Archives For religion

inhuman pope

While the news keep calling Kepler-452b another Earth before somewhere in the depth of most breathless articles noting that all we know about it is that it’s rocky, similar in size to us, and it’s orbiting its parent sun exactly where it should to have liquid water, but we have no idea if it can actually support life or if its atmosphere actually allows liquid water to remain liquid. After all, we thought for many centuries that Venus must be a tropical rain forest underneath its clouds. As a candidate for a second Earth it was perfect on paper. Same size, the right orbit to allow for vast oceans of liquid water, thick atmosphere; it all looked so promising. And then the Soviets ruined everything by landing a probe on its surface to confirm it was a planet sized kiln, and the clouds were actually a miasma of noxious poisons. Kepler-452b could easily turn out to be suffering an eerily similar fate. Of course, it would be amazing if we could take direct snapshots of it and see massive oceans and clouds of water vapor, but until then, we should hold the champagne.

Regardless of what we learn about Kepler-452 however, theologian Mark Lindsay is ready with an opening salvo against the unbelievers who would use another Earth as an argument against the religious tenet that humanity was specially created by a deity and destined to play a big role in the fate of the cosmos. Just like every high minded theologian, he adopts a toned down view expressed by Bruno that the magnificence and wisdom of God could not be constrained just by one planet but that the Bible allows for many planets and many beings on those planets that all happen to be God’s children. Therefore, he says, should we find intelligent Keplarians, they will be another confirmation of the vast reach of the divine powers of creation rather than proof that our world’s religions aren’t up to snuff when we look to the stars with some knowledge of what’s out there and what we’re doing. It sounds like the comforting, borderline-deist verbal ointments voiced before when the scientific search for alien life got underway. But it also glosses over the important and immutable parts of faith academic theologians like Lindsay so often avoid.

Remember the opinion voiced by Bruno that Earth isn’t the only inhabited planet watched by an almighty creator liberally borrowed by Lindsay? Do you also happen to remember how it ended for him? Rather than being praised for his insight and his ability to harmonize science with faith, he was burned on a pyre as a heretic. Many believers hold that their faith is special and the text they call sacred is literal and inerrant. Should you question it or reject any of it, they are justified in retaliating against you, be it shunning you until you’re a social outcast, or murdering you with machetes for the glory of their god. Nowhere do many religious texts speak of other worlds, and those that do refer to them as places where gods dwell rather than just other Earths. Just tell a cleric who preaches his faith in ISIS territories that Earth may not be the only world where Allah watches what happens and see how that works for you. Or try asking Evangelical Christians for an opinion of evolution on alien worlds and try to have an open-minded discussion. Ivory tower theologians seem to forget how literally the faithful take their holy texts and how big of an issue that becomes when they’re taken out of their comfort zone. It’s a debate-changing omission.

Also, how many religious texts hold that certain people are picked over others to play a bigger, or defining role in universal affairs? How many chosen people are there? What about aliens on other worlds intelligent enough to try and interact with us? What’s their role in the universe and which holy text says that? Do the ones that do contradict each other and if they clash, which of these inerrant, literal, irrefutable texts is the right one? These aren’t trivial questions by the way, but very real problems posed by introducing an intelligent species into ancient religions. If they are also God’s children, where in the family tree do they fit? There definitely have been many a sincere attempt to look for alien-friendly metaphors in Torahs, Bibles, and Qu’rans, but none of them have been accepted by mainstream theologians, much less mainstream believers as the faith’s canon. As far as today’s gamut of belief runs, there seem to be only two places for aliens to occupy. They’re either irrelevant to God’s plan and shouldn’t even be mentioned, or they are actually angels or demigods in their own right sent by a deity to warn, teach, or punish us.

Of course the latter possibility only applies to highly advanced alien civilizations that understand interstellar travel and can communicate with us, and only in the context of highly educated, and wealthy nations where fundamentalism tends to be more subdued on average. What if they are not that far ahead of humans as far as science and technology goes? What rules apply to them out of the holy texts? If there are things humans do that displease God, surely there must be an equally important list of prohibitions for the aliens. We’re told that here on Earth, premarital sex is a sin. If the alien species in question don’t have the concept of marriage, are they all sinners, or are they exempt from the universal law of morality ordained by God? If homosexual pairings anger God who made all things male and female, do hermaphroditic aliens violate the law or do they have to follow a different set of rules? If they have their own set of divine rules to follow, is this list handed down to them and if so, in what form? Are they, like humans, apparently meant to follow some of the laws but not others citing some grand religiously historical effect?

