of the Country. The batshit crazy part.

That's right… cue up the banjos, 'cause TGIA is going to the South!

I made the South purple, because every other pic that represents the bible belt makes it red, and then it looks like America just has a rash down there... 
 Mmmm, so Bible-y!

Here's the thing: we don't know what to see! We've both been to the South a bit, but neither of us is overly familiar with the area as a whole (Frank used to live in Oklahoma, of course, but that's a small part of a very big zone). So we need your help!

What we're looking for is the kinda stuff we talk about on the show. Creationist museums, nutty Christian revivals, besieged Mosques, world's largest crucifix…. Anything odd, surreal, or otherwise of interest. Or really good roller coasters. You know… whatever.

Also… YOU! We wanna meet you, our faithful (ha!) listeners! So, with that said:

  • Live in the South? Convince us that your city/town/area is worth making the stop. What's happening out in your neck of the woods that makes your hometown awesome/terrifying/hilarious?
  • Been to the South? Tell us about your not-to-be-missed experiences.
  • Read about something cool? Pass it along!
  • Know nothing about the South? Keep your filthy trap shut!

You can comment here, or email us at podcast [at] thankgodimatheist [dot] com, or click here to find us on the Facebook (and "like" us, while you're at it!).

See you soon!

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?

The Curious Case of Josh Weed the Ho-Mo

HA! Ho-Mo! As in Homosexual Mormon, get it? I thought of that. You can use it, though.

Anywhey, Frank and I have had many conversations on our podcast about homosexuality, and even more about Mormonism, and so it was inevitable that I would at some point bring up my dear friend who knew he was gay (like, totally accepted it without reservation), but was completely devoted to his faith and got married to a woman, who also knew he was gay. And they're fine. Well adjusted, happy, and totally fine.

So, I did bring him up. Last week, as a matter of fact. I didn't use his or his wife's names, and I was EXTREMELY careful not to give any clues that might hint at who they were. I just talked about their situation. Then this week, wonder of wonders, they came out of the closet! On vacation for their 10th wedding anniversary, they posted a fantastic post on his blog all about their marriage and his sexuality. You should click here and read it. Many times.

Well, that shit went viral. Like, front page of Gawker viral. Suddenly, I'm seeing opinions about my dear friend popping up all over my Facebook feed, from friends all over the Country

I totally used this pic without permission. 
Cute couple, no?

who have no idea who he is. Who he is, by the way, is Josh Weed– a brilliant, kind, fantastic human being, who is in the process of completely screwing with everybody's formerly happy and neatly compartmentalized notions of sexuality, intimacy, marriage, and love.

So there it is. A gay guy and a straight woman. Married. A story I've seen dozens of times. A story that happens way-too-frequently in the Mormon community. And yet… not. The thing about Josh and Lolly is that I totally buy it. Unlike literally EVERY INSTANCE OF THIS I'VE EVER ENCOUNTERED BEFORE, I believe in this (Did you read their blog post? Their shit's legit, right?). 

Here's where their thing and everybody else's thing completely differ: they are WAY smarter in their approach to the scenario, and (perhaps out of necessity), they are vigilant about attacking this thing with open-eyed awareness and a dogged commitment not only to each other, but to mindfulness and honesty (it doesn't hurt that he has a Master's degree in marriage and family therapy). It's a way of living in a relationship that few couples, gay, straight or otherwise, have any capacity for. But they do. And it works.

So what will be the impact of this bombshell? Well, I'm of two totally different minds on this.

On one hand, I think this post will actually have a very positive influence on Mormon culture (and eventually doctrine) when it comes to sexuality. This post is so well written, and the story is so honest that Mormons who have persisted in closing their eyes to the reality of homosexuality will finally have a digestible way of understanding that sexual orientation is not about choice, but a fact of every person's life. Because Josh lives a lifestyle that they find acceptable, and is so devout in his religious belief, his words carry far more weight than all those corrupt social and biological scientists out there. That's good. Once Mormons accept that sexuality is not a choice, they'll be a long way toward more reality-based opinions on the subject (and a lot more sympathetic toward their gay brothers and sisters).

On the other hand, as much as I appreciate how this makes the discussion of sexuality and marriage richer, I think this post of his is going to have a disastrous impact on a few lives. Intellectually, I think the Weeds have done a great job of presenting a model for a totally new and potentially viable alternative lifestyle. Practically, however, I worry. I know how Mormon/religious minds tend to work. Logical reasoning works backward- they start with a conclusion, and then bend the evidence to support that conclusion. And the conclusion Mormons start with is that being gay is wrong, and being married is right. That means that many (certainly not all) Mormons will see this and think this is an option for them. Well, for most of them it just isn't. And attempting it will end in tears. Families will be shredded.

I gotta give props to Josh , who goes out of his way to say things like this:

I want to make it very clear that while I have found a path that brings me profound joy and that is the right path for me, I don’t endorse this as the only path for somebody who is gay and religious. I will never, ever judge somebody else’s path as being “incorrect” and I know many people who have chosen different paths than myself.

He is under no delusions that this path will work for everybody. But I would venture to say that that's not going to be the takeaway for most Mormons. I think most Mormons are so woefully undereducated in matters of sexuality (in many cases purposefully so), that they will have no context from which to understand this. They will see a gay man happily married to a woman, and think they have all the evidence they need to prove that their gay son can pull it off too if he prays enough. Or that their lesbian sister has no excuse to continue sinning when it's so clear that you can be happily married in a straight marriage. Or that they themselves can be totally fine marrying their "best friend", and just not worrying about the fact that all they can think about is how hot that Abercrombie model is.

I just don't think that's realistic. In almost all cases, a successful partnership that includes sex must start with at least a mutual sexual attraction. Sex is so fundamental to marriage, that without that initial attraction, most relationships are doomed from the beginning. To overcome that is an exercise that only the most emotionally adept, the truly exceptional, should ever attempt. All others need not apply. These are professionals– DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!

So… these are my initial responses. Frank and I will chat about it on our next episode, and I'm sure we'll come up with more fascinating points ("More? Where were the first ones?"). And, for the sake of fairness, I think I'll give Josh an opportunity to respond to this. He won't, of course- he's a big shot now. He's weighing which major network shows to go on, he doesn't have time for nonsense like this. But I'll give him the chance, anyway.