Earlier this summer, I threw in for a fundraising contest for Camp Quest, pitting a team of us lowlier bloggers against the Dark Overlord himself. The over $30,000 we collectively raised was reward enough for me, but I just received a completely unexpected thank-you gift in the mail: a hand-crocheted Flying Spaghetti Monster, crafted by Sue Henry and Kelley Freeman of the Secular Student Alliance. Thanks, Kelley and Sue! I shall display it with pride, and whenever I see it on my desk, I'll be reminded that the FSM and His glorious noodly appendage are always watching over us.
Isn't he cute?
I decided to reenact the FSM's creation of the universe. (Desktop image by Digital Blasphemy.)
Last week, the Westboro Baptist Church (which is choosing increasingly random and bizarre protest targets, including a Swedish vacuum cleaner store) decided to picket a Foo Fighters concert in Kansas City, Missouri. As is their usual strategy, they were no doubt hoping to provoke police or counterprotesters into assaulting them or otherwise violating their constitutional rights, so that they can win a legal settlement to support their continued spreading of hate.
But instead, the WBC was on the receiving end of a hilarious counterprotest. The Foo Fighters themselves came out, dressed up in hillbilly costumes, and put on an impromptu concert on the back of a flatbed truck, singing the song "Hot Buns" (sample lyrics: "Think I'm in the mood for some hot man muffins", which is inexplicably bleeped in the video). Watch it below:
If you watch the video, pay particular attention around 1:20. I think even some of the Westboro Baptist picketers couldn't help cracking smiles!
Like many fundamentalist groups who hunger for persecution, the WBC thrives on being hated; they've come to expect it and feel validated when it occurs. That's precisely why we shouldn't give them what they want, and should instead treat them with laughter and mockery.
That's a response that fundamentalists can't easily tolerate, and the Foo Fighters did the exact right thing - which is one more reason to love them. I already listen to them all the time when I'm at the gym or running, and hearing them mock Fred Phelps is just the icing on the cake. Here's one of my favorites from their latest album Wasting Light:
"Nobody has the right to harm others. Yet, homosexuality is a harmful behavior. It is obviously harmful to its practitioners — the clinical evidence for all manner of psychological and physical problems created by acting on homosexual impulses is well established. Homosexuality is destructive to self because it uses the human body in ways that it simple [sic] was not intended to be used by nature and nature's God."
In the above quote, religious-right columnist Tim Dunkin argues that we know homosexuality is immoral because of the physical and psychological harm that it causes. The lasting damage that gay people do to their bodies, he says, is proof that they're misusing them in ways that God never intended.
Well, I think he's onto something. The only thing is, I think he's aiming at the wrong target. There's a practice that indisputably causes far more harm, wreaks far more destruction on human bodies and minds, than homosexuality. That practice is heterosexual procreation, and I hope that sensible, right-thinking Christians across the land will join with me in urging Congress to pass a law banning this wicked and sinful act.
Do you doubt that procreation is against natural law? Well, just consider this evidence.
First of all, there's the hymen. This membrane, which is a completely natural part of women's bodies, covers and protects the vaginal opening - clear evidence of God's benevolent design and his intention not to permit anything to pass through. When the hymen is torn, often during a woman's first act of intercourse, the usual result is pain and blood, which is tangible proof of the harm done by disobeying God's will. Why, some women have to have surgery just to make it possible for them to have sex! What clearer proof could there be that we're misusing our bodies and going against natural law when we do it?
But if a woman disregards God's will and goes on to have sex and become pregnant, worse harm often follows. For one thing, the narrow pelvis of human beings makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for an entire baby to fit through. In developing countries, this causes obstructed labor, which is still a leading cause of maternal death. In advanced countries, godless doctors "solve" this problem with episiotomy or even Caesarean section - major surgery that involves cutting through the abdominal wall! Don't you think that, if giving birth was in accord with God's plan, he would have designed the human body to do it easily and without pain or harm? The fact that women are trying to push babies through a channel which something that size would never normally fit through is clear proof that they're blatantly defying natural law.
