Internet Goosing the Antithesis

Friday, June 29, 2007

Meme Machine: Eight Random Things

(tagged by Sean Prophet)
  1. As much as it pains me to admit it, I have a deep-down yearning for sasquatches to be real. I've had some spooky encounters in the wild, albeit no actual sighting or aural experience of anything. Sometimes I head over to the Bigfoot Field Researchers' Organization website and browse through their sighting reports- to what purpose, I don't know. Maybe the discovery of such a creature serves as some kind of weird fantasy.

  2. Part of my fascination with the concept of sasquatch may come from my experiments with ultra-primitive camping. And when I say ultra-primitive, I mean sans nearly everything but a loincloth and a knife. And a lot of mud. In fact, it's entirely possible that I'm responsible for several sasquatch "sightings" in and around Daniel Boone and Wayne National Forest.

  3. I had in my possession at one point in time a ball python and a mouse colony. I learned very quickly that the mice could out-reproduce the gastronomical needs of the snake very easily.

  4. I've also rehabilitated a baby raccoon I found while hiking near my apartment, and initially thought was dead. When he woke up and started running in a circle and bleating for its mother, I took pity on the little thing and brought him home and named him Garrett. He was unsure what he thought about me for a little while, until I got him to try some kitten formula- at that point, I was his favorite person in the world. I kept him for a few months, until he was big enough to take care of itself. Before I released him, I took him camping and taught him how to catch and eat crayfish. It was not easy to let him go free.

  5. It's probably obvious by now that I love animals. Early on, I wanted to be a veterinarian, and in fact my designation throughout my undergraduate study was "pre-vet." However, while going to college I volunteered at several veterinarian offices and got to know the profession better. I discovered that although I loved working with animals, I loathed working with peoples' pets. Large animals weren't much better - the average horse owner is even more annoying than the average dog or cat owner.

  6. My choice of science as a career was somewhat accidental - having turned away from veterinary medicine as an option, I thought that I might be happy as a wildlife biologist, but I was also working as a tech in a molecular biology laboratory on campus. When I neared graduation, my boss strongly suggested that I apply to the graduate program, which I hadn't seriously considered (even though I was a reasonably adept lab tech and loved the science I was working in).

  7. As a graduate student, my most valuable skill became performing vascular surgery on the carotid arteries of mice. You can read all about it on PubMed.

  8. Although I'm more than open to just about any kind of cuisine available (particularly Indian and Thai), I cannot stomach any kind of melon. Not watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, or anything from that family. And I've tried- this was a distaste that was immediately obvious to me at a young age, at my first attempt of any of these fruits- but since then, I'll periodically try them again, to see if I've gotten over my revulsion. The only thing that's improved is my ability to swallow the fruit without dry-heaving - when I was younger, it was that bad. I have no discernible allergy to the stuff - I could rub it all over myself or eat a whole slice of watermelon with no ill effects other than highly acute nausea. It's my kryptonite.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Tony Hendra: Atheists Aren't So Great

In his blog on the Huffington Post, Tony Hendra (erstwhile National Lampoon founder and Spinal Tap manager) has a bone to pick with all the bestselling atheists (the No-God Squad?) who are keen to point out the moral failings of Christianity throughout history.

A liberal Roman Catholic himself, his annoyance at the Squad's harping on the atrocities found in the Bible is somewhat understandable. Hendra has written in his memoir how he had initially planned to become a Catholic monk but failed to follow through, due in no small part to the lure of sex, drugs, and rock ’n roll. He attributes his salvation to the efforts of a Catholic monk he refers to as “Father Joe.”

But as much love and respect Hendra has for Father Joe, he feels disgust and anger for “Uncle Joe.” And by proxy, the glorious age of atheism that he argues was ushered in near Stalin’s birth by the publication of Nietzsche’s The Gay Science, in which God’s death is claimed. His assertion, as is that of most theists critical of atheism, is that the abandonment of God necessitates an abandonment of morality. Readers of this blog already know that this could not be further from the truth.

Running through the list of the 20th century’s tyrannical despots (the usual suspects for those looking to demonize atheism), Hendra lays not only Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and Pol Pot at atheism’s feet, but (in order to justify his claim that Nietzsche kick-started the atheo-fascist process) also claims King Leopold II’s Congolese genocide was an atheistic exercise (a baseless claim which completely ignores the Catholicism of the Belgian monarchy which, presumably, Hendra simply can’t admit to). As if that weren’t preposterous enough, he also makes the claim that World War I can be blamed on “free-thinking scientists” for their audacity to discover facts about the natural world which could be utilized for warfare.

Turning his attention to Dawkins, Hendra dismisses him as “sound-bitey” (this from a man who begins his article with the phrase, “The day God died, Stalin was born”) and a “world-class special pleader” (this from a man who waives away the Crusades as nothing but “greed and cynicism”). Although admitting Sam Harris to be “scientific,” he snidely suggests that Harris’ criticism of Islam is “religious” (a curious perjorative from an avowed Catholic). Christopher Hitchens, though Hendra disagrees with his conclusions, at least entertains him (a passive-aggressive insult, presumably). Summing up the three, he presents their combined thesis as “all religion bad, all atheism good.” A more blatant oversimplification and strawman approach would be hard to make.

Magnanimously, Hendra then reveals that his tirade against atheo-fascism was just a feint, and that he doesn’t believe one’s religious convictions should be called into question for one’s actions. With surprising reasonableness, he says that “in reality mass-murderers are almost always good old down-home hypocrites who exploit the beliefs that help people navigate their lives, to cover for their own homicidal compulsions and/or need for vast amounts of real-estate.”

But he swiftly loses the intellectual high ground when he concludes that, despite his admission that atheism can’t logically be blamed for genocide, the “emotional impact of the horrors that resulted” from atheism is reason enough to suppress people like Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens, to protect us from… what, exactly? And what, exactly is his opinion of the “emotional impact of the horrors that resulted” and continue to result from religiously-motivated genocides and pogroms? Hendra is strangely silent on this point- apparently religion gets a free pass (world-class special pleader, indeed!).

