Internet Goosing the Antithesis

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Marcus Brigstocke on Religion

via Pharyngula

Atheist Weddings For Cheap

That's right! I, Aaron Kinney, atheist and anarchist, have just become an ordained minister at the Universal Life Church.

Ordination is free, and getting licensed to conduct weddings is only $5. You can even get a doctorate of divinity for only $29.99!

If you are like me, and you don't dig that dogmatic religious stuff, you'll be pleased to know that this church is so open-minded that its almost impossible to have a worldview that conflicts with their church tenets.

Universal Life Church tenets:

To promote freedom of religion
To do that which is right

It's hard to go wrong on those tenets, no?

So, if you are in the need of a secular minister to officiate at your wedding, let me know! I'll beat anyone's price (I'm doing this for fun, not profit), and I will conduct your wedding respectfully and in the exact way that you want it. I am very accommodating to your needs. I am also an exceptional public speaker in style, delivery, and content. Contact me if you are interested, or just want to know more.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

More Fun With Discounts

You might reacall that I personally investigated the claim that a Dallas-area Mexican buffet was offering discounts to people who brought in a church bulletin. It turned out that any bulletin would suffice, even one from the North Texas Church of Freethought.

Just today, I happened to visit the Flower Mound Culver's restaurant, and saw that they were offering a similar deal: 10% off with a church bulletin. Culver's is a Wisconsin-based chain, most prevalent in the Midwest, but has recently opened a few stores in Texas. They're famous for their hamburgers and frozen custard (a delicious variation of ice cream)- I'm thinking that this will be another discount offer I'll be all too happy to test next week after the NTCOF August service.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Kristian Klassrooms in Kansas

Christians and other self-repressed prudes constantly whine that teaching kids about "safe sex" will effectively tell the kids that it’s ok to be promiscuous whores. Now, I've always found this reasoning a little suspect. The first time I heard this line of arguing, I thought to myself, "Did Christians also complain during the introduction of air bags in automobiles that they would encourage reckless driving?"

Well, the website Burnt Electronics took it one step further. They have a little piece where this logic is consistently applied to all school subjects. In Kansas, of course!

Monday, July 23, 2007

When Christian Morality Fails

Terry Mangum (left) murdered Ken Cummings (right) on orders from the Christian god to kill homosexuals.

I want to continue in the same vein that I began with my criticism of Michael Gerson, who claimed that although atheists could be good people, they could not justify their moral system. Presumably, however, Christians have access to a superior moral system (ultimately expressed in the "nature" of their god, but only practically accessible through their sacred scriptures) which provide the guidelines for the only truly moral life. Unfortunatly, a sad story from Texas is a keen illustration of why Christian morality is not a superior system.

Terry Mangum, a Christian Texan about my age, has studied the Bible extensively, and has even been in communication with the Christian deity. During one such supernatural experience, Yahweh directed him to kill a homosexual man. After six months of planning, Terry drove into Houston to do so. He found Ken Cummings, a flight attendant for Southwest Airlines, at a bar, and after a few drinks went to Cummings' home with him. There, he stabbed Cummings to death with a six-inch knife, took his body to Mangum's grandfather's ranch near San Antonio, then burned and buried the body in a shallow grave.

One might think that such a violent, unprovoked act could not possibly come from someone with a strong religious background. But remember that the Christian scriptures are chock-full of hideously violent acts, most of which make Mangum's act seem downright polite (at least he had a couple beers with his victim before killing him), and all of which are justified by Christians today the same way that Mangum justifies his own actions- "I believe I'm Elijah, called by God to be a prophet... I believe with all my heart that I was doing the right thing."