Even when the act of giving birth succeeds, severe complications often follow that are destructive to the woman's health. One of the most common is obstetric fistula, a terrible injury that results in incontinence, infections and paralysis. Psychological consequences sometimes follow as well, such as postpartum depression and even postpartum psychosis. And, please note, none of these are occasional add-ons like STDs - they follow directly and intrinsically from childbirth itself! How can the many harmful consequences of procreation not convince you that it's an unnatural and objectively disordered act in plain violation of natural law?
The only solution is to pass a just and sensible law, or better yet a constitutional amendment, banning this immoral practice. Since people can't be trusted to use their bodies responsibly as God intended, we true Christians have no choice but to force them to do the right thing. The Bible itself says clearly that lifelong celibacy is always the better choice, so we know that this law would be correct in God's eyes. What better argument do we need to make it a part of the secular law that's binding on everyone?
Dispatches from Future America: Government Increases Budget for Christiancare Program
[Editor's Note: After the two strange messages I received earlier this year, I thought the wormhole, or whatever it was, had closed forever. Evidently not. This past week, as fighting over the debt limit reached a fever pitch, I found a new e-mail from the future in my inbox. Elaborate hoax? Frightening warning of what lies ahead? You be the judge...]
NEW YORK CITY (July 24, 2037) — Mayor Harold Ford Jr., along with a group of civic dignitaries, was on hand for the gala ribbon-cutting of the newest federally-funded Christiancare clinic, the 1000th of its kind to open nationwide. Speeches by respected media figures marked the occasion, looking back on the long political struggle that led to the Christiancare program's creation in the federal budget for fiscal year 2012.
"The 2011 fight over the debt limit nearly destroyed our economy, resulting in skyrocketing interest rates on federal debt, a worldwide stock market crash, a domino chain of collapsing corporations, and near-anarchy as government ran out of money and was forced to shut down all over the country, suspending most basic services," said CNN analyst Stewart Kilgore. "Fortunately, after two months of chaos, President Obama capitulated to the Congressional Republicans' demands by signing a bill that raised the debt limit at the price of completely eliminating Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, as well as repealing the Affordable Care Act and eliminating all income taxes on corporations and individuals whose net worth was $1 billion or higher."
Liberal groups asserted that the controversial budget deal, while it preserved the structure of the American government, was responsible for the 10-year drop in average life expectancy that was noted over the following year. However, conservative groups hailed the deal as a triumph of post-partisan ideology that laid the groundwork for further reform.
"Since President Obama had shown himself to be a sensible and flexible negotiator, the Republicans were able to work with him to enact some common sense follow-ups," said the Sekulow Institute's chief historian, Dr. Michael Marcavage. "For example, the compassionate conservatives of the Tea Party knew that a few people had been slightly inconvenienced by the elimination of the New Deal programs, wasteful and unconstitutional though they were. Since President Obama himself had spoken highly of the great good that faith-based groups can provide with government support and no unnecessary strings, it proved to be a natural next step to return vital community services like medicine and elder care to the institution that had always provided them - the church."
Soon after the budget compromise came a bill establishing the first Christiancare pilot centers, federally funded clinics which "any officially recognized Christian denomination" could apply to run. Once the Supreme Court upheld this controversial law in a closely watched 2015 decision, the floodgates were opened, with the next Congress spending more than $5 billion to expand the program by building over a hundred new centers nationwide. Subsequent expansions of the program folded all other hospitals and clinics into it, as well as making it mandatory for all citizens to visit the nearest Christiancare clinic at least once per year for basic checkups and spiritual counseling.
"It's true that this program experienced some growing pains at first," said the mayor, referring to liberal groups' charges that life expectancy in Massachusetts dropped to 44.5 years after Christian Scientists were given control of Christiancare clinics throughout the state, as well as the sharply increased rates of infant mortality and deaths in childbirth in historically Catholic areas. "But nowadays, who can doubt its success? The skeptics have been silenced, and America's health-care system is the envy of the world! Our federally funded faith healers prescribe millions of baptisms and anointings per year, and cast out demons at rates that other countries can only dream of."
The opening ceremony was nearly overshadowed by news from Washington that further expansions to the controversial program may soon be coming. H.R. 216, sponsored by 238 members of Congress, would require all women in America to be implanted with a microchip that would detect the onset of pregnancy and wirelessly send this information to the nearest Christiancare center for "pastoral prenatal care".