Hendra reserves his final drops of venom for science, which he claims is the real danger to humanity, not religion. It is science, he claims, that “brought humanity to the brink of self-extermination.” Not only is this an ironic claim from a man who believes that his god drowned all of humanity save for eight people in a global flood, but it’s a queer Luddite-ish statement from a man who regularly enjoys all the conveniences of modern scientific discovery, including the ability to post his confused and liberally religious ramblings on the web. Tony Hendra just can’t help himself from coming across as a Christian pot seeking to court atheist kettles away from being so… black. Presumably, only one piece of kitchenware is allowed to be black at a time, and Hendra has decided (*cough* *special pleading* *cough*) that this should be him.

Happily, Hendra intends to continue his attack on Dawkins et al, and his next installment will address the question of whether Dawkins or Pat Robertson take the Bible more literally. I don’t think I’m off in anticipating that he’d conclude the former, but I don’t suspect he’ll admit that the (usually textually arbitrary) metaphorical interpretations favored by even hardcore fundamentalists like Robertson belie a reluctance (or inability) to deal with a straightforward reading of a text they take to be divinely inspired.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Kent Hovind losing his mind in jail...

Kent Hovind, stuffed in rape cells (a more accurate term for "jail") on January 19th for the "crime" of tax evasion, is now apparently going batshit insane. He is posting an email conversation between himself and god. Some extracts:

KH: Lord, I asked you to let me sleep, because I knew the next day would be hard and I would need my strength. Why didn’t you let me sleep, Lord?

GOD: I did, son. You slept great from 3:00 - 4:45 a.m. Who do you think it was that made the guard forget to call you at 3:30? Didn’t you wake up refreshed at 4:45 and even comment on how hard you slept and how good you felt?

GOD: Quit griping, son. I know what I’m doing.

KH: I’ll work on that, Lord.

KH: No, Lord. But you opened the prison for Peter (Acts 12), for Paul (Acts 5:19), and for Joseph (Genesis 41), and even the grave for some people (John 11). I was just wondering if you loved them more than me or something, or maybe I had some sin you were punishing me for.

GOD: I love you more than your little brain could ever comprehend. You do have plenty of sin—though that’s not why you are there. We will keep working on that sin list regardless of where you are.

KH: Thanks, Lord. Please do keep working on me.

KH: But, Lord, five hundred miles away?

GOD: You are still in America, son. Would you prefer…Siberia?

KH: Oh, no, South Carolina is just fine! Hey, Lord, why did you let me slip on those steps in Atlanta and bruise my ankle so badly?

GOD: I needed you to see the new prison doctor that just came from India. He knows almost nothing about Me, son. I know you didn’t have much time with him, but you did tell him about your Website. He will look at it and read the “How To Be Saved” article. That will start him on the road to salvation later this year.

I’m sorry about the bruise, but you can’t see the doctor in there unless you are hurt. Would you rather I break it next time—or bruise your head?

God sure works in mysterious ways. I'm not one to question the fucker, but I really think he should leave Kenny alone. Maybe we should put god in a rape cell for assault, given that he admits breaking Kenny's ankle. ;)

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Atheist propaganda in schools

The Colorado Coalition of Reason has made a 35-minute video, grandiosely entitled The Last Presentation, that they are sending to schools in order to talk to students about atheism and not to discriminate against atheist classmates.

This may seem like a laudable goal, but I'm afraid that, from my perspective, there are a few rather dramatically questionable things. Making a video about atheism is a ridiculous propositions, as atheists don't agree about anything. As such, this video tries to impose ONE particular worldview and propose it as "atheism." Here are some examples:

Good and evil? It’s all in your point of view. People can do things that by any definition are terrible antisocial acts, things that are harmful to others and I would call those evil acts. Ask an antelope what he thinks about being eaten and he’ll tell you the lion is evil. The lion will say he’s simply having dinner. By the way, being philosophical about it doesn't stop the pain or the death of the antelope. Nations go to war against each other. Our side is fighting for god, country, and apple pie. The folks on the other side are evil. The folks on the other side think the same think only reversed. Now that doesn't mean that people don't commit evil acts in war because they certainly do. It means that the definition of good and evil can change with your point of view.
The atheists I know act ethically. To us, that means don’t hurt other people, don’t take their possessions, and don’t lie.

If good and evil change depending on your point of view, then they are personal opinion, not fact, and it makes no sense to say that "atheists act ethically." This statement, which supposedly represents ALL ATHEISTS, basically tells schoolchildren that atheists don't believe in morality, and that anything that is good from your perspective, is good. "To us," it means to not hurt others, to not steal or lie, but to you it might be... say, killing atheists. But that's okay!

Religion gives many people much-needed support. It provides the floorboards of their lives and gives them something to hang onto. Lots of religious people do good things in charity. They tend to their flocks and they help those less fortunate.

What does people's charity work has to do with religion? Absolutely nothing. This is a completely irrelevant point in discussing whether religion does or does not "give many people much-needed support." How does religion provide support? Mumbling a few words about floorboards and supports doesn't make an argument. Do ALL atheists agree that religion does this? Not me!

Well, thank you, but sometimes I feel more angry than brave. Here’s an example. A religious leader wants to force-feed hospital patients over the objections not only of the family but of the patients legally expressed wishes. Tim, we’re talking about tax-supported public hospitals forcing their religious beliefs on others. I hope that explains why I support the separation of church and state.

Is the Church forcing this poor woman to stay alive? No! The State is. What power would "religious leaders" have to force people not to kill themselves, if the State was not there to effect it? "Religious leaders" in North America do not kill people, or steal their money, or force them to stay alive despite their pain. Only the State does that.

Please help by sending an email to the COCORE at and tell them that, while you think their project is well-intentioned, that they should refrain from speaking for you or any other atheist. The minute they start saying that "atheists think this," they are lying about us, they are slandering us, and we should not stand for it.

Friday, June 22, 2007

No Surprise Here...

Unlike the family-friendly P.Z. Myers, the Disney-grade Neural Gourmet, or even the too-cool-for-high-school Atheist Revolution, we hardcore bastards at GTA have been slapped with the following:

What's My Blog Rated? From Mingle2 - Online Dating
I don't get it- sure, we talk about death, killing, sex, abortion, rape, and homosexuality... but only in the context of what the Bible (and its enthusiasts) says about them.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Filed Under "I" For Irony

In response to the inability of the U.S. government to accomplish something as trivial and bureaucratic as processing passports:

Sen. David Vitter, a Republican from Louisiana, says "I am very concerned because it's yet again another story of the complete failure of competence in government and ineptness."