Indeed, Elijah is a appropriate example for Magnum in this instance- the holy prophet of Yahweh slaughtered 450 men in one sitting, just because they worshipped a different god. But are there other Biblical examples that Mangum could have been drawing on when he committed his action? Of course there are- in Leviticus 20, we read:
The man who has intercourse with a man in the same way as with a woman: they have done a hateful thing together; they will be put to death; their blood will be on thier own heads.
And the deity Yahweh presumably punctuates the "hatefulness" of homosexuality by destroying two whole cities of people in Genesis 19 (we can safely assume this included many small children and babies), even though Abraham tries to intercede and prevent Yahweh's slaughter. But this hostility to homosexuality continues into the New Testament as well- in the letter of Paul to the Romans, we read:
That is why God abandoned them to degrading passions: why their women have exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural practices; and the men, in a similar fashion, too, giving up normal relations with women, are consumed with passion for each other, men doing shameful things with men and receiving in themselves due reward for their perversion.
Is it any real mystery why a devout young Christian, deep in the heart of conservative Texas, would come to the conclusion that homosexuals are flaunting the will of his god, and are deserving of death? Is it any wonder that when Terry Mangum received communication from his god, it advocated violence against them? And yet, Christians such as Michael Gerson would have us believe that it is only by appealing to the violence-choked scriptures of Christianity that one can truly be justified as a moral person. In the ultimate act of irony, some Christians will defend their scriptures by claiming that for that particular time and place, the seemingly immoral actions were actually good- and thus engage in the same moral relativism for which they would be eager to condemn others. If anything is made clear by this sad affair, it is that pointing to a book which contains actions no good person would commit today is no substitute for a well-developed moral system based only on reason and the facts of reality. Otherwise, we are doomed to continue equating piety with morality, as Terry Mangum does: "It's not that I'm a bad dude... I love God."

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Bizarro Lee Strobel

William Lobdell, a reporter covering the religion beat for the Los Angeles Times, describes in a recent column how the mounting evidence against faith in stories he wrote about caused him to eventually lose it.

At the beginning of his story:
My desire to be a religion reporter grew as I read stories about faith in the mainstream media. Spiritual people often appeared as nuts or simpletons.
It took several years and numerous memos and e-mails, but editors finally agreed in 1998 to let me write "Getting Religion," a weekly column about faith in Orange County. I felt like all the tumblers of my life had clicked. I had a strong marriage, great kids and a new column. I attributed it all to God's grace.
At the end of his story:
As I walked into the long twilight of a Portland summer evening, I felt used up and numb. My soul, for lack of a better term, had lost faith long ago — probably around the time I stopped going to church. My brain, which had been in denial, had finally caught up.

Clearly, I saw now that belief in God, no matter how grounded, requires at some point a leap of faith. Either you have the gift of faith or you don't. It's not a choice. It can't be willed into existence. And there's no faking it if you're honest about the state of your soul.
via Unorthdox Atheism

Saturday, July 21, 2007

"Ted Haggard Is Completely Heterosexual" by Roy Zimmerman

Friday, July 20, 2007

What Can't Atheists Answer?

Michael Gerson, erstwhile speechwriter for George W. Bush (and coiner of the term, "Axis of Evil") has a vexing question about morality that he thinks atheists can't answer. As an evangelical Christian, he might be excused for not having read much about morality without gods, but that doesn't stop him from making false assumptions about it.

Like most Christians, Gerson assumes that since the only real source of morality is the Christian god, those without a belief in such a deity can't be expected to defend their moral behavior. Although he freely admits that atheists can be staunchly moral individuals (he cites Christopher Hitchens as one example, provided you haven't taken issue with his arguments), he claims that while theists are able to answer the question of why the good should be sought (God tells us to do so), atheists have no answer for this question.

But there is a problem. Gerson paints Christians as saintly, obedient followers of their god's decree, but in an ironic twist, he fails to realize the obvious motivation for such obedience- the very pursuit of self-interest that he uses to accuse atheists of moral superficiality. As Richard Carrier points out, Christians are not exempt from this carrot either- whatever justification a Christian gives for following the edict of his god will fall under this same category. Most Christians will admit that the fundamental reason for obedience to the divine will of Yahweh is because of the promise of heaven/threat of hell dichotomy that is at the root of their theology. If that's the case, then they're no moral paragons- they either want a juicy reward (less likely) or are desperate to avoid a painful torturous end (more likely). Of course, you could always test their true fiber and ask them what they would do if they found out that Yahweh's salvation plan was secretly switched, and they would only go to heaven if they disbelieved in him. Those who say they would continue to accept Christ regardless if it meant torture are still betraying their self-interest, because clearly their highest value is that of adherence to truth at any cost. So, instead of the atheist being unable to answer questions about his own morality, we find that it is the Christian who can't provide an explanation why he claims to be following orders from his god, but is clearly acting on his own self-interest (which is presumably ignoble, given the fact that he accuses atheists of doing so).

