Friday, November 30, 2012

Conservative arrogance

I got this as a forwarded email from a highly conservative family member today:
Do conservatives really believe that the country would fall apart without them? The level of arrogance and egotism here is truly breathtaking.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

God plays the lottery

Here's an article about people praying to win the lottery. There's a long discussion about whether this is "right" or not, but the article ignores the main issue-- if millions of people pray to win the lottery, but only one wins (or rather two), then there's no real efficacy in praying, is there?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Rick Warren on gay marriage

Evangelical Rick Warren on gay marriage (video at link): "I have all kinds of natural feelings in my life, and it doesn't necessarily mean that I should act on every feeling.... Just because I have a feeling doesn't make it right."

He uses this as an analogy: "Sometimes... I feel attracted to women who are not my wife. I don't act on... just because I have a feeling doesn't make it right. Not everything natural is good for me."

Not exactly the same thing, is it? As a heterosexual, he's allowed to fall in love and find a significant other and marry. He can have that important human connection in his life without people telling him he's a sinner. Sure, by his lights he's not allowed to sleep around, but he has bonded deeply with another person and formed a family group. He has intimacy in his life, and can enjoy it without feeling guilt.

What he's saying is that gay people aren't sinning if they're attracted to others of the same sex, but only if they act on those attractions. (He's apparently ignorant of Jesus' own words: You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.) Effectively, what this means is that in order not to "sin" by Warren's rules, gay people must go through life not just celibate, but without ever making any sort of deep intimate connection with another person. They must go through life alone.

Personally, I'd prefer to live in a world where people could find significant others and form family groups and live the way they want to without being told that they're sinners for doing so.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

"Conversion therapy does not work"

Two men from orthodox Jewish families have filed suit against a gay conversion therapy center called JONAH, Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, which was supposed to help gays "struggling with unwanted same-sex sexual attractions." It's a consumer fraud lawsuit, alleging that it increased the risk of "depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior," while providing no benefits. The descriptions of the "therapy" involved are really quite horrific. When one of the young men quit, the counselor warned him that he would "lead a life of unhappiness in that unhealthy lifestyle," which is ironic considering how awful the therapy sounds.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Surrender to your femininity (and become June Cleaver)

Here's an absurd feminism-bashing opinion piece from Fox News. Feminism, it posits, is good for men but bad for women, because while it allows men access to free sex (which is somehow not a benefit for women), it harms women by leaving them "saddled with the consequences of sex" and unable to find a man to marry. Men, you see, are justifiably angry with women because they're not women any more.

From the article: "...the so-called rise of women has not threatened men. It has pissed them off. It has also undermined their ability to become self-sufficient in the hopes of someday supporting a family. Men want to love women, not compete with them. They want to provide for and protect their families – it’s in their DNA. But modern women won’t let them."

Uh-huh. Of course. When I look around, I never see guys in the workplace any more *rolls eyes*. Have men all been replaced by female workers while I wasn't looking? Or is the point more that men are threatened (or rather "pissed off") when their wives work, and would like their wives to stay at home and become June Cleaver?

The article ends with this absurd statement: "Fortunately, there is good news: women have the power to turn everything around. All they have to do is surrender to their nature – their femininity – and let men surrender to theirs.

"If they do, marriageable men will come out of the woodwork."

It isn't clear exactly what we have to do to surrender to "nature" and "femininity," but I'm thinking June Cleaver (or possibly the Stepford Wives) again. Whatever the point may be, I can safely say I wouldn't be interested in a guy who thinks that feminism and the equal treatment of women are some sort of problem. It's no skin off my nose if those guys don't want to get married-- who wants them anyway? What the author of the article fails to understand is that there's a reason those guys crawled into the woodwork to begin with.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Porn is just a substitute for God

This article both amused and annoyed me. Full disclosure: This kind of thing tends to get my back up because I'm a writer of erotic romance (better written than 50 Shades, in my humble opinion, but alas, with slightly fewer sales:-). I admit I'm not a 50 Shades fan, but more because I don't care for the submissive young woman angle than because I have any objection to sexytimes.