"It will be so convenient, American women will hardly mind the implantation procedure," said Secretary of Health and Human Services Troy Newman. "And rest assured, our trained Christiancare counselors will be fully respectful of their patients' privacy, disclosing the expectant mother's condition only to licensed ministers of the gospel who will be on hand to provide her with the evangelistic material she'll need."
Liberal groups criticized the proposal, but their objections were not deemed newsworthy by the editors of this paper.
I'm an actinide, if you can't find me - one of the green rows on the bottom, labeled as "The Wicked of the Web". I'd never have counted myself as one of the basic and indivisible elements of atheism, but given the distinguished company I'm listed among, this is a true honor! You may now commence the jokes about making compounds of atheists...
• The self-help guru James Arthur Ray has been convicted of negligent homicide in the deaths of three people in a sweat lodge at an October 2009 retreat he organized. Woo is not harmless, not even the vague and fluffy-headed New Age variety.
"It is clear that Bell is not comfortable with the idea that billions of people may suffer in hell. But then, who is comfortable with that? The majority of evangelicals who hold to the orthodox understanding of hell... are troubled by its implications."
Maybe those evangelicals should consider listening to their consciences for once.
As regular readers may remember, when our team of underdog bloggers triumphed last month in a fund-raising contest for Camp Quest, I vowed to grow a beard so as to prove that PZ Myers wasn't the only atheist overlord out there who could boast of manly facial hair. Well, that experiment is underway as we speak.
At the end of the month, I'll post before-and-after pictures with the results. In the meantime, the beard is still in an incomplete state, and I don't want it seen by the prying eyes of search engines until it's in its full glory. But if you want to see updates, I've been posting them every week or so on my Facebook wall - so if you're a fellow user of that sinister privacy-robbing corporate behemoth, why not send me a friend request? My friends list is sadly short compared to some of my fellow bloggers, and I'd like to take steps to rectify that.
And you know, it's the strangest damn thing, but ever since I started growing this beard, I've begun to find marine invertebrates unaccountably fascinating. Here's a mini-link roundup of some stories I've come across that I thought were worth sharing:
I have no idea how to explain this. Parallel universes? Uncollapsed quantum wavefunctions? Which of these, if any, are our future? Are different possibilities somehow competing with each other to become reality? I think this was sent to me because someone wanted it to be shared, but other than that, I leave the judgment up to you...]
KANSAS CITY, KANSAS (June 27, 2035) — The first annual National Day of Reason, approved by Congress in a bill passed last year, was observed yesterday in this midwestern metropolis by an array of national figures. President Linda Sanchez delivered her address from the steps of the Public Library of Science, framed by a skyline of residential towers laminated in solar glass. A crowd whose size was estimated at fifty thousand gathered to hear the speech on a tree-lined pedestrian avenue beneath the turning blades of the nation's largest urban wind farm.
"My fellow Americans, I am proud and honored to speak before you on this day," her remarks began. "As one of our wisest leaders, Thomas Jefferson, put it, the president has no authority to direct the religious exercises of her constituents. I applaud Congress for repealing the National Day of Prayer law, a senseless and divisive event meant to convey a false message of the superiority of religious people. In its place, I'm proud to celebrate the first National Day of Reason, a fitting tribute to the virtue which powers our civilization. It was reason that sent human beings to the moon, reason that cured cancer through stem-cell research, and reason that offers the best hope of a future of peace and prosperity for all of us."
Media observers weren't surprised by the President's decision to attend the Kansas City event. "Kansas City's political importance increased greatly in the Midwest progressive revolution of the 2020s," said CNN analyst Athena Jones. "Its selection as one of the dozen primary hubs in the national high-speed rail network made it a major migration point, and the boom that followed the completion of the rail network, which had its roots in the stimulus bill of 2009, cemented its economic power. Kansas City is emblematic of the changes that have come across this country in the past two decades, which made it a natural choice for the President to attend."
