Take Action: Tell Montreal Police to Investigate Threats Against Atheists

If you've been around the atheist blogosphere for very long, you're probably acquainted with Dennis Markuze, a notorious net kook who's been spamming atheist blogs, forums, bulletin boards, wikis, social networking sites, and every other website he finds out about with insane, nonsensical rants about Nostradamus, 9/11 and his various other obsessions. He's been at this literally for decades, and apparently has a limitless supply of time and sockpuppet accounts with which to do it. (However frantically he changes accounts, though, I give my word that you'll never see him befoul Daylight Atheism. I take the integrity of my commenting community seriously.)

But in the last year or so, his cryptic messages have grown increasingly violent and threatening, and often include death threats against prominent atheist bloggers. Despite this, and despite massive, overwhelming evidence that he's deeply disturbed and potentially dangerous, the police in Montreal, where he lives, have consistently failed to take any action.

Now there's a petition telling the Montreal police to take Markuze's threats seriously. Please sign it if you've encountered his insanity: the more signatures we get, the harder it will be for the police to ignore. We've been lucky in that he hasn't actually hurt anyone so far, but it may only be a matter of time until he goes completely off the deep end. If he does snap, it's more likely to be the people who know him personally who get hurt, and I hope it doesn't come to that before he gets the help he badly needs.

UPDATE (8/17): With a little media attention, the petition has worked! Montreal police announce an arrest (they haven't officially said that it's Markuze, but I've heard unofficial confirmations that it is). Skeptical Software Tools has an outstandingly thorough summary of the entire affair.

August 10, 2011, 9:25 pm • Posted in: The FoyerPermalink11 comments
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Whom Should We Mock?

This is a guest post by Leah of Unequally Yoked.  Adam is on vacation.

My last post on Daylight Atheism, asking non-believers to tone down the contempt for Harold Camping and his followers, and many of you disagreed.  Some commenters didn't believe there was anything intrinsically destructive about mocking others, others argued that ridicule was a necessary tactic to help people deconvert.  TommyP commented to say deconversion was catalyzed by the confrontational attitudes of unbelievers, while Elizabeth Esther wrote on her blog that she was alienated by the people outside her cult who treated her beliefs with contempt, so she could not share her doubts with them.

John Loftus and PZ Myers take an extremely confrontational, contemptuous tone towards Christians, and they've caught a lot of flack, both from accommodationists like Chris Mooney and more hard-line atheists.  I'm skeptical about the efficacy of these tactics, but I'd love to hear from commenters like TommyP in more detail about how mockery and contempt helped them give up their old beliefs.  Even if ridicule is helpful, and worth the danger of alienation and unwarranted pride, we should be careful of  adopting condescension as a default approach if we truly want to convince people.  Before you unleash your disdain, think about these factors.

Consider your audience

Assuming that mockery can work as a shock tactic, it still won't do any good if you write a blog for a primarily atheist audience or if you're joking around with non-believing friends.  If your criticism isn't accessible to the people you're ostensibly trying to help, it's hard to defend jeremiads as tactical rather than self-congratulatory.  And I don't think the Christian trolls who frequent atheist blogs promising hell are likely to be reachable enough to justify any rancor as public-spirited.

They have to care about your opinion to be shamed.

For plenty of fundamentalists, the fact that we're criticizing their beliefs is proof that we can't be trusted.  We're either deliberately in league with Satan or sadly deceived.  But even in milder cases, outright contempt is often a bad opening gambit.  You wouldn't be likely to be shaken by the contrary opinions of a complete stranger, so why do you expect a Christian will take your disbelief as disproof?  This kind of strategy is most likely to work with friends or family, who have a reason to want you to think well of them.  But if you already have built up trust and respect, you can probably mound a more nuanced, substantive attack (and if you can't, it's time to hit the books).

What's the marginal utility of your mocking?

The shocking fact of your disagreement will only make an impression of sheltered believers who are unaccustomed to dissent, and most of us won't have the opportunity to try to deconvert them.  For believers who are routinely exposed to criticism, whether the universally mocked Camping or more mainstream religions that still take fire, it's worth asking yourself how it is that your contempt will make a critical difference.  If you doubt it will, your time is probably better spent coordinating lobbying campaigns against culture war legislation or making your own beliefs defensible and accessible than writing invective on the internet.

Don't lose your compassion

If you do take up the weapons of mockery and ridicule, have an eye to your own character.  It's sad when people are dumb or gullible, and it's scary when those people are in power, but the more foolish you think they are, the less culpable they must be for their error, no matter how destructive.  Intervention may be necessary, but the mentally unstable aren't deserving of contempt of hatred, even if their actions harm themselves or others.  Abandon these tactics if they lead you into overweening pride and teach you that your intelligence/upbringing/etc gives you the right to humiliate and punish others.

So, if you're going to take a sarcastic, mocking approach, you'd best make sure:

  1. You're actually being heard by Christians
  2. Who care about your opinion
  3. Who need your unique brand of contempt
  4. and that you can hate the belief while loving the believer

Else, you should probably make a different use of your talents.