The basic premise of the article is that when we read erotica, we're not really looking for sexual titillation, but rather a closer relationship with God. The author says, "We are both spiritual and sexual beings. And behind every sexual longing, I believe there’s an even deeper spiritual longing." She also cites familiar fundamentalist ideas: "... when we divorce physical pleasure from emotional connection, such as when we selfishly strive for orgasm through pornography, masturbation or illicit sexual encounters rather than cultivating sexual ecstasy with our marriage partner, sexual ecstasy is only 'half-baked.'" She states that she doesn't believe fantasy is evil, but the use of the word "selfish" clearly indicates that she wants to steer people away from reading erotica.  Perhaps it's not evil, but she obviously thinks it's wrong.

Are humans really "both spiritual and sexual beings"? Or are we simply evolved to enjoy sex because otherwise we wouldn't reproduce? If the latter is the case, then maybe we should learn not to think of erotica and masturbation as "selfish" and sinful, but simply as pleasant and natural human interests.

I admit to feeling dismay that this person describes herself as an "advocate for healthy sexuality and spirituality." I really dislike "experts" who go around telling people that masturbation and erotica are "selfish" and wrong, and that the only true path to sexual fulfillment is via marriage (and probably only the heterosexual variety, at that). Making people feel guilty about their normal sexual impulses leads to all sorts of bad outcomes, and in my view is far worse than reading erotica and enjoying it. "Healthy sexuality" includes masturbation, pornography, erotica, and all sorts of other things that would probably make this woman's hair curl.

In any event, when I write an erotic romance, I really don't believe I'm sublimating a desire to grow closer to a nonexistent deity. I write about sex because I like sex. I imagine my readers read my books because they like sex. There is nothing wrong or selfish with this, and it doesn't show a deeper longing for "spiritual" contact. It simply means that humans like sex, just as they are evolved to do.

Friday, November 23, 2012

God made her do it

God moves in mysterious ways... sometimes at 100 miles an hour. A Florida woman stopped for going 100 mph in a 30-mile-an-hour zone explained herself to the cops this way:

"...she was speeding 'because I was letting the Lord spirit guide me,' according to a police report. She attributed her lengthy horn blowing to 'the Lord telling me to do it.'"

She also struck two vehicles while evading the cops, which one supposes was also the Lord God's will. For some reason, the authorities failed to accept the testimony of the Holy Spirit, and charged her with reckless driving anyway.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The War on Charlie Brown Christmas

Here's the usual War-on-Christmas stuff from Fox News: Students at a Little Rock, Arkansas public school were invited to a performance of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" at a local church (and by invited, I mean notes were sent home from the school, and a school bus was to shuttle kids to and from the performance). Parents could opt out and students were not required to attend, but "at least one parent objected to the field trip and contacted the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers, a self-described community of atheists, agnostics and humanists."

The article describes this as "a constitutional controversy." It is unclear from this article, however, what the Arkansas Society has done to spark a "controversy" besides posting about it on their Facebook page and talking to the local TV station (which you'd think conservatives would applaud, since they're supposedly such big supporters of free speech), and in fact the school system says there is no controversy. Perhaps the Arkansas Society is threatening to sue, but this is not stated in the article.

There are the usual complaints in the comments ("atheist(s) LOVE to ruin Christmas for everyone, especially kids," "Christmas is Christian holiday. If you don't like it get your own," and so forth and so on). But come on. Pretty much anyone who's ever lived in America for more than a couple of years is aware that "A Charlie Brown Christmas" has a heavy-handed Christian message. By treating it as a field trip and using school buses to shuttle the kids back and forth, the school system is in fact giving the appearance of promoting Christianity. And the school system knows they shouldn't do that; the communications director for the school system was quoted as saying "the school district does not 'promote or encourage students to support any religious affiliation.'"

No one is saying that parents shouldn't be allowed to let their kids watch "A Charlie Brown Christmas" on TV a thousand times, or that the church shouldn't be allowed to give the performance. They're simply pointing out the school should not appear to promote a performance with a strong religious message.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Case in point: a "historical" display

In my last post, I talked about how difficult it was to differentiate a truly "historical" monument from the argument, "We've been doing it this way for years! Waaaah!" Fox News illustrates by bashing atheists for asking that there not be a "14-scene Christian diorama" set up by churches in a public park-- something that seems pretty egregiously unconstitutional to me, but which is being defended for this reason: "It's a sad, sad commentary on the attitudes of the day that a nearly 60-year-old Christmas tradition is now having to hunt for a home, something like our savior had to hunt for a place to be born because the world was not interested."