The National Day of Reason was commemorated in parallel events across the nation. In Washington, D.C., a crowd estimated at one million people gathered on the National Mall to hear speeches by a series of dignitaries, including taped messages from representatives of the United Nations, the Middle East Democratic Alliance, and the scientists at Ares Research Station 1 in Elysium Planitia. However, some of the loudest cheers of the day were heard during the keynote address by Supreme Court Chief Justice Sarah Jane Braasch.
"Almost four hundred years ago," said Chief Justice Braasch, "an ancestor of mine had his life and livelihood nearly destroyed by Governor Winthrop and the Puritan theocrats of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, because he was advocating for a secular government. But today, we're emerging into a new future, one in which we recognize that we are a single human family on this tiny planet. Today, even the most devout appreciate the value of reason and secularism and understand that this system is in everyone's best interests. There are no human rights without secularism. There are no women's rights without secularism. There is no democracy without secularism. Let us never forget that only a truly secular government makes real freedom possible!"
In spite of the celebratory mood nationwide, President Sanchez struck a solemn note in her remarks, pointing out how many challenges are still faced by the human species.
"The fighting in Jerusalem and Saudi Arabia is ongoing, the remnants of a fading and archaic worldview that no longer has any place in a free and rational planetary civilization," she said. "Despite the long-overdue achievement of the U.N. Millennium Development Goals, millions of people still lack access to comprehensive public education, family planning, and advanced healthcare. Ensuring that every person on Earth has access to these necessities will be the cornerstone of my second term. Last but not least, although the global atmospheric carbon-remediation project is proceeding on schedule, the best estimates are that it will take decades to fully reverse the damage. The tens of billions of dollars we've spent on reseeding coral reefs and building advanced seawalls to protect coastal regions are a tragic testament to the greed and short-sightedness of the past."
"But although we face great challenges, let it never again be said that Americans are afraid to offer equally great solutions. We'll no longer be afraid to dream big, to take bold action, to make decisions that advance the common good while keeping an eye on the future. Most importantly, we'll no longer be afraid to rely on the guidance of science and reason, rather than the irrational passions of prejudice or faith. If we keep to the course we're following, we have the potential to create a future bright beyond imagining, not just for the United States of America, but for the entire human species and all our descendants yet to come."
No religious groups were in evidence to protest any of the National Day of Reason rallies. However, a statement e-mailed to the press by a group identifying itself as the New Reformed Campingists denounced the "godlessness that has brought humanity to the brink of ruin" and asserted that the Rapture was due to happen "any day now".
As we all know, Ayn Rand is the greatest genius in the history of the human race, and her book Atlas Shrugged is her highest achievement and therefore the highest achievement of our entire species. Thanks to her, we've learned that sheer determination can surmount any obstacle, up to and including the laws of thermodynamics, to create value and earn its bearer a profit. All of which makes it inexplicable that her magnum opus is bombing at the box office:
Twelve days after opening "Atlas Shrugged: Part 1," the producer of the Ayn Rand adaptation said Tuesday that he is reconsidering his plans to make Parts 2 and 3 because of scathing reviews and flagging box office returns for the film...
"Atlas Shrugged" was the top-grossing limited release in its opening weekend, generating $1.7 million on 299 screens and earning a respectable $5,640 per screen. But the box office dropped off 47% in the film's second week in release even as "Atlas Shrugged" expanded to 425 screens.
John Aglialoro, CEO of the exercise equipment company Cybex, spent almost 20 years and $20 million of his own money making this movie. He advertised it heavily to conservative audiences, including showing a world premiere of the trailer at the Conservative Political Action Conference earlier this year. But despite the dauntless labor of this heroic capitalist individual, the movie turned out to be a flop, grossing only $3 million so far and getting panned even by such free-market stalwarts as the Wall Street Journal and Reason. There's an obligatory hilarious quote from an earlier Reason article, whose author can't quite keep the disappointment from shining through: he writes that Taylor Schilling, the actress who plays Dagny Taggart, "sometimes seemed too much like a normal human being for a Randian romantic heroine".
In an interview, Aglialoro was not at all bitter:
"Why should I put up all of that money if the critics are coming in like lemmings?" said Aglialoro... "I'll make my money back and I'll make a profit, but do I wanna go and do two? Maybe I just wanna see my grandkids and go on strike."