All these questions might seem positively asinine in context, especially when talking about alien species we know nothing about and which may not even exist. But at the same time, when you take to a public podium and proclaim that your faith is ready for alien life without demonstrating how exactly it would work in light of the new discovery and how you intend to get today’s faithful to follow your lead, these are the kind of questions that go unanswered. Simply throwing out an extremely confident assertion that your religion can withstand whatever your throw at it without actually throwing anything at it to demonstrate means that you’ve just dodged the question you wanted to address. When citing a scientist’s argument about aliens being bad news for God as his jump-off point, Lindsay scoffs that his verbal target has no experience or knowledge how to properly analyze a religious text. He then hypocritically spends the rest of his argument parsing conveniently sourced semantics that aren’t even from the Bible. And this is why it’s hard to take a theologian espousing the powers of his faith in light of new science seriously. Instead of really asking what new discoveries means for their faith, they craft reflexive, soothing word salads.

[ illustration by Aram Vardazaryan ]

surreal woman

Sunlight, to borrow from an old saying, makes a terrific disinfectant. While over the last several weeks we’re been exposed to more coverage of the Duggars and their Quiverful cult than most of us would like, the upside has been that the media’s glare has finally given those who believe that the fundamentalist lifestyle is all about betterment through faith and teaching kids a higher moral standard for themselves, a peek at religious zealotry’s ugly underbelly. Abuses routinely covered up and silenced, dysfunction re-branded as normality, and scientific illiteracy wrapped into vapid technobabble that comes to the inescapable conclusion that you are a dirty, amoral, disgusting wreck of a human being and should be listening to the fundamentalists tell you how every facet of your life should be lived. This obsession with controlling others is why they loathe people learning about cosmology, evolution, and human sexuality from actual scientific data. A message to broaden one’s horizons and taking control of one’s life doesn’t reserve a place for petty self-appointed tyrants who think they’re special enough to get direct orders from God.

But if the fundamentalists close their ears and scream really, really loudly when confronted with facts they don’t like, what do they actually learn? Well, the muckrakers at Gawker got a hold of one of The Advanced Training Institute’s Wisdom Booklets about sex written by a cult preacher who has a long and colorful history of aiding and abetting sexual abuse in his flock, and went to town mocking it as is their custom. Yes, the temptation to simply mock this booklet is a perfectly understandable one because it’s a work of abject inanity which sounds as if it was written by an exceptionally guilt-ridden preteen who only recently found out about the anatomical differences between men and women, was left alone with the internet for a few weeks, and then proceeded to write down every wild, off the wall idea about human reproduction that came to mind with no filter whatsoever. Realizing that a senior citizen with a family is behind this only makes it worse, especially when it’s full of asinine assertions like this, posing as legitimate medical research…

Doctors have discovered that the seed of the man is an alien substance to the woman. It triggered responses similar to those of an allergic reaction. A woman who has a husband is able to develop “immunity” to this reaction; however, a promiscuous woman’s immune system becomes confused and unable to distinguish alien substances. This confusion is a key to the development of cancer.

Relax, reading this as a non-fundamentalist and exhaling expletives under your breath is pretty much the exact reaction those of us who actually took a science class and remained conscious during it should have. No, there’s no way you can get cancer from semen. It is possible to catch one of the carcinogenic strains of HPV through unprotected sex and then develop cancer, but it is a stretch simply for the sake of being scientific here. And even if exposure to semen could be carcinogenic in and of itself, wouldn’t the humble condom eliminate the risk for all those unwed hedonists? Of course, not only do fundamentalist-driven abstinence only sex ed materials treat reliable prophylactic measures as if they either don’t exist or never work, but groups associated with them actually want them banned because when people know about them, they make their own choices on how to plan their families. And the zealots can’t have that. No, they need you to get married, quick, and start popping out soldiers for your deity, no matter the consequences of doing so under their control because the alternative is to give you real freedom.