No kidding.

Creation Museum Commercial

Wicked cool... I can't wait to go.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Rationalizing Biblical Atrocities: Just Following Orders

Although in the previous two entries in this series, I showed that the common rationalizations ("blame the victim" and "it could have been worse") fall flat once the textual basis for these approaches show evidence of post-hoc redaction, tu quoque, exaggeration to the point of misrepresentation, and ad hoc rationalizations that give rise to implications which no Christian would accept for any similar action today.

But even given that, there is one last approach, a final fallback position to which Christians can cling to even in the face of unbearable violence and disgusting exploitation:

Yahweh approved it.

Ironically, what would seem to be the ultimate condemnation of Old Testament ethics from the atheistic perspective is actually the strongest rationalization for it from the Christian perspective. The argument proceeds thusly from several premises:

The first set gives rules for determining if a commandment is legitimate.
  1. If a commandment is given in an undeniably genuine manner, then it is from Yahweh
  2. If a commandment is consistent with Yahweh's nature and decrees, then it is from Yahweh.
  3. If a commandment can be appraised through the revealed parameters of the Bible, then it is from Yahweh.
The second set gives rules for addressing the legitimate commandments.
  1. If a commandment is from Yahweh, then it is perfectly good.
  2. If a commandment is from Yahweh, then it must be carried out.
Thus, if any perceived commandment can be first determined to be genuine according to the first three premises, then the last two assure one that not only are these commandments perfectly moral, but they must be carried out unquestionably. The problems with this approach should be obvious, but I'll point them out explicitly.

Problem #1: This is a viciously circular method for appraising commandments which are recorded in the Bible.

Aside from the first premise in the first set, which advocates a verification principle that is not only completely subjective but epistemologically worthless (what conditions are necessary for "undeniably genuine" communication from the divine?), the rest illustrate a completely circular approach to justification. If the Bible is used as the standard by which we determine the "nature" and "decrees" of Yahweh, and also gives us the parameters by which we can judge any future perceived commandments from the deity, then we are precluded from analyzing the morality of actions which are recorded in the Bible. To show this a bit more obviously, examine the following:
  1. The Bible is the standard of good because it records Yahweh's commandments.
  2. Yahweh's commandments are good because they're in the Bible.
Thus, appealing to the Bible as any kind of standard in a matter which questions commandments that are recorded within its pages is a hopeless task.

Problem #2: This same line of reasoning is applicable to any religious system, betraying a hollow moral content.

Although most parents use the "because I said so" approach of justification for many moral commandments levied against their children, those same children are provoked to frustration because they are acutely aware that although the same rationalization is used with the same force by others' parents, the relative commandments vary from household to household. Not to take to task those parents who are too morally uninformed, naive, or busy to explain their moral reasoning to their children, but I think it provides a telling example of what can happen when a deity effectively tells his worshipers "because I said so."

One could easily replace "Yahweh" with the name of any deity in the above premises, including Allah, Vishnu, or Geusha. If the average Christian would hope for a more substantial moral foundation from a pagan holy warrior than "Zeus told me to," then I would also expect Christians to be able to provide something more meaningful.

Problem #3: In order to accept atrocities as moral, the Christian has to give up moral autonomy.

This is the most troubling problem, as I see it, and follows undeniably from the premises above. If the premise that any commandment from Yahweh is perfectly good, then we're back on the horns of Euthyphro's dilemma, impaled on the moral impotence of the typical Christian response that the nature of their deity is perfectly good. If, as Christians say, their deity is sovereign and executes perfect wisdom when he issues commandments, then it is implicit that no Christian can morally validate or invalidate any such commandments - that is to say, no Christian can conclude, based on anything other than the premise that Yahweh is perfectly good, than any particular commandment can be either good or evil. The value of a commandment isn't even up for consideration - the Christian is in a state where any commandment, no matter how superficially horrible and violent (like genocide or the organized rape of young girls) HAS to be good, definitionally. This, then, is the place where Christians give up their moral autonomy, where they lose the ability to decide if something is good or evil based on their own faculties and reasoning.

I see this as a very dangerous place to be, because any system which discourages individuals from acting as moral agents is one in which immorality can thrive. And, to look at the Bible, it would seem that it has.


It's clear to me that, just as the defense of "I was just following orders" doesn't carry much weight for war criminals in modern times, it shouldn't be applicable to ancient murderers like Moses.

Fortunately, an analysis of the source texts for these atrocities shows that not only were the stories cobbled together to make a confused patchwork of scripture for the sole purpose of providing a mythological explanation for the political realities of the ancient Middle East, and all archaeological evidence to date strongly points to the fact that these stories were nothing more than wishful retrojections of a priestly and scribal effort to document what were essentially "Paul Bunyanesque" tall tales of the ancient Israelite mythological characters, rather than a historical reflection of actual events. So even though the stories themselves are horrific, they're no more accurate than the Odyssey accounts of men being eaten alive by a Cyclops or transformed into pigs.

It's also somewhat heartening to know that even as Christians are eager to justify these stories within their context, they're just as eager to assure themselves and others that such a context no longer applies to them. Most Christians will argue that since the ancient Israelite theocracy has come and gone, they no longer are bound by the genocidal directives that created and sustained it. They're also eager to argue that Christians are directed to engage in spiritual, not physical warfare. While I don't agree that their arguments for these latter points are meaningful, I can at least appreciate the humanistic ethical pangs that I suspect underlie their eagerness to distance themselves from a barbaric religious heritage.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Greydon Square: Atheist Hip-Hop

I just received my copy of Greydon Square's "The Compton Effect" in the mail today - I'd been hoping for a digital download, but figured that a snail mail copy of a CD would be quicker in the long run. Greydon is a student of physics, so although I hope he doesn't give up his day job (we need as many American scientists as possible), I'm also happy for him to keep up his music on the side.

I'm somewhat self-conscious of the fact that as a white guy, the value of my opinion of hip-hop is questionable- and I'll freely admit that my tastes don't run deep in the genre (Common, Kanye West, and The Roots are among the few that I enjoy - aside from the proto-rap of Rudy Ray Moore). That being said, I think it's an album well worth consideration, not only for the well-crafted rhymes and engaging beats, but also for the sheer entrancement of explicitly atheist lyrics. It's clear that even without his message of nonbelief, Greydon's talent would give rise to an equivalent aesthetic, but with it the product carries more emotional force. He's not the first hip-hop artist to adopt an ideological position, but I do believe that he's the first to make that position atheism.