May 25, 2011, 6:43 pm • Posted in: The GardenPermalink42 comments
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The Rapture of Charlie Sheen

This is a guest post by Leah of Unequally Yoked. Adam is on vacation.

I'm sure this is just one blog post among many in your feed to reference the Rapture predictions of Harold Camping. His apocalyptic forecast for this weekend is all over the news cycle and even snagged front page coverage in The New York Times. And why is everyone telling this story? Because it's fun to laugh at stupid people.

No one outside this small group of zealots gives their claims the slightest bit of credence; they don't receive the "but who can ever know" kind of deferential treatment that more mainstream religions command. This laughable theology deserves no more attention than do the claims of the sedevacantist popes who've set up shop in Spain and Kansas. Camping and company get coverage because we all have a sickening urge to watch the rug pulled out from under this delusional sect.

The fascination of the media reminds me of the coverage surrounding Charlie Sheen at the height of his public flameout. Sheen was obviously unstable and addled, but we eagerly kept offering him more platforms to embarrass and endanger himself. For his family, it should have been a private tragedy, but we accepted it as entertainment that we were entitled to enjoy. Every time I hear one of my friends punctuate a conversation with "WINNING!" I flinch a little. The fact that Sheen's troubles were self-inflicted makes him more pitiable, not more deserving of our contempt.

If the May 21st rapturists were isolated individuals, we would grieve that they had lost themselves in madness, but now that they've gathered together and entered the public eye, everyone feels a kind of license to mock them. Gizmodo has suggested that pranksters set up piles of abandoned clothes to trick believers into thinking the rapture has occurred, but they were left behind. It's hard to find it funny once you listen to Elizabeth Esther's childhood Rapture panic or read Fred Clark's discussion of the toxic consequences of these beliefs.

Talk to anyone who grew up in a Rapture-believing church or family and they will tell you stories about panic-inducing moments when they found themselves suddenly alone and feared that everyone else had been raptured while they had been rejected by God. This guy thinks that's funny, but it's actually traumatic. That's why no one forgets the horror of such moments...

And that terror is what Harold Camping and his followers are feeling now. And it is what they will be feeling again Saturday evening, after that terror and despair first abates, then metastasizes in the realization that the world has not ended and that they are not the righteous remnant they staked their identities on being.

Look back at that NYT story, and you'll see that Camping's followers have been sundered from their families and friends by the fervor of their beliefs. Their children feel a mix of pity and despair, burdened by parents who don't plan for their futures on Earth. Although their premises are absurd, many of the rapturists are trying to be as kind and compassionate as possible within their twisted theological framework. Robert Fitzpatrick has spent his life savings blanketing New York with ads in the hope of saving even one person from perdition. Come Sunday, he'll be counting his losses, but the more tragic harm is the way that false beliefs have blighted the lives and relationships of all of Campings adherents, including Camping himself.

By focusing on the absurdity of their beliefs, we've given ourselves permission to ignore the human cost of their derangement. The post-Rapture parties and merchandise hawked by atheists are in the same poor taste as the Sheen memes. Our sanity and stability is not the result of individual merit; we have no standing to delight in the dissolution of others.

May 20, 2011, 6:18 pm • Posted in: The LoftPermalink23 comments
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Exclusive: See God's Actual Handwriting!

While I was in San Francisco this January, I happened to notice this pamphlet in a newspaper kiosk outside my hotel:

Intrigued, I picked up a copy and read more. It turns out that this is the newsletter of one Vassula Ryden, a Greek housewife who, for over twenty years now, has been receiving regular messages from her guardian angel, God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary, and many more august theological personages. Naturally, she's made it her mission to tell the world - because, really, who wouldn't?

And yea, verily, great loquacity hath poured forth from the pen of the Lord. Since 1986, Ms. Ryden has received over 1,550 pages (!) of divine revelation, which are all available for download on her website in convenient PDF form. This comes out to about 645,000 words - or to put it another way, several times the length of the New Testament and about four-fifths as long as the entire King James Bible.

But possibly my very favorite part of the whole collection of messages is this part, right at the beginning:

Copyright © Vassula Rydén... If you wish to view, print or download this material for commercial purposes, you must first obtain written authorisation from the Foundation for True Life in God. You are not permitted under any circumstances to remove or amend any trademark, copyright or other proprietary notice on this material.

Say what you will about the woman, but it takes serious stones for a mere human to claim copyright on God's actual words!

Now, I bet you skeptics are already scoffing, saying, "Anyone can claim to be receiving messages from God and make up some theological gibberish that sounds like the way they think God would talk. There's no proof that these 'messages' are anything other than her own imagination." But scoff at this, skeptics: Ms. Ryden isn't just receiving these messages in the privacy of her own head. No, she sets them down on paper for the whole world to see - in God's actual handwriting! Just take a look at this excerpt or the scan below, and see for yourself how the penmanship clearly changes from one line to the next:

Although I do have to say, there's a definite fifth-grader-practicing-cursive feel to this. I always kind of thought God's handwriting would be more, you know, Gothic. And have echo-reverb.