Now, Gerson is wise enough to recognize at the end of his article that both atheists and theists recognize an innate sense of value and morality, but his explanation for this is backwards. It is the atheist whose recognition of the importance of morality is placed in its proper context- that of using rational investigation of the world around us to determine and fulfill our moral values. The Christian may ultimately act in accordance with secular moral principles, but unfortunately he's doomed to a life of moral hypocrisy, pushed by his superstitions and fellow believers into trying to second-guess the edicts of a non-existent entity, while at the same time attempting to retrofit his own values onto those of a vapid and violent deity.

At the end of the day, the Christian is like the runaway Pinocchio, dancing onstage while Stromboli pulls the strings- he could dance even better by himself, if he only had the courage to cut them.

via Kill the Afterlife

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Loftus the Great vs. Wood the Deluded

Pastor-turned-atheist John Loftus is debating the eeeeeevil David Wood. Really though, David is not evil, but he is a theist.

Anyway, I'm watching it all unfold, and so should you.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Is Atheism Nihilism?

No, Donny, these men aren't nihilists, there's nothing to be afraid of.

All too frequently, Christians feel compelled to wax eloquent about the supposed moral decline of a society that ignores the obvious superiority of the Christian ethic. Nearly as frequently, they ignore the fact that theirs is a complaint that transcends both history and theology, as well as the equally obvious rejoinder that if Christianity was a truly superior product, it would sell itself. To wit, I care not for the theological particulars of J.R.R. Tolkien- knowing that the man was a staunch Catholic neither enhances nor detracts from my enthusiasm for his work.

However, given their apparent inability to conceive of theirs not being an optimal system, any perceived social ill has to be accounted for by choosing a scapegoat- and as atheists are currently enjoying a portion of the mainstream spotlight that has been rarely afforded them in the past, they make an attractive target. This is the case particularly because it is so common for Christians to assume atheism to be synonymous with nihilism. The latter is interpreted to be, not just the position that objective value is a meaningless concept, but more specifically, the position that any ethical behavior is to be avoided, and acts such as murder, rape, and torture are to be engaged in with as much relish as one might bite into a peanut butter sandwich.

This is not to say that atheists can be neither nihilists nor murderers, but the idea is generally advanced as a general statement about those who commit such ethically negative acts (i.e., that they are either acting under the motivation of atheism/nihilism, or that they have been "influenced" by an atheistic/nihilistic culture). The obvious problem with this idea is that, on closer examination, the individuals who commit such acts are very rarely atheists or nihilists, and in fact, tend to be influenced more commonly by religious institutions and concepts. The kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart in Salt Lake City, for example, was not perpetuated by an atheist or a nihilist, but a lunatic who had been strongly influenced by Fundamentalist Mormonism. And in a larger sense, I would wager that the larger part of "nihilistic immorality" that is engaged in on Saturday night is the province of men and women who trudge into church on Sunday morning. I don't think you'd find many nihilists or atheists in a "Girls Gone Wild" or "Guys Gone Wild" video- you're much more likely to find purported Christians, or at least people who know much more about Jesus Christ than they do about Sam Harris.