I'm not sure how well he'll be received in the mainstream, but I'm happy to listen to what the guy has to say.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Questions your Pastor Will Hate

From, Dennis Diehl, former pastor, has some questions your pastor will hate, such as:

"Why would God stop the whole earth for a day so Israelites could finish a genocide against the enemy?" I mean, I can see stopping it so there is more time to hug, or feed the hungry, or plant the crops, but more time to kill? Dumb story. Answer...God hates sin and had to kill the bastards, he just needed more time than he planned on."

"How come the horses in the Exodus die twice in the Ten Plagues and still survive for Pharoah to mount a final attack against the Israelites, and then die again." Answer...Where do you get this stuff?


"Why does the Apostle Paul, who writes most of the New Testament, NEVER quote Jesus, tell a story of his life or death, discuss a miracle or teaching?" Answer...Where do you get this stuff?

"Why does neither Mark nor John know anything about Jesus birth, while Matthew and Luke do but tell contradictory stories?" Answer...Because the Gospels are like four people who see a car wreck...


"How come Jesus never wrote anything himself while alive, but then writes perfect Greek after he is dead in the form of the Book of Revelation?" Answer....He finished his PHD in Heaven.

"If Herod killed all the little children under two to get at Jesus, who escaped, can we not say the little children had to die for Jesus before he died for them?" Answer...No we can't, sheesh.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Keep the facts for outside!

Prehistoric Man Also Going to Hell

According to those heathen scientists, prehistoric man is also going straight to Hell, since they have sex for pleasure:

He may have come down from the trees, but prehistoric man did not stop swinging. New research into Stone Age humans has argued that, far from having intercourse simply to reproduce, they had sex for fun.

Practices ranging from bondage to group sex, transvestism and the use of sex toys were widespread in primitive societies as a way of building up cultural ties.

Damn history, it's just so damn inconvenient... if only we could get rid of all these pesky facts.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Rationalizing Biblical Atrocities: It Could Have Been Worse

Another common claim among Christians attempting to rationalize Biblical atrocities is that although genocide and forced marriage were ordered by Yahweh and enforced without compunction by the Israelites, these otherwise horrific acts are rendered the most morally viable option due to the alternatives, which would have been worse.

This is a particularly attractive argument - it conjures up the idea of a deity who really wanted to spare all humans, even the corrupt pagans, any unnecessary pain and suffering. I'm reminded of the climactic scene in Old Yeller, where Travis has to blast the dog into smithereens because it's contracted rabies. The tears stream down his face as he puts the rifle to his shoulder, and pulls the trigger - isn't this the way Christians would like to think of Yahweh targeting the women and children of his enemies?

As I pointed out in the previous entry, there are three instances in the Bible where genocide is clearly ordered and carried out by the Israelites. These orders are clearly punctuated by specific commands from Yahweh, as in Numbers 31:
They made war on Midian, as Yahweh had ordered Moses, and put every male to death. What is more, they killed the kings of Midian, Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur and Reba, the five Midianite kings; they also put Balaam son of Beor to the sword. The Israelites took the Midianite women and their little ones captive and carried off all their cattle, all their flocks and all their goods as booty. They set fire to the towns where they lived and to all their encampments. Then, taking all their booty, everything they had captured, man and beast, they brought the captives, spoil and booty to Moses, the priest Eleazar and the whole community of Israelites at the camp on the Plains of Moab, near the Jordan by Jericho.
There still seems to be some confusion about the Midianites and the Moabites here, belied by the geographical details. The Midianites lived far to the south of Jericho, either on the Arabian or the Sinai peninsulas bordering the Gulf of Aqaba- the Moabites lived in close proximity to Jericho, across the Jordan river. For the Israelites to travel deep enough into Midianite territory to destroy "all their encampments," it would require a journey roughly equivalent to that across the Sinai peninsula, from Egypt to Palestine - no simple war campaign. As was suggested by the mixed-up justification given in Numbers 25, there seems to have been a Midianite element laid over a story about Moabites, and for some reason the redactor didn't care or wasn't aware of the geographical contradictions his efforts contributed to the story. But I digress.

Instead of the total genocide that was ordered for the Canaanites in Jericho and the Amalekites, the Israelites had thought initially to lay claim to the Midianite women as war booty, saving them from the sword, but Moses makes it clear that only the young girls are appropriate for whatever the men had in mind:
Moses, the priest Eleazar and all the leaders of the community went out of the camp to meet them. Moses was enraged with the officers of the army, the commanders of the thousands and commanders of the hundreds, who had come back from this military expedition. He said, "Why have you spared the life of all the women? They were the very ones who, on Balaam's advice, caused the Israelites to be unfaithful to Yahweh in the affair at Peor: hence the plague which struck Yahweh's community. So kill all the male children and kill all the women who have ever slept with a man, and keep them for yourselves.
This is perhaps the most disturbing scene for Christians to have to deal with. There's a certain amount of military logic to the idea of killing all the men - these were the dangerous ones. Moses' point suggests that the women were the real targets all along- although again, we're faced with a garbled patchwork narrative as the editor of this passage tried to make sense of Moses' reasons. Again, we're referred back to the situation at Peor, but as you recall, that was caused by Moabite women, not Midianites. There was a story about one Midianite princess tacked on to the end of the tale, but it was done so too clumsily to make sense of what Moses claims. These nonexistent Midianite women had supposedly sought advice from Balaam? If so, there's no record of this in the preceding passages. Balaam was a soothsayer (Moabite, presumably) who was hired by Balak the Moabite king to curse the Israelites (although he never did so, and is depicted as being familiar with and enjoying discourse with Yahweh, even worshipping him at every opportunity - I smell another narrative discontinuity here, but I'll leave it be for now), but he never consulted with the Midianites, nor suggested that they attempt to seduce the Israelites with their foreign deities.