Uh-huh. That's sad. Very sad. Why don't the churches involved simply use their own land? No one is saying they can't. Of course they can. So what's the big deal? Presumably because it's a "60-year-old tradition," atheists just need to sit down and shut up. Who cares if it's constitutional? It's tradition!

This particular debate has been covered extensively on Friendly Atheist. Basically what it seems to boil down to is that the city tried to do the right thing by offering a lottery. Atheists won most of the slots, and used their spaces to put up (what I personally think were obnoxiously in-your-face) anti-religious displays. Most of the displays were vandalized, and an uproar ensued. The city has tried to avoid the entire issue, quite sensibly, by stopping this tradition-- which, not incidentally, has earned Santa Monica the title "the City of the Christmas Story."

The article goes on to say, "The Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee argues in its lawsuit that atheists have the right to protest, but that freedom doesn't trump the Christians' right to free speech." Perhaps, but if the city has to go back to allowing nativity scenes, I hope they'll also be compelled to put up other displays-- and that atheists will try a little harder to produce more serious and less antagonistic displays.

It's worth noting, however, that Fox News engages in rather typical wild-eyed rhetoric by suggesting atheists are "push(ing) Christmas out of the city of Santa Monica" in the first paragraph, as if when the city decided not to allow these religious displays in a public park, they had banned Christmas entirely. Look out, citizens of Santa Monica! Those wicked atheists will be coming for your Christmas trees and your wreaths next!

ETA: When Friendly Atheist picked this up, he linked to the very same story in the Washington Post. It's an AP story, so any slant can't be blamed on Fox News. It's sad when I can't tell AP reporting from Fox News reporting.

Friday, November 16, 2012

More on historical crosses

A commenter who identifies himself as a Riverside atheist who supported keeping the cross commented on the situation over at the Friendly Atheist blog:

"Mt. Rubidoux was originally owned by Riverside Pioneer Frank Miller, he built the cross as a monument to Father Serra who was a very important person in early California history.  President Taft commemorated the Serra Monument in 1909.  Frank Miller and the Miller family owned Mt. Rubidoux until the 1955 when he gifted it to the City of Riverside as a park with a 30 year condition that the Cross remain in place...  

"As an atheist I see the Serra Monument in a proper historical context and can observe that this was important to many of the early settlers of my community even if I no longer believe in the religion which they did.   There are many other churches and religious icons on public property which are maintained to to their historical importance."    

He likens tearing down the cross to the radical Muslim removal of statues and monuments (which I discussed here). It's an interesting point. There are crosses and religious monuments with sufficient historical gravity that they should probably remain on public land (I'll again throw out the Cape Henry cross in Virginia Beach as an example). The Riverside cross seems particularly difficult to me because it seems to loom over the town in a really dominating way (the Cape Henry cross is actually on a military installation, and you have to show ID and registration just to be allowed to see it).

I would not like to see atheists become so radical that we advocate tearing down genuine historical artifacts. The problem is that the "history" argument gets pulled out too readily by those with Christian privilege-- for example, all those Ten Commandments monuments left over from the 'fifties are supposedly "historical" and thus sacrosanct. It can be quite difficult to differentiate between a monument with genuine historical significance, and one that is not really of any historical value or interest.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Of crosses and history

From Fox News comes this story of Riverside, a California city, which is being challenged by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State because it displays a thirty-five-foot cross on city land. One citizen wondered, "It’s been up there for over a hundred years, so why is this happening now?" Which is exactly why stuff like this has to be challenged-- because if it isn't, then it becomes "historical" and people argue that it must be kept. The citizen undercut his "historical" case a bit by adding, "Anything that has to do with Jesus Christ or our Christian faith – people are always going to have a problem." But the problem isn't that it's a Christian symbol, but that it's a Christian symbol on public land.

