The Trouble with Miracles

I was thinking today about healthcare. And Jesus. And miracles.  Here's what I came up with: miracles are nothing but dangerous!  They don't help. They only hurt.

"But miracles are so much fun," you might say, "how could they possibly be bad?"  Well, hypothetical reader, I'll tell you.  The real trouble with miracles is that, aphorisms to the contrary, they don't happen every day.  They certainly don't happen to everyone. The promise, however, is that everyone could have a miracle, if they live good enough lives and their mercurial god happens to be in a miracle-type mood that day.

 
 But they're praying so hard…

Therein lies the problem: if folks think that a miracle can happen to them, especially if they think that all they need to do is have enough faith to make it happen, they start acting accordingly- and getting screwed!!! They take what they read about in the bible as true (always a problem), and they think that if some chick can be healed of her leprosy or whatever just by touching the hem of Jesus' garment, surely Jesus can cure their cancer.  The problem is, how do I show Jesus that I have enough faith to earn my own healing?

I could pray every day and read the scriptures… but my grandma did that, and the lord saw fit to kick her ass. I could ask my congregation to pray for me, but we all prayed for sweet sister so-and-so, and she died a painful, horrible death. How do I show Jesus that I have faith in his healing power?  Well, if I'm trying to show faith, what kind of message is it sending that I'm actually letting the doctors try to treat me? As long as I'm going to doctors, Jesus is going to think that I don't fully believe he'll heal me… My chemo is killing my miracle!!!

So, the truly faithful stop treatment, believe in the lord, and die. Or they trust the lord will save them from the jaws of a wild animal and they pray rather than learning and utilizing appropriate wild animal evasive maneuvers. Or, and this is one of my favorites, they stop to pray instead of taking emergency action.

The real shit of it is that every once in a blue moon, somebody does something they shouldn't, and it works out well.  And of course, while hundreds of morons the world over are dying and getting horribly sick because they think Jesus is more reliable than the hospital, what gets publicity? That one "miraculous" recovery.  So the whole ridiculous process propagates itself, and a new generation of miracle seekers is born. 

But hang on a tic- if people are stupid enough to think that prayer will keep them alive, and it kills them, perhaps it's just a Darwinian means of thinning the weak-minded out of the gene pool! I'm going at this all wrong… by pointing this out, I'm slowing human evolutionary progress… I should be encouraging people to let god heal them!

The new official ThankGodImAtheist stance of faith-healing: If you think there is the remotest chance that Jesus will cure you- stop all other treatments immediately, and take to praying! Blessed be. Amen.

The Devil Made Me Do It!

It was quite some time ago that I realized that god was just a construct invented by humans to explain phenomena that were too scary to leave mysterious.  At that time, I came to realize that all the inner feelings I had ascribed to god and the holy ghost and "the spirit" and all that hoodoo were just my psyche trying to reconcile the fairytales I had been brought up with and my teenage need for a greater meaning in life with reality.  Just as thousands of folks do every day, I asked my brain to believe something for which there was no evidence other than what somone wrote a couple of thousand years ago, or what grown-ups I trusted believed.

The result was a Denny's-style brain-skillet thought-scramble of such epically confusing proportions that I ended up alternately feeling filled with high-exalted holy glory (spiritual

 
 Mmmmm, spirit-y…

Moons over my Hammy, if you will) and desperately alone and ashamed (having gone out on a spirit-killing metaphorical bender, getting hammered, and showing up at the sanctified 24-hour restaurant with a chick I met at the club only to be denied entrance there for figuratively vomiting into the symbolic flower-beds just outside the doors).  I was messed-up. 

Since that time, I've spent many an hour contemplating the psychological origins of theistic belief.  What needs are fulfilled by inviting magic people into one's life? Can one really be comforted by a relationship with someone who only answers back in ways that could always be explained by other means? 

Anyhoo- I had an interesting revelation the other day. I realized how emotionally/ psychologically convenient a belief in the other guy is!  The devil is possibly even more useful than god!  Here's my thinking: I (and I assume others) find myself acting against my own best interest on a semi-regular basis. As a non-believer, I have to take responsibility for that. That sucks.

If I could believe in the devil, I could divest myself of a good deal of that responsibility. "Damn that Satan," I could say, "he tempted me again! He's so damned clever! I sure wish he'd stop tempting me…" Then I promise myself that I'll catch him in the act and resist next time.  He's like the easiest out ever! (If you want to see how attatched people are to their devil, check out the episode of This American Life about reverend Carlton Pearson- it will blow your mind!)