The idea of killing women simply because they practiced a different religion should be obviously immoral, and the average Christian is going to shift more than a little bit in his or her seat when reading this, especially the cold way the following passages detail how the young girls were split up among the Israelites:
The spoils, the remainder of the booty captured by the soldiers, came to six hundred and seventy-five thousand sheep and goats, seventy-two thousand head of cattle, sixty-one thousand donkeys, and in persons, women who had never slept with a man, thirty-two thousand in all. Half was assigned to those who had taken part in the war... sixteen thousand persons, of which Yahweh's portion was thirty-two. Moses gave the priest Eleazar the portion set aside for Yahweh, as Yahweh had ordered Moses.

As for the half coming to the Israelites which Moses had separated from that the the combatants... sixteen thousand persons. From this half, the Israelites' share, Moses took one out of every fifty, man and beast, and gave them to the Levites who were responsible for Yahweh's Dwelling, as Yahweh had ordered Moses.
It doesn't look good for young girls to be counted up and divided like so much livestock - even I feel a little sick to my stomach as I'm copying it. Thirty-two thousand young girls, having just witnessed the slaughter of their mothers, older sisters, and young brothers, were being parceled out like so much property. And Yahweh is careful not to forget about his priests - 320 of these girls were reserved for distribution among the Levites, and an additional 32 were saved for the High Priest's private enjoyment.

It's no surprise that any Christian with a pre-pubescent daughter is going to have a lot of trouble with this passage - it's no secret that priests and other religious officials have helped themselves to the sexual opportunism that is frequently afforded them, but this practice has always been publicly denounced - imagine the cognitive disconnect to read a passage where Yahweh specifically bestows 32 virgin girls to his High Priest.

But if there's one thing that I've learned during my interactions with Christians following my apostasy, it's to never underestimate the power of religiously-motivated rationalization.

Rationalization #1: Captured women were treated with dignity, and allowed to worship the true god Yahweh.

There is an oft-cited passage in Deuteronomy 21 that outlines the rules for Israelites who take wives from military prisoners:
When you go to war against your enemies and Yahweh your God delivers them into your power and you take prisoners, and among the prisoners you see a beautiful woman, and you fall in love with her, and you take her to be your wife and bring her home; she must shave her head and cut her nails, and take off her prisoner's garb; she must stay inside your house and mourn her father and mother for a full month. You may then go to her and be a husband to her, and she will be your wife. Should she cease to please you, you will let her go where she wishes, not selling her for money: you must not make any profit out of her, since you have exploited her.
I suppose that a female slave could be treated worse than this, but the main immorality implicit in this passage is the sheer fact that any captured woman could be coerced sexually - this is rape we're reading about, make no mistake about it. I hardly think a rapist would be afforded moral leniency if he bought flowers for a woman before he pushed her to the ground and forced himself on her. Another claim within this rationalization is that the insistence for the woman to shave her head and cut her nails were enforced to make her ugly, thereby ensuring the man's true intentions - that is to say, if he raped her after a month of seeing her at her most unattractive, it would be only the sweetest, most caring kind of rape. I suppose the idea of the man forcing himself on the captive woman, even with the best intentions (?) is still not quite enough to clean it up morally, so a final claim is that the women were allowed to go free if the relationship failed. That's somewhat accurate - the women were not to be sold into further slavery if the men were "no longer pleased" with them, but the text is clear that the woman did not enjoy the same prerogative. That is, she was allowed to go free if and only if her husband/captor decrees it - she has no freedoms of her own. I'm reminded somewhat of the fundamentalist Mormon communities that often marry off young girls to older men - that this practice is decried by modern Christians but similar passages in the Bible are cleared for approval is a profound irony.

Rationalization #2: The children killed in genocide were spared life in a corrupt and evil pagan society.

A common theme of the Pentateuch is that all cultures other than the Israelites were evil through and through - if for no other reason than that they worshiped gods other than Yahweh. And indeed, there is often no other reason given. We are led to assume that the worship of other gods leads to utter depravity, although the Yahweh-worshipers seem to indulge in just as many sickening displays of violence and slavery. In fact, we can find sympathetic pagans all throughout the Pentateuch, from Melchizedek in Genesis 14 and Abimelech in Genesis 20 to Moses' wife and father-in-law, who are introduced in Exodus 2 and are both Midianites! To say nothing of the fact that two of the women mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1 are pagans - Rahab the Canaanite, and Ruth the Moabite! Was Jesus himself derived from a line tainted with such immorality? I'd wager that such an admission would be unlikely by the average Christian, and without any other meaningful examples of pagan immorality (other than the audacity to worship a god other than Yahweh), it seems that this rationalization falls flat.

Rationalization #3: The young children who were killed went to Heaven automatically, and thus received a greater reward than even the Israelites.

This is perhaps the most perverse of the group. It brings to mind the imagery of Psalm 137:
Daughter of Babel, doomed to destruction,
a blessing on anyone
who treats you as you treated us,
a blessing on anyone who seizes your babies
and shatters them against a rock!
It's one thing entirely to posit that the children would have had a horrible life living among the depraved pagans, and thus their death was actually a better outcome, but it's quite another to argue that their death was actually the best possible outcome. You don't have to be particularly astute to realize that this line of reasoning is quite unexpected from people that argue unequivocally against abortion and claim that the pagans were evil for committing infanticide. If the destination of prematurely killed babies is Heaven, then abortion is the most reliable way to ensure salvation, and the babies sacrificed by the Moabites had expressed tickets to eternal bliss given to them. Imagine the shock for a Christian who, upon entering Heaven, finds it overwhelmed with aborted fetuses and sacrificed infants - to say nothing of the billions of miscarried fetuses there. The Heavenly occupant that actually lived on Earth will be in the vast minority, but I digress...


The argument that sexual slaves were treated with respect just isn't supported by the scriptures - it's clear, whatever the case, that the young Midianite girls were forced into sexual servitude by all the Israelites, up to the High Priest himself, and that this was supported and even commanded to take place by Yahweh himself. The requirement for female captives to shave their hair and cut their nails was more likely a purification ritual than a guard against lusty Israelite conquerers - similarly to the ritual washing of the Midianite virgins as seen in the above painting commanded by Yahweh along with the rest of the war booty. The bottom line is that these women, these thirty-two thousand young girls, were forced to become wives to the men who had killed their families. I'm somewhat skeptical that this would be a preferable fate to death.