I suppose it would be unkind of me to ask if anyone has considered a basic test such as oh, I don't know, writing a message on a chalkboard in a room while Vassula isn't present, then erasing it and bringing her into the room so that God, who is all-knowing, can dictate what it said through her hand. But really, who'd bother with a boring test like that, when we have images of Jesus appearing in a tree behind Vassula, or even Vassula's own persuasive testimony of how her prayers saved the earth from a meteor impact:

This is in the prayer He gave us on the 28th November 2009! Otherwise who says that the meteor was not intended to hit the earth and cover us with ashes if it did? He had put in our mouths the words: "lash not on us Your wrath" twice, otherwise if His wrath was lashed out, "the waters will run dry and nature will wither." Yes, if that meteor hit the earth that night it would have done this sort of damage.

Unfortunately, God hasn't been speaking much to Vassula lately - he's only communicated with her six times since February 2003, and not at all since December 2009. You know how it is; blogging is such a time-consuming hobby, he was probably feeling a little burnt out. (I hear he spends more time on Twitter these days.) Or could it be that he's moved on to greener pastures? Now, if another contender turned up claiming to communicate with God and writing out messages in the exact same handwriting, that would be something to see. Any bookmakers want to offer odds on that proposition?

March 14, 2011, 6:57 pm • Posted in: The LoftPermalink22 comments
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2007Rapture.com: A Case Study in Failed Prophecy

Since I've written recently about the rapidly approaching failure of Harold Camping's 2011 doomsday prediction, I thought it'd be amusing to take a look back at another prophetic misfire. Our case study is the website 2007Rapture.com, which for obvious reasons is now defunct - but the Internet Archive has snapshots that show how the author, one Shelby Corbitt, reacted to her prediction's failure.

The Internet Archive's first capture of the site, back in August 2004, starts with a bold warning:

The rapture of the church (God's children) willl happen JULY 2007. This means Jesus Christ is going to appear in the eastern sky and call all His children up to Heaven, leaving all the sinners and unbelievers behind - this is not the end of the world - but it will be the beginning of a terrible tribulation for those left behind. DON'T GET LEFT BEHIND!

For a while there's no change, but by December 2005, the author had backtracked slightly to allow herself some wiggle room:

The rapture of the church (God's children) will happen during the SUMMER OF 2007. This could be anytime from June 21-September 21. This means Jesus Christ is going to appear in the eastern sky and call all His children up to Heaven, leaving all the sinners and unbelievers behind - this is not the end of the world - but it will be the beginning of a terrible tribulation for those left behind.

As this date drew nearer, the author also explains how she came by these beliefs: a vivid prophetic dream that she'd had years prior, which she'd written down but kept a secret until a strange coincidence.

In 2003, a woman from church said she had a word from God for me. It was for me to get the word out that God had given me. She said now was the time. She didn't really know what that word was, but I knew. I immediately thought of the vision God had given me 17 years earlier. I found the vision that I had written down, opened it up, and reread it. Everything God had shown me that was going to happen in my life had happened, and I knew she was right, that now is finally the time to release the vision. God was using this woman to be the voice I had been waiting to hear to tell me when to release the vision.

By December 2006, the author was getting more and more excited, and was disclosing specific details of her dream:

God specifically told me 2007 was the year. He showed me that me and my family were swimming in the swimming pool the day before the rapture. I interpret this to mean summertime. Therefore the prophetic message is that the rapture of the church (God's children) will happen during the SUMMER OF 2007.

The next major update is on June 29, just after the start of the predicted interval, and the site has worked itself into a fever pitch of excitement, with this headline in large type:

THE RAPTURE OF THE CHURCH IS GOING TO HAPPEN DURING THE SUMMER, THIS YEAR (JUNE 21-SEPTEMBER 21) 2007!!

On August 20, that headline was still up, but it seems the author was feeling a tinge of uncertainty:

God specifically told me 2007 was the year. He showed me that me and my family were swimming in the swimming pool the day before the rapture. I interpret this to mean summertime. I live in Florida, and although we are normally able to swim through October, I am still interpreting the vision to mean literal summertime.

September 21 came and went. For several weeks there was no update, but at the beginning of November, the site offered this lengthy excuse:

God revealed to me two things about the timing of the rapture. God specifically told me 2007 was the year, because I was only going to have from 3 to 3 1/2 years to spread the message after my book was published. It was published in June 2004. Then He showed me that me and my family were swimming in the swimming pool the day before the rapture. The fact that we were swimming immediately made me think summer. I was not sure if God was showing me summerlike weather or if He was trying to tell me literal summertime. Since literal summer ended on September 21st, God obviously meant it would be summerlike weather here where I live in Florida. It is summerlike weather here the majority of the year. This year 2007 we seem to be breaking all kinds of heatwave records.... Even if it stays warm enough to swim all year, 2007 is still the year of the rapture.

The weeks ticked by and the year slipped away. Even by the last week of December, the author's faith remained unshaken:

We are down to the last few days until 2007 is over. This could be your first, last and/or ONLY warning you get from God to repent and prepare yourself for the return of Jesus Christ. God has made it possible for me to reach you and get this warning to you. You do not have time to think about this any longer. Today is your day and NOW is your time!!