I'd be more inclined to write this off as a mild psychological paranoia, which it certainly is to some extent, but I think that attention needs to be drawn to this problem as just another example of how strongly the moral and ethical fiber of secular individuals needs to be emphasized. This criticism, as far as I can tell, is one of the strongest in the collective Christian psyche, and we need to waste no time working to contradict it.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Two Challenges for Christians

I made this video in response to this Christian one.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Dennis Prager Doesn't Get It

In an recent article, Dennis Prager ponders the question of why so many atheist books are bestsellers, especially given his position that America is based on "Judeo-Christian" values (a term I see often used by conservative Jews). He begins by dismissing the notion that there is any intellectual merit to the arguments of Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, et al., since they are all clearly "far more emotional than intellectual." To be sure, the arguments of these fellows do address some emotionally charged areas, but is that a dismissal of their veracity? I find it strange that such a proponent of religion would view this approach as inappropriate, but such is the case.

Prager then, having poisoned the well against these fellows' claims within the second paragraph, gives his own explanation for their success.

  1. It's the Muslims' fault. Admittedly, the events of 9/11 did prompt Sam Harris to write his first book, but that doesn't explain why it sold so well. However, Prager claims that since then, the actions of Muslim terrorists have "brought religious faith into terrible disrepute." I don't buy this- can you imagine Joe Christian sitting his kids down and saying, "Well, there was another car bombing today by some people who worship a different god than us. We're not going to church anymore." On the contrary, I would predict the opposite- and in fact, we did see a huge resurgence in church attendance just following 9/11, so I think Prager's dead wrong on this count.
  2. It's secularism's fault. Supposedly, the "secular brainwashing" that took place with kids in my generation is now coming to fruition, so to speak, which could have been prevented if all children were forced into a religious indoctrination instead. As evidence, he claims that he's interacted with college students whose "ignorance not only of the Bible but of the most elementary religious arguments and concepts" is frightening to him, particularly their ignorance of the "truism that if there is no God, morality is subjective [emphasis mine]."
  3. It's liberal religion's fault. The religious in this country would mount a good defense against all these atheist writers if only they weren't weakened by all the damn liberal Jews and Christians running around. And it doesn't make it any better that formerly traditional religious people have begun to embrace mystical or irrational religiosity.

Interestingly enough, despite criticizing atheist authors for encompassing more than just intellectual arguments, he concludes by saying that "the problem is far more than merely an intellectual one. Only strong moral religion can defeat strong immoral religion." To that I would agree- to a point. And that point is that arguments which espouse a superior moral clarity will tend to be the most popular, whether in the case of religion or otherwise. That being the case, I think it's clear why Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, et al. are so popular- their arguments carry a persuasive moral resonance for people who are dissatisfied by the trite deontology of the "Judeo-Christian" tradition.

Scientology Kills

Another psychotic kid went on a killing spree after being provided heaping helpings of Scientology as opposed to real treatment:

A SYDNEY woman accused of fatally stabbing her father, sister and injuring her mother was denied psychiatric treatment by her parents who were Scientologists, a court was told today. The 24-year-old woman, who cannot be named, was diagnosed with a psychotic illness in late 2006 and recommended follow-up treatment at Bankstown Hospital, in Sydney's south-west.


When she was arrested minutes later, she allegedly said: “I've just butchered my family. I stabbed dad, mum and sister.

“They are all dead.”

She was then taken to hospital where she allegedly shouted at staff that she wanted a knife and wanted more killing.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Stem Cell Research Preferred To Embryo Adoption

In an article published in today's Science, Anne Lyerly and Ruth Faden report the results of a survey given to couples receiving infertility treatment at any of nine different fertility clinics around the country. Of the more than one thousand couples with currently frozen embryos, nearly half said that they were likely to donate their embryos for research purposes. What's even more interesting is that more couples were likely to donate their embryos if it was specified that they would be used for stem cell research. Somewhat surprisingly, nearly 30% of couples would even be willing to donate their embryos for use in cloning research.