And as for those babies that were killed, even Christians realize how implicitly dangerous the line of reasoning is that supposes them to have been short-cutted to Heaven. They're quick to remind us that although God is free to give and take life when he so desires, we don't have to prerogative to loose the mortal coils of infants as he can - even though by doing so we would be guaranteeing them an eternity of happiness.

In the final part, I'll examine the question of whether God can even be called on the carpet to answer for the blood on his holy hands.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Update on the Barna Research story

Jeff Wismer did his own research on the recent study, and sent me this information:


I just talked with a Mr. Terry Gorka of the Barna Group (he works directly with David Kinnaman who wrote the main article for Barna in regrards to the poll/study), and admitted to me he was the one who put up the picture of a sniper's scope taking aim at a church. He said he bounced it off a few people and said that he got no negative feedback, and then I asked him if any of them were atheists or agnostics or even secularists, and he tap danced around that answer, and basically said "no" but we don't try to purposefully exclude, or alienate atheists/agnostics.

I also remarked how overtly ambiguous the phrases were like "active in the community". I asked him what that meant, and he said those who donate or work with charitable organizations has being a criteria for active in the community...and I asked him to give me an example of one...and the first one was, guess what, Salvation Army (an evangelical organization). I immediately pointed this out to him, and he began to back track and say he meant to say "Habitat for Humanity".

Mr. Terry Gorka, seems vastly unprepared for the backlash he and Mr. Kinnaman will be receiving from this, and I detect that there was carelessness in their investigation. Mr. Gorka said that he wasn't about to remove the picture, but would have a "serious" conversation with Mr. Kinnaman about it and they would call me back either today or tomorrow.

You're welcome to call Mr. Gorka as well ...(805) 639-0000 (ext. 202).

This is what happens when you don't ask enough questions, or bounce things off the appropriate people (you know like US, atheists and agnostics)....this amounts to journalistic irresponsbility, disregard for a minority group, and lack of a sensitivity monitor.

They should be held accountable for their mistakes.

Rationalizing Biblical Atrocities: Blame the Victim

It seems to be universally admitted, even by Christians, that many of the the events recorded in the Old Testament are disgustingly bloodthirsty at worst, and offensive to modern sensibilities at best. The obvious conundrum is thus: how to reconcile the concept of a god who "so loved the world" with a deity that unblinkingly ordered the following:
  1. The genocide of the Midianites and sexual captivity of their young girls (Numbers 31)
  2. The genocide of the people of Jericho and slaughter of all their livestock (Deuteronomy 6)
  3. The genocide of the Amalekites and slaughter of all their livestock (1 Samuel 15)
Make no mistake, pious Christians are just as likely as nonbelievers to feel queasy when considering the scale of destruction ordered by Yahweh- the moral justifiability of such acts are not readily apparent from the text, and they are all too aware that having such passages thrust under their noses by nonbelievers or Christian apostates such as myself presents a sticky theological wicket.

What happens next, however, is a series of predictable rationalizations intended to soften the ethical pangs of an uncomfortable truth. The first group in this series all serve to demonize the peoples who were on the receiving end of the Israelite violence - what's commonly referred to as "blaming the victim." I'll address each in turn.

Rationalization #1: The Midianites were a corrupting influence, promoting idol worship and causing sickness among the Israelites.

The genocide of the people of Midian begins without any obvious cassus belli - Yahweh simply directs Moses in Numbers 31 to "Exact the full vengeance for the Israelites on the Midianites. Afterwards you will be gathered to your people." Presumably, the reason for Yahweh's wrath is detailed in the earlier chapter 25, where his anger waxes hot against just about everyone:
Israel settled at Shittim. The people gave themselves over to prostitution with Moabite women. These invited them to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down before their gods. With Israel thus committed to the Baal of Peor, Yahweh's anger was aroused against them.

Yahweh said to Moses, "Take all the leaders of the people. Impale them facing the sun, for Yahweh, to deflect his burning anger from Israel." Moses said to the judges of Israel, "Each of you will put to death those of his people who have committed themselves to the Baal of Peor."
Wait a minute- I thought this was supposed to be an explanation of why Yahweh was pissed at the Midianites - these were Moabite women, not Midianite. And the retribution is directed against the Israelites themselves, not the foreign people, which seems odd. Impaling is a pretty brutal fate - I guess you can't accuse Yahweh of being soft on anyone, not even his own people. (There's an interesting clue here that Yahweh was considered to be a sun god, but I'll just stash that away for a later analysis). Strangely enough, the narrative continues in the following passage, with an abrupt change of focus from Moabite women to one Midianite woman.
One of the Israelites came along, bringing the Midianite woman into his family, under the very eyes of Moses and the whole community of Israelites as they were weeping at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. The priest Phinehas son of Eleazar, son of Aaron, on seeing this, stood up, left the assembly, seized a lance, followed the Israelite into the alcove, and there ran them both through, the Israelite and the woman, through the stomach. Thus the plague which had struck the Israelites was arrested. In the plague twenty-four thousand of them had died.
Wait... what plague? Nothing at all is mentioned of a plague coming among the Israelites in the first part of the story - where did this come from? And why is this woman introduced casually as "the Midianite woman" without any introduction? I thought we were dealing with a larger problem with multiple Moabite women, so what's the significant of this one woman? These hanging details suggest strongly to me that these are two disparate stories, patched together by the lone similarity that they both deal with apostate Israelites being punished by impalement by those in charge. Near the end of the chapter (although out of the natural narrative order), the Midianite woman is identified as Cozbi, the daughter of a Midianite chief. The narrative is capped by another curse of Yahweh:
Yahweh then spoke to Moses and said, "Harass the Midianites, strike them down, for harassing you with their guile in the Peor affair and in the affair of their sister Cozbi, the daughter of a prince of Midian, the woman who was killed the day the plague came on account of the business of Peor.
This explanation is so awkward it belies its own redactional intent- it's clear that the apostasy of the Israelites is considered to be the reason for Yahweh's later wrath, but a story about Moabite women and a Midianite princess were cobbled together to rationalize a justification for retribution against all the Midianite people (although the proximate offenders had already paid for their crimes with their lives).

Rationalization #2: The Canaanites were incredibly immoral, participating in every conceivable disgusting act, up to and including child sacrifice.