The best part is that my believer friends use this excuse for me.  The reason I forsook god and gave up church- the devil made me do it. Thanks, devil!

 

Glenn Beck Explained

Around the Country, and on pretty much every comedy talk show out there, if someone’s talking about Fox News douchebag Glenn Beck, they’re talking about the extremely uncomfortable moment on a recent show where he started to cry.  It was all over the place. If you haven’t seen it, here’s Jon Stewart playing a clip of Glenn, and then of the extremely weasly looking Shepard Smith (from his own damn network) making fun of him:

[Note: Hulu took down the original video I had displayed here. This is Mr. Beck’s stuff without Mr. Smith’s Mockery]

When I saw this, I realized immediately that I had insight into this event that most of the country doesn’t have, and that I needed to share.

Here’s the deal: Mr Beck is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, aka LDS, aka the Mormons, aka the nutty bunch I grew up with.  “What does a man’s religious affiliation have to do with him acting like a fourteen year old girl on TV?” you might ask.  Well, if he’s Mormon, quite a bit.

Y’see, what most of the Country doesn’t realize is that Glenny-boy was doing something that happens regularly at his church.  Mr Beck was “bearing his testimony”.   This is a monthly ritual for the Mormons where their normal “Sacrament meeting” is converted to “Testimony meeting”. On the first Sunday of each month, members of the congregation stand before their fellow believers, and affirm to all that they actually believe the nonsense that’s preached there every week, and that. . . sniff. . . they know that God loves them. . . sniff sniff. . . and they know that the church is true. . . sniff, weepy chuckle- I’m sorry awkward smile, chuckle, sniff. . . and that they are so grateful for the gospel. . . lip-tremble, sniff. . . and they love their Country so much. . . wipe eyes. . . and they fear for it. . . .

he knows his colors, too!
 Glenn Beck- in touch with at least four emotions!

Sound familiar?   In many Mormon churches (though not all, strangely), it is not uncommon for grown men who have never shown more than three emotions at home to their kids (apathy, annoyance, and “pleased with your performance in sports”) to break down completely in front of everybody.  In that context, not only is this behavior acceptable, it’s downright applauded.

You gotta understand, Mormons can get pretty competitive, and crying is a damned good way of proving how good you are at being Mormon.  It says “I love Jesus way more than that guy who bore his testimony and didn’t cry!”

Don’t get me wrong- I’m not a complete cynic.  It’s not that I think these guys are consciously thinking about this stuff when they turn on the water works.  That would require me to believe that they are capable of conscious thought.  Nor do I think it’s always bad for men to cry (is there a man alive who can get through The Joy Luck Club dry-eyed?). No, I just think that Mormon men (or MorMen) have found a place where it’s socially acceptable to cry in public, and since their lives are pretty devoid of any kind of fulfillment or meaning, they’ll take whatever chance they can get to let it out. In the case of Brother Beck, I think he thought that he’d get the same cachet out of crying on air that he gets at church, so he let it fly.

Did his gamble pay off? Who knows. I have no idea how the poor saps who actually watch his drivel responded to his outpouring of emotion. What I do know is that Glenn Beck is a weepy ass-hat, and I think he and his kind do nothing but hurt America with their bigotry, and their negativism, and their. . . sniff. . . fear-mongering.  I think he represents so much of what is wrong with journalism and . . . sniffle, sniff. . . political discussion in our Country, and. . . tremble. . . I just love this Country so much and. . . and. . . AAAAAAAGGHHHH HUH HUH HUH. . . sniff. . . sob. . .

TGIA Tackles Abortion

Oh abortion... who don't you piss off?So I was reading up on the social/political positions of various churches this morning and was forced to think about my own position on several issues.  One issue that they all seem to be totally hung up on is abortion. I tell you they’re positively obsessed with it. I guess you probably knew that…

Here’s the thing [brace yourselves]: when it comes to abortion, I sympathize with the believers who feel so strongly about the issue.  To be clear, I do not share the view that many believers hold on the topic. That is to say, I don’t believe that abortion is tantamount to murder.  But I gotta say, I get where they’re coming from.  The fact is that there is no clear and obvious philosophy to turn to on the matter.