According to the cult that spawned the Duggars and many more families like them, you are not supposed to be free to make your own choices in life. Should you have sex before marriage, or even engage in some heavy petting, and you’re dirty and used, unworthy of love or finding real relationships. Their obsession with your purity would be considered a genuine pathology, with a real DSM V diagnosis to go along with it if we weren’t so accommodating of anything claimed to be a religious belief. People this obsessed with sex, who’s having it, and in what position, don’t need to be placated or reasoned with, they need to be seen by a mental health professional. At the same time, I understand why they have conniptions when a set of genitals does something it’s not supposed to in their minds. After all, they deny themselves a healthy sex life and commit to relationships in which power is allocated by arbitrary translations of an ancient book and the non-anointed ones must do the bidding of the ones who were without question.

Stuck in a world where everything is a sin, they imagine life outside of it to be an endless buffet of consequence-free base pleasures while they mortgage their lives on the tenuous premise of some sort of divine reward as they shed their mortal coils. But the more they’re tempted to quit their faiths or even question it, and the less they feel able to do so, the more they lash out with portrayals of those not like them as dirty, sinful, and used up. And as those of us who refuse to ascribe to fundamentalism are being compared to worn out, beat up bikes, chewed up gum on the sidewalk, and portrayed like the flea-infested rats carrying the Black Death by Satan’s evil orders, are supposed to fawn over these under-educated would-be theocrats, and praise their “superior morals” in return. Then, when we predictably fail to be grateful to them for rhetorically defecating on us and voice our complaints, we’re “angry atheists who don’t realize what’s good for them,” decried in the media. At least these self-appointed moral guardians are finally being exposed for what they are and the inanity they preach is being dissected with mockery.

church interior

Not too long ago, a Christian writer took to the Washington Post to defend her thesis that new, flashy churches that go out of their way to attract younger generations with hashtags, memes, and imitating coffee shops are failing to hit their goals because those goals are misguided and simply aren’t in line with what the younger generation actually wants. Her case is a strong one, backed up with opinion polls showing that three quarters younger churchgoers really don’t care for turning places of worship into nightclubs and aren’t attending because they don’t agree with the commoditization of faith, and the homophobic and partisan invective coming from pulpits in many established congregations. Far from the entitled stereotype that most media is obsessed with affixing to them, Millennials want a humble experience with a focus on loving thy neighbor, not a laser rock show after venti soy lattes. And so, urges Evans, churches should drop the act and ban the marketing-speak, and focus on being genuine and accepting, instead of acting like businesses, then the young parishioners they so desire will flock to them all on their own.

But will they really? This is not a new conversation by any means, and warning churches not to emulate the business world go back years, while efforts to woo those who lost their faith or just fed up with the church collected the numbers Evans uses to bolster her case, but overlook the impact of the increasing number of atheists as if they don’t exist, or just need a better pitch for getting their rear ends in pews. Not only are younger generations questioning whether the just and loving God they grow up hearing about will cast their friends into Hell simply for being only slightly different, they’re deciding that this whole organized faith business is more divisive than inclusive. More and more Millennials know someone gay, Buddhist, atheist, agnostic, with a kid out of wedlock, or who went through a divorce. They know them as good people with different lives, which couldn’t necessarily turn out the way their pastors tell them it ought to. So when fire and brimstone loudmouths take to the pulpit to enjoy the verbal torture porn about the gory fate of the “heathens, sodomites, whores, and heretics,” they’re denigrating flesh and blood people, not just abstract things to hate and condemn for the older parishioners.

It’s that hate that often leads people to question whether their churches have strayed from their roots, from a religion that was supposed to be about helping the poor and accepting everyone, letting God cast judgment instead of taking these matters into one’s own hands. And the more a theology is questioned on the grounds of theodicy and the apparent lack of God’s interventions, the more those losing their faith tend to turn to our scientific body of knowledge, which has not just good answers, but ones that are testable in the real world. They’ll ask why they should set one’s existence into an idea abused by authoritarians to impose their will on those around them and keep them in line with threats of Hell? Churches have to stereotype atheists as amoral, it’s their only choice when they try to make the threats stick. But the reality is that atheists don’t eat babies and behave like sociopaths any more than any other group, so outside the church walls, yet another tall tale falls and another reason to doubt becomes apparent. All the church studies and surveys mentioned above talk about this exact phenomenon, but insist on ignoring it.