The Wayback Machine's final snapshot was on January 2, 2008. The author updated the site one last time with a long, all-caps message plainly conveying her bewilderment and despair:

I STILL DO NOT KNOW WHY THE RAPTURE DID NOT HAPPEN IN THE TIME FRAME I SAID. I KNEW I WAS NOT TO RELEASE THIS PROPHECY UNTIL GOD TOLD ME TO. THAT IS WHY I KEPT THE DREAM TO MYSELF FROM 1986 TO 2003. I STILL BELIEVE THE PROPHETIC DREAM I HAD WAS FROM GOD. I HAVE TOLD THE DREAM JUST AS GOD GAVE IT TO ME. THE ONLY THING I CAN THINK OF IS THAT I RELEASED THE DREAM AT THE WRONG TIME AND GOT THE BOOK PUBLISHED TOO EARLY. MAYBE THE DREAM HAD SOME KIND OF SYMBOLIC MEANING INSTEAD OF A LITERAL MEANING THAT I HAVE NOT BEEN ABLE TO FIGURE OUT YET. I STILL DO NOT KNOW WHAT I HAVE DONE WRONG AND WHY THE PROPHECY FAILED. I PROMISE ALL OF YOU THAT I DID NOT INTENTIONALLY MEAN TO HURT OR MISLEAD ANYBODY. I PROMISE I DID NOT MAKE UP THE DREAM. I KNOW MANY OF YOU ARE VERY DISAPPOINTED, BUT I ASSURE YOU NO ONE IS AS DISAPPOINTED AS I AM.

But in one last, defiant message before signing off, she declares that the utter failure of her prophetic vision hasn't changed her beliefs at all:

THE RAPTURE OF THE CHURCH WILL BE IN MY LIFETIME AND IT WILL HAPPEN THE WAY GOD SHOWED ME IN THE DREAM... WE CAN'T LET THIS DELAY HARDEN OUR HEARTS SO THAT WHEN ANOTHER VOICE COMES CRYING OUT WE IGNORE IT. THANK YOU AND GOD BLESS YOU ALL!!

(Side note: Ms. Corbitt's magnum opus is still available on Amazon!)

As I've written before, possibly the only fatal error in religion is staking your beliefs on a definitive test. I suspect that many apocalyptic movements and other new religious ideas originate this way: a dream, hallucination or other misfire of the brain which the ignorant believe to be a divine communication. If the recipient's understanding of the "message" is seemingly corroborated by an unusual coincidence, so much the better. For atheists, it shouldn't be surprising that such things happen from time to time. Nor should it be surprising that most self-appointed prophets end up falling flat on their faces, since random brain firings, no matter how subjectively compelling, don't give any insight into the true nature of the world.

But devotees of superstition have an incredible ability to take failure in stride, and Shelby Corbitt is no exception. She's since launched a new site that's basically identical to the last, except that she no longer tries to predict a date. Of course, she still insists, "I know the rapture will happen in my lifetime." As James Randi has said, people like this are "unsinkable rubber ducks": her belief isn't driven by facts, but by a desire to believe, which makes the unbroken string of prophetic failures irrelevant.

September 22, 2010, 5:51 am • Posted in: The LoftPermalink23 comments
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A Daylight Atheism Public Service Announcement

I have some urgent news to pass along to my readers:

If you have any vacation time accrued, you may want to use it before May 2011.

Why, you may ask? Well, because the world is ending - again:

I learned this important news from a pamphlet that a street preacher was passing out at the Veterans' Day parade the other week. (You can read the full thing if you're really interested: pages 1-8, 2-3, 4-5, 6-7.) This information was brought to you by Family Radio, the "Bible-based Christian broadcasting ministry" whose founder, Harold Camping, has been slowly but surely getting crazier as the decades pass. One of his more notable eccentricities is his belief that the "church age" has ended and that all faithful believers should therefore stop going. Needless to say, this hasn't endeared him to his fellow Christians.

Camping last predicted the end of the world in 1994, as I wrote in "Coming Soon to an Apocalypse Near You" - but hey, we all make mistakes, and this time he's really sure he's got the date right. How can he be so confident, you ask? Well, Mr. Smart-Aleck Atheist, just you try to argue with this irrefutable logic:

See? All you have to do is take the date of Noah's Flood (which really happened, and the date of which Harold Camping knows precisely, down to the day), add 7,000 years, and there you are. Just try to find a logical hole in that!

Since he seems so confident about himself the second time around, I wonder if I could interest Mr. Camping in the purchase of a Rapture Bond, or otherwise making some sort of wager on his certainty. I tried, but failed, to find contact information for him on his website, which also looks like it was designed circa 1994. If you care to look and have more success than me, please do let me know.

If Camping was just one lone kook, I wouldn't bother discussing him. But he's still the president of a large ministry on dozens of radio stations nationwide, which means he must still have thousands of followers willing to fund him, despite his 1994 failure. That's the way it usually is: to believers enraptured by prophecy mania, even repeated failures of their prophet are no discouragement. When 2011 comes and goes and nothing happens, Harold Camping, if he's still alive, will probably just pick a new date, and his true devotees will faithfully follow for as many times as this charade is repeated.