When we’re honest with ourselves, there’s no definitive way to determine when “life” or “humanness” begins- when a bun in someone’s oven switches from collection of slightly specified cells to murderable human. Morally, it’s just a question with no perfect answer.

That doesn’t prevent fanatics on both sides of the issue from declaring (loudly) (and often rudely) that they have the answer, and anyone who disagrees is morally bankrupt.  The anti-abortionites are adament that life begins at ejaculation (or whatever) and the pro-murderites are adament that life begins somewhere around toddlerdom. If I’m totally honest with myself, I’m not entirely clear where I stand on the matter, but I can tell you that I feel my life didn’t truly begin until I discovered coffee…

 They’re right- dead babies would make horrible presidents.

The fact of the matter is that there is no common ground to be found here, and, again, I sympathize with the worries of the believers. They think murders are taking place- what are they supposed to do, sit idly by?  It’s not like they’re out picketing because they’re worried about rampant state-condoned serial jaywalking…  And I’m sorry, progressives, this is much more than simply an issue of a woman’s right to choose what to do with her body. We’re not talking about whether or not it’s ok to get a boob job. As tempting as it is to use the conservatives’ trick of “framing” the issue in terms that suit our purposes but pretend that there is no other way of seeing it, it’s just not that simple. Whether or not we agree with it, we have to acknowledge that the position that a fetus is a human life worthy of protection is a logically viable position. It’s a tricky issue. That’s all there is to it.

So, considering the intractable nature of the issue, the question becomes what guidelines do we use to create public policy? There can really be only one answer and it is this: it doesn’t matter what your personal beliefs are.  I don’t give a flying fart if Jesus came to you personally with a choir of dead fetus spirits singing in the background declaring abortion the worst thing in the world. Until he visits the rest of us and we all (or at least a dominating majority of us) agree, the correct course of action is to keep it legal. I know, believers: that sounds unfair.  It’s not.

 
 Horrible side-effects: abortion causes beards!

If abortion is legal, then those who believe an aborted baby is Satan’s party hat can still choose not to do it, and those who feel that a fetus is less a human and more the moral equivalent of a houseplant or small woodland creature and are therefore fine with killing them, can do so.  Sorry, believers, but it’s really the only honest political solution.  If it is not absolutely clear (and it certainly is not) where the moral lines are to be drawn, and there is roughly equal support for both sides of the issue, then society must call a draw and allow the individual to make the choice for herself. End of discussion.

Despair not, however, oh sad believer- there is a chance for you to stop abortions without employing explosives! There is even a way to get it outlawed completely and still honor the ideals of democracy: simply convince your fellow countrymen that your position is correct. Do that, and you win! That’s how pluralistic society works.

So there are your marching orders anti-abortionists: forget politics and stop trying to get laws passed for a while- that’s putting the cart way before the horse. Your first job is to convince the citizenry that you’re right. Try to win their hearts and minds. Work on that for the next century or so, and then, when you realize that you’ve gotten nowhere and we’re all in the same position we were in when you started, please… I beg you… shut the hell up.

Mormon Jesus

Ok, so having grown up mormon, there are a lot of concepts that always seemed pretty normal to me, but come across a little out there to “gentiles” (yes, mormons call non-mormons gentiles- you should hear some of the other ways they appropriate jewish culture!).  What still strikes me as funny, though, is how up in arms a lot of fundamentalists get about mormons.  The truth is that dogmatically, they all believe the same stuff.  There are some details that differ, but they’re all supposed to live by basically the same rules.

That’s what’s so odd about the fundie response to “mormon Jesus”. It’s the same guy.  They all believe in those nutty stories about him in the Bible, it’s just that the mo’s add some wacky details to liven him up.  They don’t change the message in any appreciable way, but MAN- to hear them born-agains talk, you’d think the mo’s had said the man was black!  They get OUTRAGED!

So outraged, in fact, that they spend their hard-earned money and precious time making animated films about how wrong the mo’s are.  Fortunately, then somebody spends his precious time turning that animated film into this:

God bless ’em!

I’m so BLESSED!

I was just reading an evangelical believer's blog (I'll spare you the link, though they are a dime a dozen so you can find one if you really wanna…) and HOO BOY!  With all the pressure they put on themselves and each other to get out there and "witness" to the rest of us, all I have to say is this:  I thank god, Jesus, the holy ghost and the spirit of Jerry Falwell that I don't live in the South! 