Even more important for Evans than the realization that atheism is not some sort of a hip fad a more liberal church would snap Millenials out of, should be the fact that despite the complaints about the “newly” business-like nature of churches, churches are a business and always have been. Religion is a tax-exempt enterprise that exists for its own perpetuation. Typical churches spend as much as 82% of their donations on salaries, buildings, and administration, leaving as little as 5% on average to do any real charity work. Megachurches designate half of all income as staff salaries and spend much of the rest on the kind of marketing techniques Evans decries in her article, giving some of their pastors $200,000+ paychecks while covering their expenses, a nearly tenfold increase of a typical pastors’ gross earnings. Unable to mandate tax collection, churches are focused on making sure they have as many members as possible tithing as much as possible to pay for their infrastructure and all the people they hire. Sure, they do “spread the word,” but they’re not doing it for free as a general rule, so of course they need new blood.

Here’s the deal. We’re living in a world where nebulous, millennia old traditions are not cutting it anymore, where people communicate with each other so easily and travel so often that many of these evil, heretical foreigners we were supposed to be afraid of and who would corrupt us into wickedness, can talk to us in real time on a daily basis, and they’ve turned out to be mostly nice and hardworking people, with a set of ethics very similar to ours. The ones that haven’t, are for the most part, vicious religious zealots, showing us the dark side of religion with vivid examples of senseless, mindless brutality for the sake of terrifying the world and getting their own way. If we can be good without going to church, without bowing before something that either does not exist, or most definitely has nothing in common with our ancestors’ fantasies, why would we just choose to do the same old, same old instead of leaving ancient ideas where they belong? The exit of the Millennials from organized religion isn’t a consequence of churches going corporate, it’s a sign that these institutions’ grip is nowhere as strong as it once used to be.

lego atheist evolution

Once upon a time, yours truly was walking down the crowded streets of Las Vegas when a man way too enthusiastic about life in general started shouting at those passing by, training his eyes on me as he proceeded with his rehearsed speech. “I used to be like you!” he proclaimed as he tried to channel a televangelist’s spirit, “boozing, gambling my life away, whoring around!” to an otherwise perfect stranger, who by that point was yet to have a drop of alcohol, won a couple of bucks after putting the princely sum of $10 in a video poker machine, and was holding his wife’s hand, wedding bands visible to anyone paying the slightest bit of attention. Far from urging the wounded soul of a broken man addicted to life’s vices to examine itself then pledge its future to the forgiving embrace of Jesus, he was trying to “save” a man on his honeymoon with the less than appropriate assumption that him being in Vegas was a sign of a moral failing and ignoring the woman next to him, implying that her presence was either billable by the hour, or the result of some other wayward soul looking for a way to forget her worries and fears in intoxication.

Now, were I posting this in r/atheism, this is the part where you’d get some grand debate on the streets of America’s party town for grownups where I publicly berated this zealot to the cheer of an appreciative crowd. Of course this isn’t what happened; you don’t reason with people on the street yelling things at you and you most certainly don’t start yelling things back because you’re still sane and familiar with the basic rules of public decorum. My significant other and I made a few jokes for each others’ entertainment and went on our merry way without a word to him. But from a standpoint of pure curiosity, why would someone yell at random strangers to fix their sin infested, immoral lives? Certainly all sorts of weird stuff happens behind closed doors in Vegas, as it certainly does everywhere else, but was there a poll or a study after which this man made some rational decision to go our and proselytize to people passing by? Probably not. Then why was he there? Maybe he really was an out of control addict who found religion?