What may be the most shocking of all is that many more couples were willing to donate embryos for stem cell research than were willing to donate them to another couple; only about 22% were amenable to the latter option. By way of explaining this (seeming) counterintuitive result, the authors offer the following:
There is a possibility, of course, that the reluctance of infertility patients to donate embryos to another couple is a prudential rather than a moral preference—that the idea of someone else gestating their embryo and raising their genetic child is experienced by these patients as intolerably worrisome, rather than as morally wrong. But qualitative work with infertility patients suggests a different moral view—that there are deep responsibilities to one’s own embryos—responsibilities that preclude allowing them to develop into children without the knowledge, participation, or love of those who created them.
And what you may be wondering at this point- what would be the benefit to the field if sufficient funding was available to allow the use of these embryos? Given this survey's donation rate of 50%, a rough estimate suggests between 2000 and 3000 additional embryonic stem cell lines, or about 100 times more than are currently supported.

Something to think about.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

My Fourth of July Flag-Burning

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Blog Against... Theocracy?

Although I'm a strong believer that both Church and State are morally unjustifiable institutions, I'm still somewhat sympathetic to the concept of keeping them in separate spheres, as much as I would prefer different mob bosses not to join in an alliance.

But even as I voice my disgust at the idea of such an immoral double-teaming, I must confess that I'm more than a little skeptical that a real threat is truly imminent.

As I've mentioned in the Apologia discussion, as well as over lunch with my fellow North Texas Church of Freethought members, I really think that the spectrum of American Christianity is far too diverse to support anything truly resembling Rushdoony's wet dream of America re-imagined as Calvin's Geneva. Especially telling, as I see it, is the core group of theocracy's advocates: Greg Bahnsen, Gary North (Rushdoony's estranged son-in-law), Gary DeMar, Kenneth Gentry... these are all hardcore Refomed Christians, whose theological influence on most Christians is minimal. The farther away you get from this core, the more liberal (yes, this is a relative term) the approach, which doesn't seem to translate into mainstream success. The initial effort to infuse American politics with down-home religion, Jerry Falwell's "Moral Majority," sputtered and died in 1989 (though it was recently zombified as the "Moral Majority Coalition"). Pat Robertson's "Christian Coalition of America" was his concession prize for losing the presidential nomination in 1988, but also has lost significant power and influence. I'm just not convinced that at a time where not only do we have a political group devoted to the interests of atheists, humanists, and freethinkers like the "Secular Coalition for America," but which could also be argued to enjoy a more stable position than Pat Robertson's group, we should entertain any serious fear about theocracy.

Admittedly, there is special consideration given to conservative Christians in the present administration, which has been fomented by a relatively recent relationship between Christian evangelicals and Catholics. One of Bush's advisers, "Father Richard" Neuhaus, is a converted Lutheran who has worked together with Chuck Colson to promote an ecumenical association between Catholics and evangelicals - clearly, a move that has paid off, as both of Bush's Supreme Court appointments have been staunch Catholics. But I'm not convinced that this is anything more than political maneuvering on the part of conservative Republicans- staunch Catholics they may be, but they're also (and, I think, more importantly) closely aligned politically with most conservative Republicans.

But just imagine for a a few frightful minutes- what would an American Christian theocracy look like? Which denomination is going to be in control? Are the Methodists going to sit idly by while Presbyterian theology is written into law? Would Southern Baptists be content to let the Episcopal Church gather up the reins of powers? Not on your life- and not any more than was the case when this country was founded. A major motivation for the separation of Church and State back then was the outrage other denominations felt at the Anglican Church's privileged position as the official ecclesiastical beneficiary of the colonies. If there is any consistency at all to the history of Christianity since the Reformation, it is that Christians are intractably inclined to disagree with each other on any and all possible theological points. The concept of an officially "Christian" government assumes an official "Christian" religion which does not exist. Ecumenism may be possible when working from a minority position- there is strength in numbers, after all. But if John Calvin is any example, once State power falls into Church hands, the motivation for this drops very low indeed.

My thinking on this may be naïve- there may, in fact, be credible movements in the direction of theocracy in this country. But if there are, I'm not aware of them. Even here in Texas, the Church of Freethought was given tax-exempt status by the State- begrudgingly, to be sure, but given all the same. It's just hard for me to imagine that the majority of Christians even want, let alone would be capable of achieving theocratic control of America.

Happy Government Day!