PRAISED BE!

Pat Robertson Knows EVERYTHING!

So I was just checking out the web page for Saint Patrick Robertson’s 700 club, and was startled by what I saw.  I knew Pat was a self-proclaimed expert on religion and politics, but I had no idea how deep his well goes!

Pat bling

Here’s just a sampling of topics he feels comfortable covering in his “Bring It On” Q&A section:

“Should I let my daughter’s boyfriend move in?” [No suprise here (I wonder what he’s going to say???).]

“Is it biblical to get artificial insemination?” [More interresting, but again, no suprise.]

“How can I control my appitite?” “How can I exercise at home?” [He’s like the fundamentalist Richard Simmons!]

“Can collecting unemployment hurt your financial record?” [And while we’re at it, does Jesus take heaven points away for credit scores below 550?]

“Have large countries like China been holding strong financially?” [Keep buying Pat’s DVDs at WalMart- China’s going to be juuuuust fine.]

“I tend to go for ice cream and chocolate as my comfort foods. Have any healthier suggestions?” [Try Pat’s favorite morning pick-me-up: a Metamucil-cocaine smoothie! It’s delicious, and will give you the energy to hate bad people all day long!]

“I want to maximize my workout on the treadmill. Should I increase the time or increase the incline?”  [Who cares? When the rapture comes, Jesus will make us all skinny!]

“If Jesus said ‘by my stripes, you were healed,’ why do we as Christians still have afflictions?”  [I think that’s obvious- anyone who ever gets sick clearly isn’t christian enough. Illness: proof that you’re faith sucks.]

The man’s a damned oracle!

Faith and the Human Brain…

So, when I was first exploring life without god, I realized that it wasn't just god I was giving up.  I was also giving up a religion and all the trappings that went along with it.  I was suddenly on my own when it came to determining right and wrong, good and bad, etc.  I was forced to come up with my own morality.  At the time, this scared me.  I've since realized that this terrifies believers.

Many of the good believers out there will tell you that without god, there is no morality. Anything goes.  Once you start down that "slippery slope" (they LOVE talking about slippery slopes!), the next thing you know, you're murdering for fun and having sex with animals.  [Side note: Have you noticed that all the christians' slippery slopes end in animal sex? "If we allow gay marriage, next thing you know people will want to marry their poodles, and pretty soon all our pets will all have bloody anuses!" If you're wondering why, it's because that's exactly what a lot of them would do if they didn't have Jesus.]

As it turns out, developing a personal morality isn't difficult.  It ends up mostly just being about treating others respectfully and not doing anything that would unduly hurt anyone else.  Day to day philosophical morality is actually a lot simpler than all the nutty rules the believers have. There's no need, for example, to worry about whether or not it's sinful to eat shellfish anymore (not that I ever met a christian who did worry about that, despite the bible's proclamation that it's sinful).  All you've got to do is balance your desires with thoughts of harms you may do to others, and go from there. Easy, really.

The problem with getting your morality from a source other than deep thought and inward reflection (like, say, a two thousand year old book) is that you end up with no personal connection to the rules you subscribe to.  You know you're not supposed to do something, and you believe that you'll be punished if you do it, so you stay clear. It's a child's view of wrong and right.

That's all well and good, but it means that if you're confronted with an alternative point of view, you can't effectively argue your position.  You're stuck saying "the bible says so, and that's all I need to know" regardless of how patently stupid or untenable your position is. Or- and this is worse- you wait for some "leader" like Pat Roberston or the pope or Limbaugh or somebody to come up with an argument for you. Now, you have no personal connection to your position or the outrageously fallacious argument you're using to support it.

Belief left unscrutinized is meaningless.

Faith makes people stupid.

What is an atheist?

This is the question that has launched innumerable intensely boring screeds across the world wide web.  Most end up being one of two things: The first is an overly long and mildly apologetic article attempting a desperate neutrality of tone which explains the rich history of non-theistic belief and why atheism won’t hurt anybody.  Written by an atheist, this article is quick to point out all the very nice and influential atheists the author can find, and is very respectful in its treatment of alternate points of view.

This is a man
Fig.1 — This is a man.