How many times have we seen or heard of someone substituting one addiction for another, go from waking up every morning with a bump of coke and a vodka tonic, to, oh, I don’t know, say, becoming the maniacally smiling right hand of a mindless street preacher, dedicating his life to spreading his now unshakable, absolute, unyielding blind faith exemplified by the intricate and surely, God-ordained magnificence of a banana? Many atheists laugh at this turn of events, but at the same time, in their general state of being human, they do the same exact thing when the decision to publicly call themselves atheists is made. When we make a big change in our lives, it’s only natural to want to share this with a supportive community, especially when you’re living among those who either don’t understand you, or turn malicious and stereotype you as worse than any modern boogeyman. And I would imagine it feels great to finally have your atheism all out in the open instead of pretending to be something you’re not just to avoid drama.

But just like the man who accosted me on the street, no longer able to comprehend that I’m not him and not everyone is either given themselves to Jesus or will be partying Wolf of Wall Street style later in the night, too many eager young atheists who get into skeptical groups also seem unable to tell the difference between a believer wearing faith on a sleeve and curious about all that skeptic stuff and a full-blown theocrat who wants premarital sex punishable by law. This is why some local skeptical groups have pushed back against atheists new to the fold, unsure of how to mediate their meetings being hijacked in a way that terrify believers interested in being more scientific and skeptical about the world. And as their energies are being harvested by the identity politics contingent that has annexed a number of formerly skeptical blogs, they’re being encouraged to see every believer as a raging oppressor, not just the really loud zealots whose antics repulse many of those who they claim to represent.

This is not to say that believers don’t have responsibilities here because that accommodationist attitude gives those foaming at the mouth a free pass to rant and rave, and absolves those less faithful of not standing up to them. One does not have to personally dish out an injustice to find his or her hands sullied by it. To see an asinine abuse to power and idly stand by because the abusers call themselves by the same moniker you do while feeling “really bad about it because that’s not representative of my beliefs” is just cowardice. But yet, it’s not the same as agreeing with the injustice or abuse in question and young, newly minted atheists on the warpath have to recognize that. Giving a believers a stereotypical “angry, bitter atheist” stereotype to hold up in debates does you no favors and helps them sway public opinion. If we have the facts, we have to argue them and expose raving lunatics as such, not become their clones on the other side of the rhetorical isle. Think of being an atheist as becoming a kung-fu student. Yes, you can use a new set of skills to start fights, but that’s not why you should’ve learned them. You learned them to defend yourself and those who can’t when they’re in dire need.

evolution marketing / darwin fish design

Alarmed by the growing number of atheists among the current generation of young adults, one organization of Christians decided to sit some down for an interview to learn why they became atheists, drew conclusions, summed them up, and respectfully posted them online. Unlike many other faith groups, they legitimately wanted to understand what atheists thought and why, and what prompted their de-conversions. Problem is that they didn’t want to understand if all those atheists they interviewed had a point when discussing the improbability of an omniscient deity in their lives, ruling the universe from afar, yet being involved in the fate of every living thing. They were running a focus group to see what it would take to put those atheists back in the pews in a classic example of listening but not hearing. In their worldview, the inability of a pastor to prove that their faith is based on facts rather than tradition is the failure of a pastor since the infallibility of the religion is assumed as an unquestionable given.

The tone of the summary is almost clinical, like a psychiatrist surveying his patients and dutifully describing their pathologies to be analyzed by others. And while listing the reasons why atheists leave churches or never enter one, the piece recited a mantra declaring that Christianity is hard to understand, difficult to live up to, and teaches us to engage with the real world. As if a belief that an omniscient, omnipotent being incarnated as his own son to forgive humans for what he declared to be sins through self-sacrifice is as scientifically well proven as the structure of DNA. This is why this so-called "interfatih dialogue" is a bad idea for atheists. They’re not participants with a voice who get to express their views in a debate. They’re either patients to be studied for the future, or potential new believers yet to be swayed as far as the faithful are concerned. Yes, they might act like the nicest people in the world, but they’re not listening to you. They’re looking at you like a biologist looks at a dolphin and wondering how to teach you to do a trick…

fsm street art

Or at least it is according to Pat Robertson, who now seems to be just trying to see how many pathologically dumb things he can say without losing his viewership. On an episode of his hour long routine of begging for money and pontificating through Bible thumping, a viewer called with a very valid and legitimate question. In the days of yore, there were many tales of people rising from the dead or being miraculously cured of their ailments. Today, these cases are as rare as winning the lottery, and for many, there’s a perfectly logical explanation. What gives? Well, if you were awake in history and science classes, you probably have a few good ideas and they more than likely revolve around things like germ theory and scientific research. Since declaring when patients are dead before the days of EEG was inexact to put it mildly, having a doctor say that a patient has expired only for that patient to wake up a day later was entirely plausible.