December 4, 2009, 6:46 am • Posted in: The LoftPermalink27 comments
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Secular Sabotage!

In their never-ending quest to elevate every ranting wingnut to the same status as genuine experts, the Washington Post has given a guest column to Bill Donohue - the extreme right-wing Catholic bully whose sole purpose in life is seeking out things to be offended by. Whether it's The Simpsons, the "secular Jews" who run Hollywood and hate Christianity, store greeters who say "Happy Holidays", or monogamous gay couples who want to adopt children, no insult or indignity against the Catholic church is too minor for Donohue to ignore - except, that is, for priests who sexually molest children and are protected by the church hierarchy, which he views as no big deal.

Let's consider Donohue's column one point at a time, starting at the beginning:

There are many ways cultural nihilists are busy trying to sabotage America these days: multiculturalism is used as a club to beat down Western civilization in the classroom...

Yet as I mentioned, Donohue has no qualms about using his own "offense" as a club to beat others. He successfully used this tactic to get two well-known feminist bloggers fired from the John Edwards campaign in 2008. Clearly, the source of his complaint is that he's no longer the only one who can dictate to others what they can and cannot say in order not to offend him.

...artists use their artistic freedoms to mock Christianity... Today's radicals are intellectually spent: they want to annihilate American culture, having absolutely nothing to put in its place.

If this is what Donohue considers "sabotaging" America, then the First Amendment sabotages America. Citizens of this country have always had the right to speak their minds, to criticize, and to parody. And that doesn't make us "cultural nihilists", it makes us people with a different value system than the scrunched-up wad of indiscriminate rage that apparently constitutes his entire worldview.

Sexual libertines... have sought to pervert society by acting out on their own perversions. What motivates them most of all is a pathological hatred of Christianity. They know, deep down, that what they are doing is wrong, and they shudder at the dreaded words, "Thou Shalt Not." But they continue with their death-style anyway.

The Washington Post, ladies and gentlemen. Is this gibbering, spittle-flecked screed really the sort of garbage they want gracing their editorial pages? (If you don't think so, e-mail onfaith@washingtonpost.com and let them know your views.)

Self-awareness is not a strong trait of the religious right, and this passage shows it. Donohue whines at length about how secularists mock him, but that's only because he makes himself an irresistible target for mockery. Just think of the gigantic ego required to seriously argue that the world revolves around your personal likes and dislikes, and that everyone who believes or acts differently than you is doing it on purpose, just to be spiteful. What satirist could resist the chance to puncture such ludicrously inflated pretensions? How could one not tweak a nose that's so invitingly bulbous and red?

This rant does illustrate a larger point, however. When it comes to religion, many expert pundits and theologians solemnly aver that we atheists are the nasty, rude, uncivil extremists who are making our cause look bad. Why is that criticism never applied in the other direction? Why are bigots like Donohue allowed to rant on about "death-styles" and "perversions" without condemnation, while we secularists are condescendingly chastised just for standing up and calling this delusional nonsense what it is? If the gatekeepers had their way, this debate would be reduced to Donohue and those like him standing on the ramparts and hurling bombs down at us, while we'd be forbidden to reply.

There was a time when Hollywood made reverential movies about Christianity. But those days are long gone. Now they just insult.

Yes indeed, the days of the Hays Code are long gone. That self-imposed industry code of censorship required that "no film... may throw ridicule on any religious faith", nor could ministers be presented as comic relief or as villains. Doubtless, Bill Donohue looks back fondly on those days. But for the record, it also banned films from presenting "sex relationships between the white and black races". Donohue is silent on whether he's nostalgic for that rule, but since it seems clear that he views the Hays Code as a net positive, one would have to conclude, at the very least, that he considers anti-miscegenation laws an acceptable compromise if he also gets anti-blasphemy laws out of the bargain.

I want to emphasize this point, because I think it's important to notice how religious conservatives consistently whitewash the uglier parts of our history when speaking of the past. They pine for the good old days, the era of perceived respect and civility, while steadfastly ignoring the virulent racism, sexism and prejudice of all kinds that ran rampant. This is a subtle form of racism in itself, and we shouldn't let it pass unchallenged. Ask one, the next time you encounter them: Do you believe that the civil rights movement was a good thing? And if so, doesn't that disprove your claims about the moral decay of civilization by showing that, at least in some ways, our society is morally better today than in past generations?

The ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State harbor an agenda to smash the last vestiges of Christianity in America. Lying about their real motives, they say their fidelity is to the Constitution. But there is nothing in the Constitution that sanctions the censorship of religious speech.

Quite true, but there most definitely is something in the Constitution (that pesky First Amendment again!) that forbids the government from endorsing or supporting any particular religious view. This is a distinction that the religious right consistently fails to grasp. As Donohue already admitted, his desire is that Catholicism be the only belief system protected from attack or criticism, while everyone else is fair game.

Catholics were once the mainstay of the Democratic Party; now the gay activists are in charge.