A columnist for the newspaper echoed the historical line of thinking when he wrote, "It’s not about religion. It’s about history." It is unclear, however, what is "historical" about the cross aside from the fact that it's been there a long time. I've blogged before about Virginia Beach's Cape Henry cross, and its image on the Virginia Beach city seal, which perhaps could justify the argument that "it's historical," based as it is on the supposed actions of the first Englishmen to stand on that spot. But what's the big historical story behind the Riverside cross? The article doesn't explain. It does mention that the cross is "home to one of the nation’s longest running Easter Sunrise services," which would seem to emphasize the idea that it's about, you know, religion.

The Riverside newspaper has a slightly more balanced article, admitting that not everyone in the area approves of the cross. "Some speakers (at the city council meeting) quoted the Bible and questioned why some religions are openly recognized while Christian symbols are under attack. But others said as non-Christians, they see the cross as excluding them." One man was quoted as saying, "The cross holds no religious significance to me. It's all part of the mountain as it is." But the fact that others quoted the Bible suggests that many see it as the religious symbol it is.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The destruction of idols

This is fairly horrifying-- Islamic fundamentalists are calling for the destruction of the Pyramids and the Sphinx:

"Weeks after the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi entered office as Egyptian President, calls began to rise for the destruction of those 'symbols of paganism' -- the Egyptian Pyramids.

 "That was in late June and early July, but following last week's U.S. presidential election, Islamic clerics again demanded the destruction of one of the Seven Wonders of the World."

Here, Murjan Salem al-Johari is quoted as saying,"Muslims must implement the rules of Sharia and we will destroy the statues of Sphinx and the Pyramids because they are idols."

Wow. It's horrifying to consider that religious extremists would want to destroy some of the most glorious relics of the ancient world. It's even more horrifying to consider that they might succeed. It's hard for Americans to imagine that anyone thinks this way-- at least it's hard for me to imagine-- but fundamentalist Muslims have destroyed other historical monuments (such as the 1500-year-old Buddha statues in Afghanistan) without remorse.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

On Romney's loss

There's a very good article here offering a possible explanation for why Romney lost-- a perception of GOP extremism that turned off moderate voters. "...even a clumsy candidate might have beaten Obama if not for a simple factor that could not be overcome: the GOP’s growing extremism...the party has to present a more conciliatory and reasonable face to sell itself to swing voters. To do that, it must elevate its own moderate voices, cut loose its theocrats, and liberate itself from the domination of Tea Party know-nothings."

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

More on voting in churches

To follow up on my last post, here's a well-written article on why we should stop using churches as polling places, from the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "Although federal law prohibits churches from endorsing or opposing candidates, they have the right to speak out on ballot referenda and on other issues, from abortion to zoning. All of this church-based political activity makes me uneasy about casting ballots in houses of worship, especially those festooned with political signs."

Case in point: This church, which chose to leave up a huge anti-abortion display although (or perhaps because) it was being used as a polling place. The election coordinator had been told they'd take it down, but the church decided to leave it up instead. Technically it did not break the law, but some voters unsurprisingly found it "offensive." The election coordinator said, "We feel badly that we didn't realize that this wasn't going to be taken down this weekend, otherwise I would have tried to make other accommodations... After you advertise a polling place, it's very difficult to change."

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

I voted

This morning I voted at the local polling place-- the police/fire station. Behind me in line, people were complaining about the lack of parking (a valid complaint-- I had to park out on the street and walk quite a distance, even though the line was short enough that it only took me half an hour to vote). Being fairly new to the area, I asked them where the previous polling was done, and they told me it had been at a Baptist church.

I'd like to think this suggests Virginia is phasing out using churches as polling places, but my father told me his polling place is a Presbyterian church. So maybe not.

Monday, November 5, 2012

"Judeo-Christian values"

In a conference call with evangelical voters (sponsored by the Faith and Freedom Coalition-- see this post for more about them), Paul Ryan said yesterday that re-electing Obama would put us on "a dangerous path...a path that grows government, restricts freedom and liberty, and compromises those values, those Judeo-Christian, Western civilization values that made us such a great an (sic) exceptional nation in the first place."