Now imagine yourself seeing someone in a coma being pronounced dead by a very esteemed doctor, put his or her body in storage as a funeral is being organized, then hear moaning and groaning as the "corpse" comes to and tries to figure out what’s going on. Surely you’ll run from the mortuary screaming about zombies or miracles, depending on how the person awakens. So yes, back when we couldn’t tell a coma from clinical death, relatively regular resurrections were indeed possible. Same goes for miraculous cures from diseases. Before germ theory and many modern tools, it would be very possible for doctors to diagnose a patient as terminally ill while it just so happens that the patient is just going to be miserable for a while to make a full recovery. And yes, this sort of misdiagnosis happens today, explaining a great deal of supposedly divine interventions. Aggressive cancers turn out to be benign or even self-terminating tumors and the person facing a death sentence rejoices that God heard her prayers and let her live.

But to hear Robertson tell it, it’s not medical mistakes that account for resurrections in the past but fervent belief. Because doctors have better tools, more training, and are far more accurate, they’ve lost their belief and those who trust in empirical facts are doomed to living out whatever diagnosis they were given. His evidence? In Africa, where misdiagnosis is rampant and medical care is often very poor, the same sort of miracles the modern world no longer sees happen on a regular basis because African fundamentalists just believe what the pastors tell them. You know, exactly like in the West about 140 or so years ago. It’s amazing that as science kept on giving all of us longer lives, more accurate diagnostic methods, and cures and treatments for many once fatal illnesses, the Bible thumpers urge us to abandon what’s been proven to work and find our solace in ignorance. Hey, if we don’t know that a miraculously arisen person was very much alive and simply misdiagnosed, it’s a genuine work of the supernatural, right? No. Not at all.

Certainly it’s nice to hear that a deity will pause his infinite plans and change the universe if you think about it hard enough, which is why so many fundamentalists want us to "let go and simply believe in God’s work," but they’re really tuning out of modern life and asking us to do the same to preserve their own selfish sense of comfort. The world is scary and being convinced that you will either be shielded from it by an omnipotent entity, or have said deity make sure you never get overwhelmed (see the good old, "God only gives us what we can endure" platitude), is an easier way to go through life. An uncaring, vast universe will dwarf you with scale, and kill you off by a random chance, caring nothing about your hopes and your dreams, and it’s the concept that an inherently chaotic, pseudo-stable cosmos where they’re not special that sends fundamentalists into hysterics. And so, they look for miracles and either rationalize away scientific explanations or pretend that there are none so they can hold on to what they think are signs of God. Even if the sign of God they cite is just a botched diagnosis or a random doctor’s incompetence…

god fossil

Hello, The Week? Yes, this is 2009 speaking. Listen, could you give me back your New Atheism bashing from one of your recent articles? It’s sort of my thing. Sure, it’s all fine and dandy for a writer to criticize repetitive The God Blank books because we get it, religion has issues. And it’s fine to point out that Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens are tough acts to follow anyway. But did we really have to venture into the old, recycled demands that atheists lament the loss of their faiths and mourn the concept of God by quoting random secularists and atheists who said something about how losing one’s religion can be painful to start a flame war in the comments? Come on, I mean some of this commentary is so old, one wonders if it had to be taken from a museum and dusted off before being used, not to mention the fallacious premise that the lack of a conviction in an afterlife, ordinarily a placebo for our conscious minds able to understand a concept as odd and terrifying as death, should somehow reduce us to amoral, depressed nihilists.