Wait - he wants to see his grandchildren? What kind of moocher socialist talk is this? There's no purpose to interacting with other human beings if it doesn't earn you a profit. Faithful Randians know that the correct way of dealing with your offspring is to put them to work in a coal mine as soon as they turn twelve, as demonstrated by Ken Danagger, one of the capitalist titans of Atlas Shrugged.
Alas, just as in the world of Atlas, the heroic ambitions of a noble soul like Aglialoro have been laid low by the worthless, parasitic looters who make up the majority of humanity, and who doubtless refused to pay to see his movie because they despise the accomplishments of productive people. Or could it just be that Objectivists aren't nearly as numerous as they make themselves seem through sheer clamor and volume? In either case, I'd advise him to consider retiring and moving to Galt's Gulch, where his talents will be appreciated. I hear that despite their hologram projectors and perpetual motion machines, they could really use someone there who knows how to manufacture free weights.
Dispatches from Future America: Court Upholds National Day of Christianity
[Editor's Note: The day after after publishing my article on the abuse of standing, I found a message with a strange attachment in my inbox, sent through an anonymous remailer. This attachment presented itself as a story clipped from a newspaper published in a future version of America. The author of the message wouldn't explain how they acquired it, other than a cryptic comment about wormholes. I have no way to verify this admittedly fantastic account, but thought it best to reprint the story so you can judge for yourself. —Ebonmuse]
WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 24, 2035) — In a case closely watched by legal experts, the Supreme Court defeated a challenge to the law passed by Congress last year establishing a National Day of Christianity. Ruling unanimously, the high court found that the controversial law, which requires the President to issue an annual proclamation declaring Christianity the established religion of the United States, does not do any injury to atheists and agnostics that would grant them standing to sue.
"In issuing this ruling, we uphold the glorious traditions of our founding fathers," Supreme Court Chief Justice Sarah Palin said in a statement outside the courthouse. "Great men like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams knew that America would never prosper unless all its citizens were washed in the blood of Jesus Christ. That's why they explicitly implied when they signed the Constitution that our country was always meant to be a Christian nation."
Court watchers weren't surprised by the outcome of the case. "The groundwork for this ruling was laid in the 2007 Hein decision," said CNN analyst Stewart Kilgore. "When the Supreme Court found that it didn't violate the Constitution for the President to use tax dollars to fund religion, they began a decades-long trend of narrowing the criteria under which citizens could sue for church-state violations. This ruling is a logical followup to the 2032 Flask decision which gave churches with more than 10,000 members the power of eminent domain so that they could seize and condemn neighboring houses to expand their parking lot."
Prior to today's ruling, several aspects of the law had drawn fire from the left. Among its most controversial provisions is a measure which requires all Americans to attend worship services once per week at a church which is on the government's official list of approved congregations. This measure, which required the hiring of over one million enforcement agents by the newly created Department of Homeland Orthodoxy, was denounced by liberal activists.
The court also found this aspect of the law to be constitutional.
"The mandatory worship-attendance measure is simply ceremonial deism," said Associate Justice David Barton, "which serves the secular purpose of teaching Americans about the history and culture of our country in a neutral and objective manner. The mandatory minimum sentences for not attending are in no way coercive. After all, no one is being forced to agree with what they hear from the pulpit."
Spokesmen for the Republican Party praised the decision. "The National Day of Christianity law is a much-needed countermeasure to the out-of-control influence of the godless American left," said RNC chairman R.J. Rushdoony Jr. "This lawsuit was utterly without merit, a publicity stunt concocted by angry, Christian-hating radicals who want to scrub any vestige of God from the public square. We're gratified that the high court has seen fit to agree."
But while they're still celebrating their latest Supreme Court victory, American Christians have set their sights on grander goals. Republican members of Congress have voiced grave concern over the fact that, in spite of the controversial creationism and Biblical Science classes added to public school curricula in 2029, the last census still found the percentage of atheists and agnostics in America as high as 1%.
"This overbearing atheist majority won't be able to impose its will on real Americans for much longer," promised President Michele Bachmann, who last week introduced a bill to create "patriotic education camps" within the large open-pit mine formerly known as West Virginia, as well as the still highly-radioactive forbidden zones of the Nevada desert. "We need all Americans to come together in faith if we're going to build a prayer wall around our nation that's strong enough to hold back the seawaters that have already executed God's judgment on the sinful cities of New York and San Francisco, as well as most of Florida. The God-haters and Sodomites whose presence keeps bringing God's wrath on us will soon learn the error of their heathen ways."