To everyone in the United States, happy Government Day! If you're planning to do some flag-burning, follow safety precautions to prevent runaway fires. Safe sedition against the social order is happy sedition.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Atheism Popularity is Atheist Panic?

I ran across this interesting Associated Press article that attempts to put the recent popularity of books by the No-God Squad (Harris, Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, et al) into a context of atheist panic.

Cited in the article is Richard Mouw, the president of Fuller Theological Seminary, who suggests that "it's almost like they all had a meeting and said, 'Let's counterattack.'"

In some ways this characterization is apt- the escalation of terrorism conducted by Muslim extremists directly motivated Sam Harris, and has been used extensively by the rest of the squad to point out the dangers associated with uncritical superstitious thought. But these arguments have been around for as long as atheism- is there any explanation for their new popularity?

According to Christopher Hitchens, "There are a lot of people, in this country in particular, who are fed up with endless lectures by bogus clerics and endless bullying."

But Douglas Wilson, a theological fellow at St. Andrews College, says that the books reflect a "secular panic," in which "nonbelievers are finally realizing that, contrary to what they were taught in college, faith is not dead."

I wonder which college course that was taught in... "Blowing Smoke 101?" Any objective observer of American culture doesn't need Wilson's chuckling reassurance that faith is alive and well. Although Wilson's claim that the continued influence of creationism and religious opposition to stem cell research are a source of dismay to nonbelievers, these are also nothing new.

Christian Smith, a professor of sociology at Notre Dame, offers that "there is this general sense that evangelicals have really gained a lot of power in the United States, and the Bush administration seems to represent that in some significant ways."

But again, evangelicals have been exercising political power in this country for decades- ever since Jerry Falwell's now-defunct Moral Majority first organized.

Richard Mouw suggests that some of the blame for the supposed backlash should be laid at Christians' feet: "We have done a terrible job of presenting our perspective as a plausible worldview that has implications for public life and for education, presenting that in a way that is sensitive to the concerns of people who may disagree. Whatever may be wrong with Christopher Hitchens' attacks on religious leaders, we have certainly already matched it in our attacks."

This is unintentionally insulting - the implication is that if only the Christian message was articulated better, atheists wouldn't have a problem with it. Or interpreted another way, atheists are just too stupid to recognize that Christianity is beneficial unless it's dumbed down enough for us to understand. Save the effort, guys - most of us know more about Christianity than you do. It's not the packaging that turns us off - we've actually tried what's in the box.

So, apparently, the best Christians can offer for the growing popularity of atheism is 1) misplaced fear of terrorism, 2) the discovery of religious influence in politics, 3) atheists have misunderstood the Christian message. Ironically, a reasonable explanation can be found at the end of the article, with the observation that interest in religiously-themed books has been growing over the past 15 years, and thus atheism-themed books are bound to enjoy some increased attention as well. To that, I would add that the waning influence of religious institutions in this country has resulted in a large number of people who are either sympathetic to atheism, or disenchanted enough with religion to find such books a worthwhile read.

Rather than being prompted by a "secular panic," I would argue that these herald the beginning of a religious panic, as evidenced by the reactionary publications of Douglas Wilson's "Letter From a Christian Citizen" and Alister McGrath's "The Dawkins Delusion?"

Monday, July 02, 2007

Atheist Discrimination? Not The Whole Enchilada

Hemant Mehta blogged recently about a Texan friend of his who had ventured over to Pancho's Mexican Buffet in Euless (just west of Dallas) for a plate of beans, rice, and queso. When he walked in, he saw the posting to the right - indicating that a 10% discount would be offered to anyone who presented a church bulletin at the cash register.

This salsa-craving friend inquired if similar discounts were available for atheists, since being one, church bulletins were not easy to come by. Unfortunately, no other options were offered for those whose disdain for religion make acquiring something like this extremely unlikely.

Austin Cline of's Atheism/Agnosticism site expanded on this situation further, and compared it to a grocer who had been criticized by the Freedom From Religion Foundation for distributing coupons for free milk in local Catholic mass bulletins. He points out that offering discounts based on theological creed is a violation of the Civil Rights Act.