After all, how arrogant is it to assume that just because there’s no deity to reward you or eternal life after this one that you’re now free to throw yourself a life-long pity party and act like an emo teen who overdosed on goth poetry? You have a responsibility to others to help make this world at least a little better than you found it, though as an atheist, you’ll have to do it without prayers and expectations that the creator of the entire universe will pause its grand plans to come down and help you. There’s also the problem that atheists can’t simply declare "because God says so and I follow God," and consider it a weighty rebuttal to a criticism or supporting evidence. They’ll actually have to prove their ideas empirically and can’t demand that their critics must prove that something doesn’t exist before they’re allowed to have an opinion. It’s kind of absurd to require proof of a negative and doubly absurd when the burden of proof is on you for invoking the very thing that has to be disproved. And yet that’s what all too many faithful do with their gods.

So yes, if you’re used to delegating all your problems to the supernatural and are content to sit there, dreaming about your eternal life after this one is over, pounding your shoe on the table about the arrogance of atheists and demanding they prove that God doesn’t exist when you call him as the justification to impose your way on others, certainly losing your faith is a huge blow. It means you have to discard things that made your life easier and more convenient. You will also have to face scorn from those who can no longer use a deity as leverage over you because all their invocations of a god now sound like "if you don’t do what I say, Santa won’t being you any presents this Christmas." But again, this doesn’t mean that you’re now free to mope around and lament your godlessness. You have a responsibility to those around you to make your life count and do something noteworthy. Few great inventions and big ideas were born by focusing on the fun stuff the dead get to do in the afterlife. They came from curiosity about the natural world, by asking tough questions with good science, and by thinking about the people around us.

Ironically, while ardent theists talk about atheists trying to shirk their responsibility to a deity no one has ever proved extant, they’re refusing to have a responsibility to their fellow humans once they compare atheism to rebellious nihilism and insist that lack of faith gives people a license to do as they wish and there’s nothing to stop them from killing, pillaging and raping just for fun. If all that holds them back from this sort of destructive behavior is a book and they really believe that should they ever lose faith, they would go out and do unspeakable things just for the fun of it, they’re not sane, stable, or moral people, and they really need to reevaluate their outlook on life rather than excoriate atheists for not thinking like them. It’s as if they no longer have any real obligations to others and no longer inhabit the same world. Don’t they want to fight disease and advance our civilization? Don’t they want to live longer and explore farther? And wouldn’t they want to do this if not for themselves, then for their children and their children’s children?

[ illustration by Koren Shadmi ]

inhuman pope

For the first time in six centuries, a sitting pope will be stepping down from his post. Those of us who watched him refuse to prosecute cases of sexual abuse in the Church, encourage many of his minions to lie about the need for contraceptives to slow the spread of AIDS, demean sex ed that actually works while promoting the myth that abstinence prevents pregnancies and STDs in blissful ignorance or pathological denial, and self-indulgently blame atheists for the what he saw his predecessors do during the Holocaust with his own eyes out of bigotry and cowardice, won’t be sorry to see him go. In fact, please do let the door hit your ass on the way out Ratzinger. Of all those who deserve to leave an ass print on a door for their moral failings, you are very near the top of the list because you’re simply an evil, morally bankrupt failure of a human.

Perhaps when Ratzinger goes off for his announced post-Papal period of prayer and reflection, he can reflect on all the hate he spewed, all the people who are far worse off thanks to his blind faith, all the kids who’ll never see their abusers in jail where they belong, and all the misery he caused by pretending to be a deep thinker and theological genius while his supposedly pointed scholarship consisted of chewing the same dogmatic cud the Vatican has been tossing out of its gilded walls for a thousand years. But he won’t, and that’s what makes him truly evil. Certainly, a sociopath with no sense of right and wrong doing terrible things that harm others because he is amused by it can be called evil. But worse than that is someone who does evil things convinced in his own near-divine infallibility and eying those who don’t agree as lesser people.