The irony is, as pointed out in a comment on Donohue's column, Catholics hold many top positions in the Democratic party - including the Speaker of the House, the Vice President, and last election's presidential nominee - and are actually overrepresented relative to their share of the population as a whole. Indeed, Catholics voted for Obama over McCain by a nine-point margin. This just goes to show that Catholic laypeople are more progressive than the stultifying views of their self-appointed leaders.

And finally, in closing, comes this truly incredible wingnuttery:

The good news is that religious conservatives continue to breed like rabbits, while secular saboteurs have shut down: they're too busy walking their dogs, going to bathhouses and aborting their kids. Time, it seems, is on the side of the angels.

While Donohue dreams of a rosy future overpopulated by desperately poor and uneducated Catholic faithful, the sad truth is that every reliable survey has shown rates of atheism, freethought, and support for gay rights rising in every generation.

It is remarkable, however, how openly the right-wingers have given up on winning the battle of ideas. Instead, they've set their hopes on outbreeding their enemies. Clearly, the only people they expect to be able to convince are young, susceptible children. This in itself is the best sign that we're winning the culture war. Donohue's shrill, vile rant is the swan song of a demagogue who's fading into the dust of history, and knows it.

October 22, 2009, 6:53 am • Posted in: The RotundaPermalink38 comments
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Christian Troll Masquerades as Racist Atheist

Over the past two weeks, an individual calling himself Steve Leone has attempted to leave about half a dozen variations of the following comment on my thread about the "miracle" of Fatima:

"Oh yeah? Well, how did three illiterate Portuguese peasant children know that some strange atmospheric phenomenon was going to appear in the sky over Fatima at the exact date and time they predicted? Answer that, you smarty-pants atheists!"

Here's an entirely typical example from my moderation queue:

Author: Steve Leone (IP: 205.188.117.11, cache-dtc-ae07.proxy.aol.com)
Comment:
Whatever the thousands of people witnessed at Fatima, one has to ask: How did 3 peasant children know that something would occur at that time? Among all those in that varied crowd of people there was present newspaper reporters from Lisbon who witnessed and so reported the phenomenon that occurred. Agnostics, Atheists, Fanatics, yes even Fools were also present in that crowd of THOUSANDS. There can be no question that a spectacular event occurred. Without computers, 3 children alerted all to the event at the predicted hour. Solar activity was not in the mind of that crowd at that hour since it was rainy and overcast. The children did not fantasize, did not profit materially, did not conspire etc. Make of all this what you want but logic must prevail at the end.

While I don't demand that commenters agree with my viewpoint, I do insist that people who disagree with me take the time to read my posts and respond to the arguments I make. Since it was obvious that this person hadn't bothered to read or comprehend the Fatima post - if he had, he would have known that his criticism is completely irrelevant to the explanation I actually propose - I didn't approve any of these comments.

Then, in the past few days, I've started getting comments of a much more disturbing nature, submitted by someone calling himself "White Power Atheist". Here's one example of the kind of garbage this individual routinely submits:

Author : White Power Atheist (IP: 205.188.117.11, cache-dtc-ae07.proxy.aol.com)
Comment:
We must assassinate all believers

For even more obvious reasons, none of these comments made it out of my moderation queue. But it seems that "White Power Atheist" has suddenly become active on a variety of atheist blogs, as you'll see if you do a Google search for his handle. See this thread, for example, to understand the sort of filth he spews. (These comments were posted on Words of Wrath, a site run by an atheist blogger of color, which I'm sure was intentional.)

Now, if you look closely at the header information for those two comments, you may notice something: Steve Leone and "White Power Atheist" have exactly the same IP address, an AOL proxy server. Their comments also started being sent in to my site within a few days of each other.

Since AOL users all access the internet through these proxies, it might happen by coincidence that two separate people could leave comments from the same IP address. That would be a reasonable explanation if this had only happened once. But my suspicions were up, so I went back and scanned comments submitted to my moderation queue for the past two weeks. Here are the IP addresses used by Steve Leone for the comments he submitted:

64.12.116.69   [18 August 20:21]
205.188.117.11 [24 August 17:03]
205.188.117.11 [24 August 19:45]
205.188.117.11 [25 August 11:07]
205.188.117.11 [25 August 15:10]
64.12.116.69   [5 September 16:14]
205.188.117.11 [6 September 12:50]

And here are the IP addresses used by "White Power Atheist":

205.188.117.11 [4 September 22:15]
64.12.116.69   [6 September 16:00]
64.12.116.69   [6 September 16:03]

I also checked the database of existing comments. These are the only two commenters any time within the past month who have used either of these IP addresses. The fact that both of these commenters appeared within the same general time interval, as well as the fact that they both use these two IP addresses and no other current commenter on my site uses either of them, leads me to conclude that they are the same person. The fact that the Christian-apologist comments appeared first, and with greater frequency, indicates to me that their subject material is the author's primary concern, which leads me to conclude that the Christian persona is the true one and the racist-atheist persona is a masquerade. The implication is that this is a Christian pretending to be a racist atheist in an attempt to smear all atheists with the taint of racism.