The second type is the somewhat snooty believer’s attempt to simultaneously explain and subtly belittle atheists. This is usually accomplished by talking about the “different types of atheists”.  They divide atheists into two or three groups, each one clearly flawed in some way or other. Each of the groups is explained in terms that only barely mask the author’s exasperation that anyone would believe this crap, and usually at the end of the page somewhere you’ll find a harmless looking link offering more “information” about atheists which will direct you to a list of reasons why the bible is way more logical than anything science can come up with.

All these articles are good for a little bit of a laugh (provided they’re not too long), but none really hit the mark for our taste.  That’s why we’ve decided that, since we’re doing an atheist website here and everything, we’d better make it clear what we mean when we use the term.  Here, then, is a glossary of terminology that we’re sure will make frequent appearances on this site (in quasi-alphabetical order):

Glossary of Religious Terms 

 

 

Glossary of Religious Terms

Atheist
noun
1.    A rational, active thinker who has examined whether or not it actually seems likely that a god or gods exist, and has come to the only logical conclusion.
2.    A person who has had the good fortune of having been raised without indoctrination into an irrational and baseless belief system.
3.    Someone of a theistic background with an interest in really pissing off his or her parents.

Agnostic
noun
1.    An atheist who can’t quite shake the fear in the back of their mind that Jesus or Allah may still be able to get them.
2.    A fence-sitter who wants to please everybody, but ends up just equally annoying all sides.

Believer
noun
1.    A person who believes in magical beings or supernatural powers for which there is no evidence and which usually claim benevolence, but end up being pretty shitty a good deal of the time.
2.    Someone who subjugates their own powers of logic and reason in order to be included in a community of equally gullible peers.  Characterized by a willingness to believe or do anything they’re told by a single man or small group of men who claim (without offering any evidence) that god communicates to them directly.
3.    A member of any of a number of groups who commit frequent acts of horrible injustice and often violence in the name of a just and peace-loving deity.

Bible [see also: Qur’an]
crazy noun
1.    A compilation of stories (frequently impossible) purported to be the history of ancient people in the middle east.
2.    A confusing mishmash of parables and dogma which often contradicts itself and makes it very clear that life in ancient times really sucked.
3.    A book frequently cited by believers in support of the hatred and/or persecution of anyone who is different in belief or situation.

Buddhist (Asian)
noun
1.    A subscriber to the teachings of the Buddha; a man of Indian descent who looks like a fat Chinese guy.
2.    Someone who tries to stave off the boredom and tedium of daily life by tricking his or herself into thinking that mundane things are interesting.

Buddhist (American)
lame noun
1.    Someone who realized that the Christianity they were raised with was bullshit, but was too used to somebody else telling them how to live and how to think to just quit religion cold turkey.
2.    Someone who likes to seem “deep” and “spiritual”, but who doesn’t really care for yoga.
3.    A person who really likes the feeling they get when they’re on a mountaintop or in a forest, but wants it to mean more than it actually does.

Catholic
noun
1.    A believer who puts no pressure on his or herself to actually act in any way that would indicate their belief.  Except on Christmas and Easter.
2.    [Archaic] Any participant in or subject of a Western European political structure, characterized by protracted and extremely violent campaigns to bring others into their belief system and then take their stuff.

Fundamentalist
scary noun
1.    A believer who refuses to acknowledge that any truth exists outside of their uneducated back-woods understanding.
2.    A person incapable of venturing into the realm of free or open thought.  
3.    Someone too crazy or stupid to see any contradiction between their desire to do violence to those unlike them and their desperately held belief in a god who insists on peace and love.

God
fictional noun
1.    A magic person, usually male, who lives in the sky and grants occasional wishes to those who are extra special good.
2.    The infallible creator of all things who sometimes destroys a bunch of what he created because he doesn’t like how it’s going.
3.    The least likely explanation for why we’re here, where we’re going, and what rainbows are made of.

Hinduism
noun
1.    A belief system that involves worshiping men with elephant heads and a chick with six arms and possibly cows… who really knows?  Anyway, they’re in India.

Qur’an [see also: Bible]
crazy noun
1.    A book similar to the Bible but which differs in that the hero is named Muhammad instead of Jesus, and it has a different dress code.

Zod
noun
1.    Head bad guy on Superman II who, when he realizes that on Earth he has powers comparable to Superman's, develops a god-complex.  Following christian architypes, he would be the satan character, but he's way cooler.  Also the only entry I could think of off the top of my head for the letter z.