Ratzinger will spend the remainder of his days just like he spent much of his time as a cardinal and as the Pontifex, as a parasite. He took money from the rich and poor alike, benefited from the modern medicine and science he decried as inherently dehumanizing and corrupt, ruled by edict from a golden throne while sentencing his poorest followers to a slow death by demanding that they reject the modernity that allowed him to live his golden years in obscene luxury, and last, but certainly not least, blamed everyone else for his own sins. Few men in history could lay claim to having accomplished such evil in their lives in the name of their deity and if there is any sort of afterlife or divine justice, I sincerely hope that this ancient, wizened, wretched creature be sent there to rot and burn for his sheer inhumanity and self-serving arrogance while listening to the special tribute to his reign as Pope written by Tim Minchin for all eternity

[ illustration by Aram Vardazaryan ]


Seriously, don’t do it. Don’t get excited about something, don’t go out too much, stay with those of your own gender unless you’re with your spouse, and if you’re a woman, cover up your bare, seductive eyes you harlot, or risk the wrath of the zealots of the CPVPV who will arrest you and treat you as inhumanely as they want because being the religious police, they think they’re way above and beyond any human laws. Unless, of course, you happen to live in one of the luxury gated communities where you’re actually allowed to act like a normal person rather than a bland automaton that Saudi clerics demand everyone who sets foot in The Kingdom should be. There, the laws don’t apply, and religious fundamentalists are banned from talking about them or trying to regulate what happens behind closed doors. It’s the typical way the Saudi government deals with the conflict between modernity and fundamentalism. They just keep the two separate and happily encourages radicals to travel abroad, as they did with weekend jihadis for example.

Westerners are welcome to come and bring their money with them as long as they do their very best not to provoke the clerics who lose their minds every time they hear about humans doing human things. Likewise, the fundamentalists are allowed to fume, hate, and issue edicts as long as they don’t interfere with any profitable foreigners and sheikhs or cause some sort of a messy public controversy in their little crusades. And so the foreigners and oil tycoons spend nights in posh, expensive clubs hiding deep inside shining skyscrapers in newly built cities that look as if they were beamed down from the year 2075, drinking fine cognac and indulging in escorts, while devout fundamentalists memorize the Qu’ran cover to cover at home. This segregation trick has been also adopted in the UAE and it works. Until it doesn’t and we hear about a Western woman arrested for having sex with her boyfriend or a teenager being raped at random and arrested on the suspicion of being gay, complete with stern references to conservative Islam.

So what does this separation policy accomplish for the Saudis? It creates ticking time bombs for one, and it helps them to speak out of both sides of their mouth without actually dealing with the simple problem that modern culture and religious fundamentalism are just not compatible. It’s a recipe for a bipolar culture that crowds mosques and covers up in flowing robes during the day, and douses its pent up frustrations in alcohol, sex, and recreational drugs at night. After all, we know full well how utterly obsessed the Muslim world is with adult entertainment despite all their protests and bans on the subject because we can use Google Trends, and enough meetings in the KSA and the UAE take place for Westerners to deliver very thorough accounts of the secret party life of the typical sheikh from which a pretty clear and very un-Islamic picture emerges. It’s the problem with being human. Sooner or later our normal desires will emerge and if we are not allowed to satisfy them in a healthy way, all sorts of problems appear, problems that the Saudi religious police then tries to correct with arrests, beatings, and their cruel insanity.

dingy lab

Granted, it’s been a few weeks since the Panda’s Thumb caught the Discovery Institute using a stock image for one of their research labs, but this seemingly little thing really matters because it’s another glaring example of how creationists are desperate to present “I don’t know, therefore an unspecified creator or designer which sounds suspiciously like a Biblical deity,” as science. I can imagine Luskin’s train of thought now. Scientists like to show people labs, right? So if we get an image of a “scientist” in what looks like a lab, they’re bound to think that we’re also scientists doing serious research, right? Not really, it’s just taking cargo cult science a notch down and no green screen added lab makes a supposed biologist’s ridiculous musings any more legitimate.

Come on, we have Biologist Ann Gauger, PhD telling us that it’s premature to assume that two similar species must have some common descent without telling us how else these species can get their genetic and anatomical similarities without invoking magic or the supernatural. I’d really like to know the kind of research she produced to show a causal agent for genetic similarity with no evolution involved in that gloomy lab of hers. I’m sure we’ll find it in all the top journals which are always on the lookout for some paradigm-shifting discovery. Though the fact that no one at the Discovery Institute and its offshoots can even define evolution as we know it might be a big impediment to producing work of any scientific value, with or without a real lab…

[ illustration from Far Cry 3 ]