The list of sexual prohibitions given in Leviticus are predicated on the statement that they are all (incest, sex with a menstruating woman, adultery, homosexuality, bestiality, child sacrifice) practiced by the Canaanites. Although the last item in the list is one that I can endorse as immoral, the rest don't seem to be obvious condemnations of a thoroughly evil people. Certainly all of these are distinctively icky (at least, to my sensibilities), but there is a wide distinction between icky and immoral.

As for the issue of child sacrifice, there seem to be a number of scriptural suggestions that this practice was equally as common among the Israelites. In Exodus 13, it says that "Yahweh spoke to Moses and said, "Consecrate all the first-born to me, the first birth from every womb, among the Israelites. Whether man or beast, it is mine." Later in the passage, it is explained that instead of killing them outright, an animal may be sacrificed to "redeem" the value of the child from Yahweh (the same honor could be given to first-born donkeys, as well). But this still establishes a troubling context - that of the first-born child being Yahweh's property to kill or not. This traces back all the way to Abraham, who Yahweh had commanded to (and presumably, had the authority to command) kill his own first-born as a sacrifice in Genesis 22.

In 1 and 2 Kings, we find that the practice of child sacrifice was robust among the Israelites - no less than Solomon himself built altars to Chemosh and Milcom, the child-hungry gods of the Moabites and Ammonites, respectively. King Ahaz was happy to sacrifice his own son in this way, and although no retribution by Yahweh was recorded against him, the popularity of this practice in the Northern Kingdom is cited as one of the reasons for its later destruction.

Rationalization #3: The Amalekites were a ruthless, evil people who were hell-bent on destroying Israel during the Exodus- thus, their genocide amounted to retribution at worst, self-defense at best.

This is another claim that is found in the scriptures, but seems to be a traditional echo rather than an actual matter of fact. In 1 Samuel, when Samuel orders King Saul on behalf of Yahweh to commit genocide, he gives this reason:
This is what Yahweh Sabaoth says: 'I intend to punish what Amalek did to Israel - laying a trap for him on the way as he was coming up from Egypt. Now, go and crush Amalek; put him under the curse of destruction with all that he possesses. Do not spare him, but kill man and woman, babe and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.'
This says nothing about the Amalekites being "ruthless" or "evil," just that they "laid a trap" for the Israelites as they were passing through Amalekite territory during the Exodus. But a passage in Deuteronomy 25 gives a bit more information:
Remember how Amalek treated you when you were on your way out of Egypt. He met you on your way and, after you had gone by, he fell on you from the rear and cut off the stragglers; when you were faint and weary, he had no fear of God. When Yahweh your God has granted you peace from all the enemies surrounding you, in the country given you by Yahweh your God to own as your heritage, you must blot out the memory of Amalek under heaven. Do not forget.
This does sound a little worse than just "laying a trap." The Israelites had passed by, and the Amalekites cowardly attacked the old and sick who were straggling behind? What assholes! But the Deuteronomy passage speaks of the events as a remembrance- Exodus 17 preserves an account of these unholy bastards in action:
The Amalekites then came and attacked Israel at Rephidim. Moses said to Joshua, "Pick some men and tomorrow morning go out and engage Amalek. I, for my part, shall take my stand on the hilltop with the staff of God in my hand." Joshua did as Moses had told him and went out to engage Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. As long as Moses kept his arms raised, Israel had the advantage; when he let his arms fall, the advantage went to Amalek. But Moses' arms grew heavy, so they took a stone and put it under him and on this he sat, with Aaron and Hur supporting his arms on each side.

Thus his arms remained unwavering till sunset, and Joshua defeated Amalek, putting their people to the sword. Yahweh then said to Moses, "Write this down in a book to commemorate it, and repeat it over to Joshua, for I shall blot out all memory of Amalek under heaven."
The account of the actual confrontation doesn't say anything about laying a trap, preying on the weak, or anything particularly sneaky. It seems like a simple enough clash between two peoples- the Israelites and the Amalekites, in whose territory the former had trespassed. But there's another inconsistency here- in the Deuteronomy and 1 Samuel passages, the implication is that the Amalekites had done some injustice and gotten away with it. However, the account of the actual battle in Exodus shows that not only were the Amalekites not successful in their attack, but Joshua "put their people to the sword." Genocide isn't made explicit here, but it certainly sounds like a crushing enough defeat to make Yahweh's concluding curse seem redundant. It's possible that this curse was inserted into the text in order to establish some continuity with the Deuteronomic understanding of the Amalekites as cowardly opportunists, deserving of genocide.


The main problem with this approach should obvious - two wrongs do not make a right. No matter how incredibly evil a group of people might have been (and none are clearly shown to be so evil as is commonly claimed), taking a sword and hacking them to pieces doesn't seem to be a moral response to the situation. Certainly an omnipotent deity such as Yahweh could have devised some other way to avoid the problem of idolatrous neighbors without having to put the Israelites through such martial paces - after all, he seemed to have no problem whatsoever causing plagues to spread among the Israelites when they allowed foreign women into their midst - was he so powerless that he couldn't have started a few plagues among the nastiest nations before the Israelites even crossed the desert? Or perhaps he could have raised whole mountain ranges or split off Palestine with impassable waters as geographical barriers to protect the Israelites from outside influences - such a solution would have removed the need for any killing whatsoever.

Of course, this assumes that the slaughtered groups were as evil as Christians would have us believe, and this is just not supported by the scriptures. The Amalekites are described in Exodus as reacting just as would be expected if any large foreign group of people trespassed into their territory. The Midianites as a people are only targeted because their women were so attractive to the Israelite men, which unhappily smacks of the kind of accusation leveled at victims of rape. That the men interested in them sought to curry favor by worshipping their gods hardly seems like a prima facie immorality - after all, aren't Christians only too happy when their daughters bring their boyfriends along to church with them? It seems to me to be the natural result of cultural interaction - and thus paints the Israelites as xenophobic. The child sacrifice of the Canaanites is something that I'm happy to condemn as well, but it strikes me as being both hypocritical of the Israelites to engage in the same practice after supplanting the former, as well as an ineffective preventative strategy to use genocide.

In the next part, I'll examine the question of whether anything could be worse than genocide.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Barna Research turns its research to atheists

With the atheist surge going on, Barna Research is now turning its research lens on us, the atheists and agnostics. There are some great news in this study, including the very real possibility that the secular trend will hold as people mature. Some salient points of their study:

[M]ost atheists and agnostics (56%) agree with the idea that radical Christianity is just as threatening in America as is radical Islam. At the same time, two-thirds of Christians (63%) who have an active faith perceive that the nation is becoming more hostile and negative toward Christianity.