September 6, 2009, 7:38 pm • Posted in: The FoyerPermalink46 comments
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The Republicans' Descent into Delusion

I don't usually post on purely political issues, but this one has become impossible to ignore. In the last few weeks, the American right has worked itself into a fever pitch of insanity over the prospect of healthcare reform.

If you've been watching the news, you've seen the shouting, raging protestors disrupting town-hall meetings, screaming at their representatives about how the healthcare bill is tyranny and fascism. These people are almost loud enough to drown out all other debate over health care. And their concerns, almost without exception, are pure, undiluted insanity. Take this right-wing protestor (who was subsequently invited on Fox News, naturally) to spout blithering hysteria about how President Obama is "sentencing our families to death" by trying to get a bill passed that would cover the uninsured.

Until a few weeks ago, I would have thought claims like this were too absurd to need refutation. But it's not just random nutjobs who are saying these things: the very leaders of the Republican party, its spokespeople and elected officials, have thrown their weight behind them. Whether it's Sarah Palin making ludicrous claims about "death panels", or former House Speaker Newt Gingrich suggesting that health care reform would lead to mandatory euthanasia, or U.S. Representative Virginia Foxx saying on the floor of Congress itself that the healthcare bill would result in "seniors... being put to death", or Senator Chuck Grassley saying that the government would "pull the plug on Grandma", the Republican Party as an entity has fully committed itself, with every outward indicator of sincerity, to defending these delusional lies. And the media, which can be relied upon to reduce every political debate to a he-said-she-said collision of talking heads, has dutifully given airtime to these claims as though they were serious and thoughtful arguments, rather than the ravings of maniacs.

The flood of brazen lies and hysterical fearmongering is the latest symptom of the sickness that's taken the Republican Party. It first manifested itself in the "birther" movement, the right-wing conspiracy theorists who insist in the face of all evidence that Barack Obama was not born in America. Now it's reappeared in the form of the "deathers", who took a single provision in the healthcare bill making provisions for voluntary end-of-life care directives (a provision that was introduced by a Republican senator), and somehow decided it meant that President Obama was planning to institute mandatory euthanasia on a massive scale.

As I said, this would sound too crazy to need refuting, if it hadn't become the sole focus of the frothing mob that the conservative movement has become. I'm aware that this kind of craziness has always been an undercurrent in American politics. But never, to my knowledge, has the tinfoil-hat-and-black-helicopter brigade gotten control of one of America's major political parties. (Along the same lines, Steve Benen has an insightful post on the motivations of the various groups that oppose reform.)

The raving fury and willful denial of reality that has the GOP in its thrall should be familiar to every reader of this blog. These are the same traits that are always seen in doomsday religious cults, the kind that are convinced the whole world is out to get them and everyone who's not part of the cult is an agent of the evil conspiracy. One could well argue that the virulent strain of Christianism that's taken root in the Republican Party, a religious sect already especially prone to such delusions, has accelerated the party's slide.

The most important lesson that liberals and progressives need to learn here is that there's no point trying to appease people who engage in this sort of behavior. They don't come to the table in good faith; they don't want to negotiate; their only goal is to obstruct and destroy.

President Obama was elected on a promise of bipartisanship and consensus-building, and I don't expect him to change that philosophy. Nor do I want a mirror image of the totalitarian behavior of the last administration, which sought to suppress any opinion contrary to its own. But I do hope that elected Democrats will see the futility of trying to bargain with Republicans who promote fear and hysteria, and consciously make an effort to shut them out in favor of the increasingly few reasonable conservatives remaining. If we're going to extend health care to the millions of uninsured Americans, pass a carbon cap-and-trade bill, reform our nation's energy policy, or achieve any other major progressive goal, the doomsday-cult conservative shriekers need to be marginalized and pushed to the lunatic fringes where they belong.

August 13, 2009, 1:43 pm • Posted in: The RotundaPermalink93 comments
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From the Mailbag: Weekend Kookery Edition

The last time I did a post like this, it was to share some of the more uplifting and inspiring e-mails I received. This one is headed in a different direction. Here, for your reading pleasure and amusement, enjoy this selection of kookery culled from e-mails I've gotten, as well as the occasional preaching comment I've rejected from Daylight Atheism.

First up, there's this from "wayofthegoldenlion", which starts off as standard creationist drivel but builds up steam as it goes, until it suddenly blasts off into awesome heights of lunacy:

As for myself, I believe that science has proved that there has to be a creator (The best mathematicians, physicists, biologists, astronomers,etc all admit they cannot explain how the DNA data gets into each cell/gene and can only be put there by intelligent design. But a campaign of disinformation from the atheist scientific communtity was exposed on British TV (I have the documentary), that proves that even the atheists admitted in secret scientific unpublished journals that all organic life in the universe had to come from a designer creator, and cannot appear randomly. The documentary exposed these findings and carried the atheist scientists through to their final statement and conclusion (which was pretty weak) that all artificial intelligence can appear randomly, but they admit that all organic life has to have a creator. THAT WAS THE COVER UP! THIS WAS EXPOSED AND THE SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY WERE INFILTRATED BY OCCULT SECRET SOCIETIES AND PAID TO NOT PUBLISH THEIR FINDINGS. (MOSTLY HIGH RANKING FREEMASONS, ROSICRUCIANS, ORDER TEMPLAR ORIENTALIS,ETC). tHE DOCUMENTARY PART 2 STATES THAT 90% OF THE SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY DO NOT BELIEVE IN EVOLUTION BUT AGREE WITH CHRISTIANS SCIENTISTS THAT NATURAL SELECTION IS A CORRECT THESIS, BUT THEY CANNOT ADMIT THIS, BECAUSE THEIR FUNDS WILL BE STOPPED BY POWERFUL INSTITUTES CONTROLLED BY THESE OCCULT FREEMASONS/BUSINESSMEN WHO OWN MULTINATIONAL CORPORATIONS