It's no surprise that Paul Ryan, and the evangelical voters he was appealing to, believe this country is all about "Judeo-Christian values." Presumably those of us who hold other values need to sit down and shut up, or possibly leave the country entirely. I doubt those Deist Enlightenment thinkers would have been welcome, either.

He also said, "...that's how the Lord sustains me...It's the prayer from my pastor, my family, with my family, and also it's the prayers that are offered to me from perfect strangers that I know are out there praying, for Mitt and myself, and our families, and our families are doing great." I guess no one was praying for the Northeast when Sandy hit, or presumably they'd all be "doing great" too. Or is it only politicians God looks after?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

On souls

I posted the following comment on a post on Friendly Atheist about "the illogical concept of souls," and thought it was articulate enough to repost here:

As a Lutheran, I believed in souls. But I also realized that if I had a soul, my dogs certainly did too-- and in fact they stood a much better chance of making it into heaven, being far more worthy than I am (aside from a certain sinful habit of stealing food off the counters). They seemed clearly self-aware to me, if not as mentally advanced as humans, and so I would have declined to go to any heaven that wouldn't let my dogs in.

I no longer believe in souls. It was one of the hardest things about religion to give up, though. I liked the comfort of believing I'd see my husband again. But alas, what's comforting is not necessarily realistic. It seems obvious to me now that self-awareness is tied into the brain, and does not outlast it. In fact I find it difficult to understand why I ever thought differently. The things we can convince ourselves to believe...

The Prince of Egypt

Back when we were Lutheran, The Prince of Egypt was one of our favorite movies. One of my daughters requested that we see it this week, so we pulled it out, dusted it off, and watched it. I still enjoy the music and the animation, but the religious content-- errrrghhh.

I remember trying to justify God's actions to my kids as a Christian, but even as a believer it wasn't easy. (Some people have no such reservations; this review applauds the movie, saying, "The triumphant result is a story that Christians can wholeheartedly applaud: a magnificent retelling of the Exodus story that gives full credit to the saving works of God.") God, in Exodus as well as in The Prince of Egypt, is no better than the Pharaoh, and quite arguably worse-- he visits pain and suffering on innocents, and both the first Pharaoh and God slaughter children with no apparent remorse.

God is also noticeably a small god, not an omnipotent one-- he doesn't know whom to smite and whom to pass over without a little guidance from lamb's blood, and he doesn't simply do the obvious thing, which would be to appear to Pharaoh himself and avoid all that messy plague business. And it's interesting to note that one of God's lines from the Bible regarding the tenth plague (And there shall be a great cry in all of Egypt, such as never has been or ever will be again!) is attributed to Rameses. When the line sounds equally reasonable coming from the mouth of God and the villain of the movie, you have a problem.

In short, I don't think watching The Prince of Egypt, or reading Exodus, is likely to create believers out of my kids. If you watch it with an open mind, it leaves you reeling with shock that anyone could possibly believe that God is one of the good guys.

Saturday, November 3, 2012


Yesterday on the interstate, I drove past a huge truck with enormous pictures of an aborted ten-week fetus (or so the text indicated) plastered all over it. It was for an organization called, which says on its website that its mission is "graphically exposing the injustice of abortion." In other words, grossing out people in the hopes of evoking a visceral response.

Yes, it was a pretty disgusting image. But a removed tumor would be just as gross, and I wouldn't want to see a huge image of that on a truck, either. Emotional appeals are what you pull out when you're unable to make a solid logical argument.

Friday, November 2, 2012

On being an atheist

When I started this blog about a year ago, I was trying to still balance myself between the atheist and Lutheran labels (hence the name of the blog). I didn't believe in Christianity any longer, but I still felt some attachment to the church I'd been involved with for years, and felt that I should probably expose my children to religious education to a certain degree. I no longer feel that way. I don't go to church or take communion, and my children know how I feel (and they don't express any longing for church, either). We talk about religion, but my children are picking up my anti-religious bias, which is perhaps unavoidable.