The proportion of atheists and agnostics increases from 6% of Elders (ages 61+) and 9% of Boomers (ages 42-60), to 14% of Busters (23-41) and 19% of adult Mosaics (18-22). When adjusted for age and compared to 15 years ago, each generation has changed surprisingly little over the past decade and a half. Each new generation entered adulthood with a certain degree of secular fervor, which appears to stay relatively constant within that generation over time. This contradicts the popular notion that such generational differences are simply a product of people becoming more faith-oriented as they age.

Even when church-based giving is subtracted from the equation, active-faith adults donated twice as many dollars last year as did atheists and agnostics.

Each group admitted to experiencing personal difficulties with similar frequency, including being in serious debt (11% versus 10%), dealing with a personal addiction (13% versus 12%), and trying to find a few good friends (41% versus 40%). Christians admit to being overweight with greater frequency (26% of no-faith, compared with 41% of active-faith), while atheists and agnostics are more likely to feel stressed out (37% versus 26%).

Democrat Party Gives 140M to Abstinence Programs.

Surprise, surprise... the Democrats are funding abstinence programs to the tune of 140 million dollars, so they can have their way in the future. But politics is not just a game, I swear!

Back in November of 2006, after the Democrats won control of the House, what kind of odds do you think you would have gotten on the following scenario: With the Democrats in control, the appropriations cycle begins and the first big policy step the Democrats take on domestic reproductive health is to push through a 30 percent increase in abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that prohibit information about condoms and birth control. Oh, and by the way, that increase (to $140 million) is larger than any put forward in the last three years of the Republican-led Congress.
And wait, there's more. When Democrat Henry Waxman was the ranking minority member on government oversight back in 2004, his staff did a report on the content of abstinence-only programs that showed over 80 percent of the programs contained "false or misleading information." All the way back in 2000, the Institute of Medicine, the nation's leading authority on public health, had called for the termination of abstinence-only programs because they represent "poor fiscal and public health policy."

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Is this... the face of Chick?

Jimmy Akin reports that a recent (2006) picture of the extremely reclusive, infamous fundamentalist Christian tract artist Jack Chick may have been discovered on a small church web site. Is the following picture a glimpse into the life of Jack Chick? So far, all signs point to yes (Chick is on the left).

The picture of Chick here corresponds to reports of what he looks like from eyewitness drawings.

From all indications, it seems that this pastor he's with, is very much like "Bad Bob," of the tract he is holding. Perhaps this is why the pastor got a meeting with the very reclusive artist? Either way, all we are left with are suppositions and assumptions.

Friday, June 08, 2007

For Your Reading Pleasure

John Bice from MSU has a few choice things to say about God:

The God of the Old Testament was extraordinarily spiteful, insecure and pathetically needy of worship...

At one point, demonstrating all the kindness and compassion of a drunken and abusive father, God drowned nearly every living thing on the planet - even children and puppies. Then, magnanimously, after enjoying a "sweet" and fragrant burnt offering of a "clean beast," God promised he'd never again "smite … every living thing," (Genesis 8:21).

The doctrine of original sin is another interesting item. We're told since Adam and Eve gave into temptation, which God generously provided, all of humanity is still tainted with ancestral disobedience. God, rather than blaming himself for a pair of untrustworthy beings not up to his lofty standards, holds all humanity responsible for their "sinful" noncompliance.

Actually, God deserves his props for that one. It's a disturbingly impressive example of imaginative morality. If someone wronged me in some way, it wouldn't occur to me to hold their grandkids accountable, as though guilt were somehow inheritable - that's thinking outside the box.

There's lots more good stuff in there. Go read the whole thing.

I wanted to bring this one up specifically because of where it's coming from. It is coming from, which is the independent paper of Michigan State University.

No biggie in and of itself, but compare this editorial's take on God to another Godly editorial from, say, as recently as two or three decades ago. You wouldn't have found such a critical analysis of God back then I bet you.

And as if to underscore the point I'm making here, has an article about Catholics that are "debaptising" through the magic of the Internet:

MILAN -- Disgruntled Italian Catholics are increasingly turning to the internet to leave the Church by getting "debaptized" -- but typically, the Pope isn't making the process web friendly.

Cyberspace is one of the few places lapsed Catholics can get a copy of the formal letter called "actus defectionis" that is required by Church officials to leave the faith.

One such letter, downloaded 30,000 times, is the main attraction at the Italian Union of Rationalists and Agnostics, or UAAR, website.

The 2,000-member group, which won a David-and-Goliath legal battle over debaptism in 2002, has no brick-and-mortar office. It relies on e-mail and the occasional phone call to keep things moving.

"We see a traffic spike every time the Pope says something unpopular," said UAAR site manager Raffaele Carcano, who is also a banker, adding that the site recently hit new heights during a recent fray over civil unions.

The anti-God movement is in the midst of a double play. Atheism shall win the world series of superstitions.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Question of the Day #71: Enough stupid for everyone!

Someone once told me that the Bible was not true because there was no archaeological evidence that the Garden of Eden ever existed. I pointed out to her that she was talking about a place that supposedly existed thousands of years ago that most likely had no artificial structures within it. My late grandmother had a garden that existed about 15 years ago that I doubt you could find archaeological evidence for today, why should she expect more from this ancient Biblical location? There are very good arguments for the falsity of the Bible, but this clearly was not one of them.

Does it disturb or embarrass you in any way when fellow atheists make shoddy arguments against the existence of God?

Monday, June 04, 2007

Happy Killdozer Day!

Today is the third anniversary of the death of Marvin Heemeyer, true american hero, and his awesome Killdozer. I made a little remembrance post on my blog (which, by the way, is my sole blog now, as I have decided to concentrate my energies there). Happy Killdozer Day!

Sunday, June 03, 2007

GTA Now On Planet Atheism

If you hadn't heard of it by now, Planet Atheism is a central feed for syndicated atheist blogs. It's a handy one-stop location for all your godless blogging needs- just click this button on the right-hand navigation bar:

Friday, June 01, 2007

Holy Smoke

Rome, home of The Vatican, is literally breathing marijuana and cocaine.