"Secret unpublished scientific journals". Gotta love it. There's considerable potential here for a Christian-fundamentalist version of The Da Vinci Code - our brave hero races against time to find the secret journals and uncover the scientific conspiracy! If only we could find some bold author who's equal to the task.

Next, this comment from "John", who evidently doesn't think that preaching the gospel is important enough to justify spellcheck:

hey why dont u guys jsrt stop hating on everything and chillax and read about Jesus (whose da bomb) cuz otherwise when ur dead ur gunna be like "man that dude on the athiest website knew his stuff."

The translators of the King James Bible must be turning over in their graves. Whatever else we can say about that book, its language is often beautiful and poetic as only Shakespearean English can be. This comment - not so much. ("Verily, Jesus spake unto the multitude: 'O ye fools and blind, can ye not discern that God the Father is da bomb?'")

There's also this anonymous commenter, whose keen insight allowed him to divine the true reason so many people are atheists:

WOw.. you guys are amazing. except for one thing. even if GOD did exsist you'd never know it, cause if ever He did something you'd justify and explain it away. and the reason for this is simple. most of you are addicted to porn or masturbation or alchohol or whatever(please don't reply with what good people you are or what great things you do or how noble you are). and you want to keep doing what you are.

Curses! Found out! And we'd have gotten away with it too, if it weren't for you meddling Christians!

Finally, there's this e-mail I got a few weeks ago from someone with the disturbingly Naziesque handle of "The Cure". He starts out with the usual apologetic blather, but then suddenly decides to veer in another direction and start preaching about abortion and homosexuality, despite saying he has no idea what I believe about either (it's not hard to find out if you look). I can only surmise that the thought of "atheism" rattled around inside his brain until it activated the more general category of "things I dislike". And why do so many homophobes target their invective at gay men and rarely, if ever, mention lesbians? Could it be that they focus on the topics they find simultaneously the most fascinating and repelling - and if so, what does that imply about them?

Dear Atheist,

I came across your website and wonder why someone would be so driven to disprove the existence of God? Perhaps your lifestyle does not line up with religious people who believe in God propagate? Just curious. Or perhaps you think hypocracy in the church disproves the existence of God. That is a fallible argument. If a man has been faithful to his wife, provided for his children, and has lived by good moral standards (although I know this is probably subjective to you), but then has a son who gets married, cheats on his wife, and abuses the children, does that disprove the existence of the father? Seriously, a hypocrite does not prove God does not exist, it just proves the Devil does!

I agree that every person is inherently designed to be able to judge between issues of morality on some level; therefore, even you could make some good judgments. But to deny the existence of something greater takes more faith than those who believe in a God.

Two topics that I believe are important to this society and its existence are homosexuality and abortion. I do not know what you believe about these, yet, by natural law even aside from any religious basis they can be judged as wrong!

I am a religious person and I do not want to be vulgar; however, I am sure you are adult enought to handle this statement. Does not common sense tells us that if two different kinds of the same species have different genitalia, and that if used together reproduction is accomplished, then they are made to live together and have a family? The rectum region is existent for both man and women. It is used by both for the same purpose. Yet, the genitalia region is used for another purpose in general; that is to reproduce. Although, the rectum region can be used between man and man to have sensual pleasure, it does not appear to have been "created" or in your terms "evolved" for that use in specific. The main use is to excrete waste. Does not common sense also tells us that since a man and women's genitalia are in same location but are different and fit together like a puzzle, then do you not think man and women belong together? Not man and man, women and women. For just a moment, let us say that everyone decided to be in homosexual relations without the ability by modern science to reproduce in a test tube. If that had happened during the "dark ages" we would not even be here today! The homosexual life style does not promote a constructive foundation of the existence of the world, it brings it to an end!

Abortion is murder. To defend one's life is not murder, that is justice. Capital punishment is justice. Can a baby defend itself? I think not, therefore, abortion is murder.

Perhaps you believe aborition and homosexuality to be wrong. If you do, then you have proved my premise. Even atheists can make some good jugdments. Yes, I believe you can have values; however, this society will crumble if we do not change. Our values need to be based on a higher standard, the Bible! The Roman Empire fell because of the lack of values! Two of their immoral practices were homosexuality, and senseless killing!

My purpose in writing this was to show aside from the Bible, one can prove something to be wrong by its own nature!

The Cure

February 7, 2009, 10:24 am • Posted in: The FoyerPermalink62 comments
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