What about my family? Well, the interesting thing is that when we moved here three years ago, it was taken for granted that we would go to the family church, where everyone else goes. But I was too ill for a long time to attend regularly, and when I felt better, I realized no one else in the family was going, either. They don't even go for Christmas Eve services, which was the family tradition for a long time, and no one talks about religion any more. As far as I know, they're all still believers-- but far from devoted ones. I suspect my husband's death undermined their belief, too. Under the circumstances, I really don't feel a need to explain myself to them. That old saying about letting those without sin cast the first stone seems to apply here. If they ask, I'll tell them, but since two of my children have not been through confirmation classes, it seems that they surely must suspect at this point. Perhaps they really don't want to know for sure.

I do sometimes consider the path that led to my deconversion. My husband's death was a major factor, certainly, exacerbated by my pastor's feeble efforts to explain that the evil in the world, and by extension his untimely death, was due to original sin (which made no sense, as no Lutheran I know believes in the literal truth of the Garden of Eden story). My daughter's intelligent and skeptical questions forced me to look at what I believed, and to find it lacking in logic. My long illness kept me away from church and gave me time to reflect, without having religion shoved down my throat every week.

But perhaps the most important factor was that we moved, which led to switching churches. I admit that I loved my old church. We had a lot of friends there, who supported us through my husband's illness, and I greatly enjoyed singing in the choir. (I am a solid but not spectacular alto, with a voice that sounds better in a chorus than as a solo.) We never attended the new church enough to feel that we belonged there, and I never got involved with the choir due to my illness. I wonder if it would have been as easy to walk away if we still attended our old church. I worry that I would still be nurturing strong doubts, but perhaps pushing them down into my subconscious, just so I could continue with the fun of singing every week. In short, I worry that under other circumstances, I would be a hypocrite.

Then again, maybe I'm not giving myself enough credit. Maybe eventually I would have walked away from our old church, too. I like to think that's the case, anyway.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Crushing irony

WWJTD posted a link to this story today. A New York man prayed at a crucifix for months, asking that his wife be cured of ovarian cancer. She eventually recovered, and he "attributed the cure to his devotion to that cross." In the spirit of gratitude, he got permission to clean the "long neglected" crucifix. Alas, the poorly maintained statue dislodged and toppled onto him, crushing his leg, which had to be amputated.

This is the sort of thing that can only be explained by either random chance, or a really capricious and mean-spirited god. I'm much happier believing the former.

Fox News and climate change

Pity poor Fox News. They try to deny the reality of climate change in this headline,  Dems push climate change issue in wake of Sandy, but some scientists skeptical, and yet if you read the article you learn that even they had a hard time finding skeptical scientists.

They did manage to get one meteorologist with NOAA, Martin Hoerling, saying "the immediate cause (of Sandy) is most likely little more that the coincidental alignment of a tropical storm with an extratropical storm." But notice he's not denying climage change, simply saying it wasn't the immediate cause. They also say he said "Sandy wasn’t boosted by global warming" and "the storm merely revealed natural forces at work," but these are not direct quotes, and may simply be someone's interpretation of his actual words. Without a direct quote it's hard to tell.

Other scientists quoted in the article are even less decisive: "The ingredients of this storm seem a little bit cooked by climate change, but the overall storm is difficult to attribute to global warming." This guy seems to be quite clearly saying that global warming was in fact a contributor, and he obviously believes warming exists, which makes him seem less "skeptical" than Fox probably intended.

The article ends on this wishy-washy note: "But the science is anything but clear cut. Michael Mann, a Penn State University scientist who has been studying the climate for decades, said that ocean waters were about 1 degree warmer thanks to manmade climate change, one factor that clearly caused Sandy to swell." In other words, it ends with a reference to a scientist who does firmly believe that climate change exists and impacted Sandy.

It makes you wonder if the headline writers at Fox News actually read the articles first.

ETA: Out of curiosity, I Googled Martin Hoerling (quoted above) and found this useful article. According to it, he is a contrarian who has "published several non-peer-reviewed reports as the lead of NOAA’s Climate Scene Investigators that claim global warming did not influence recent catastrophic extremes." He did, however, find that human-caused global warming was a factor in at least two recent events. So although he doesn't think global warming is at fault for every recent weather event, he does believe that human-caused global warming exists, and is the root cause of at least some events.