It occurred to me that, as an atheist and a member of the North Texas Church of Freethought, I was in a somewhat unique position to test Pancho's true discriminatory intent. And since the Church's service happened to take place less than a week after the initial blog was posted, I could test this relatively quickly. Thus, after taking my leave of the Church members on Sunday afternoon, I snagged a couple extra copies of the bulletin and headed over to Pancho's.

As I drove west towards Euless, a dark, towering thundercloud loomed large on the horizon. Flashes of lightning crackled occasionally along the storm line, as if thrown by Yahweh himself, riding his seraph-driven cloud chariot to stop me from besmirching a holy discount offer with my profane "church" bulletin.

Walking up to the door of Pancho's I recognized the signs advertising the deal immediately. I had half-expected them to have been taken down, out of shame from the embarrassing exposure on the blogosphere. That did not appear to be the case.

Standing in line, I appraised the restaurant - it was full of large families with lots of kids, and a handful of overweight people. In other words, just about the clientèle you'd expect at an inexpensive buffet right after church on Sunday afternoon. And it was obvious that most had come from church - I caught bits and pieces of holy conversation from the various tables, and most were wearing their Sunday best. But the families that were in line next to me hadn't brought bulletins with them - I heard them specifically mention the offer and wish that they'd done so.

After placing my order, I proceeded straight to the cash register. As the girl rung me up, I casually mentioned, "Oh yes, and I brought my bulletin with me," and handed it to her. She glanced it over briefly, then set it down and punched in the discount. As I mentioned, the buffet is inexpensive, so the discount was less than a dollar, but it still felt good to receive it. When the receipt printed out, she stapled the bulletin to it and dropped it in a box, presumably for the manager to count later to assess the success of the promotion.

Although it was fun to have a freethought church bulletin recognized, I would imagine that just about any bulletin-looking piece of paper would have passed muster. I strongly doubt that it was even read, and I bet that anyone could print out any close approximation and receive the same benefit. It was pretty clear to me that, rather than intentionally (or unintentionally, but thoughtlessly) discriminating against atheists in an effort to promote religious belief, the restaurant simply has recognized their most profitable customer base, and have tried to stimulate it to visit more. The people most likely to come to such a restaurant in the first place would be large families with kids, who in Euless are most likely to be hungry as they leave church. If Pancho's can plant the idea that their church bulletins are worth a discount, then the last thing they hold in their hands before church ends will be a reminder of cheap flautas and tacos at Pancho's. Quite an ingenious strategy, really.

Another criticism was the presence of a sign, reading "Vaya con Dios." This was above the exit, and has been taken to indicate that only those who "go with God" are welcome to eat there. This couldn't be further from the truth - I ordered food and ate without incident, atheist notwithstanding. I seriously doubt that the sign is meant to be taken as an imperative - it's no more threatening than the French "adieu." It's entirely possible that anti-atheist discrimination will be coming, and from more than one quarter. But after having visited there, I seriously doubt that it's coming from Pancho's.

Alabama Governor: Pray for Rain

Alabama governor Bob Riley asked for everyone in his state to pray for rain.

No I shit you not:

With the state's weather forecasters not delivering much-needed rain, Gov. Bob Riley on Thursday turned to a higher power. The governor issued a proclamation calling for a week of prayer for rain, beginning Saturday.

Riley encouraged Alabamians to pray "individually and in their houses of worship."

"Throughout our history, Alabamians have turned in prayer to God to humbly ask for his blessings and to hold us steady during times of difficulty," Riley said. "This drought is without question a time of great difficulty."

You mean to tell me that Alabama has collectively prayed to God during their times of difficulty? No wonder its the sphincter of the United States!

Its amazing that this is still happening in the year 2007. Maybe they should spend some time building a desalinization plant or pushing a water conservation awareness campaign. I'm quite sure that these would be much more effective ways to address the problem than with prayers.

Prayer retards effective action. Maybe that's why prayer involves clasping your hands in some way, rendering them incapable of doing any real work.