Liberal groups were not contacted for comment regarding the President's remarks.
So, I've been debating Catholic commenters on Unequally Yoked again, and I came across a comment that was so astute, so unusually perceptive, that I just had to share it.
The war with the Canaanites is really just a specialization of the problem of suffering, right? Why does a good God allow suffering, which is presumably evil.
The short answer (from a Catholic perspective) is that we don't know... Nonetheless, it is not the knock-down blow that atheists tend to present it as. It is at least conceivable that finite suffering is in the service of a greater, unseen, good, and therefore reconcilable with a benevolent deity. So there is no contradiction, just a question mark.
Now, being as this statement came from a Roman Catholic, you'd expect me to disagree with it, right? But I don't, not at all. In fact, I myself believe this logic wholeheartedly. How could I not, when it just recently proved so useful to me in my own life?
Allow me to explain. I haven't shared this with you until now, but the last few months, I've been busy with a minor legal matter. It was such a trivial thing, not even worth bothering with really, but sometimes these things just have to be dealt with before they become an annoyance. So there I was, sitting at the defendant's bench while the prosecutor wrapped up his closing arguments. That bastard had such a smug look on his face - he must have thought he had me right where he wanted me. Well, I'd soon show him.
I rose to address the jury (I was acting as my own lawyer, naturally), and delivered my closing statement. Normally I'm a modest and humble individual, but I happen to think that this speech was such a fine example of the art of rhetoric, it was crying out to be shared. I'm proud to reprint it below in full.
"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury. We've heard a lot of back-and-forth in this trial, a lot of tedious legal jargon, and a lot of so-called evidence. You've all been stuck in this courtroom just as long as I have, so I won't tax your patience by recounting all the details. But if I may beg your indulgence one more time, let me just hit the high points.
"Yes, we've all seen the surveillance camera video that shows me entering a convenience store, holding up the clerk at gunpoint, emptying the cash register and then pistol-whipping him while he cowered on the floor. You've heard the eyewitnesses recount how, after I left the store, I punched out an old lady with a walker and took her purse while she bled all over the sidewalk. You know the story of how I then carjacked a minivan stopped at a traffic light, dragged the driver out onto the pavement, took his keys and sped off. And after hearing from those dozens of police officers who testified about it, I'm sure you don't need me to repeat the details of the ensuing six-hour, three-state joyride, the car owner's screaming infant son strapped into a child seat next to me all the while, which finally ended only when I sideswiped an ambulance and crashed that car through the front wall of a daycare center.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I'm not going to stand here and lie to you. I have to admit, these acts I committed - sorry, alleged acts - all seem to paint my character in a pretty bad light. I can tell from the way you're glaring at me that some of you might even think of me as evil. And to be frank, I can't say I blame you. If I were in your position right now, I'd probably be drawing many of the same conclusions.
"But, my friends, there's something you may not have considered. I know you're all good and decent people (not to mention handsome and snappily dressed), and I can tell from your clean and honest faces that you all attend church regularly, where they taught you the difference between good and evil. And so, ladies and gentlemen, I ask you: Isn't it at least conceivable that the finite suffering caused by my acts was in the service of a greater, unseen good, the nature of which I'm not going to tell you? And if that's possible, which you must admit it is, then isn't it also possible that I'm really innocent? In fact, isn't it possible that I'm a good person who deserves a medal and an illuminated scroll of thanks from the city?
"Given this argument, the prosecution's case isn't the knock-down blow they've presented it as. We just don't have all the facts we'd need to reach a decision. And so, your verdict on my character can't be guilty. At most, it could be a question mark! Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, if the prosecutors haven't proven their case to the satisfaction of even the most hardcore school of philosophical skepticism, you must acquit!"
Well, I don't like to brag, but I walked out of that courtroom a free man. I guess I'm lucky there were no atheists on my jury - you know how that kind tends to jump to conclusions on the basis of insufficient evidence.