Archives For religious zealots

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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.


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.

god fossil

It seems that with every school shooting, there’s an almost inevitable parade of fundamentalists rushing to tell the world that we all as zealous about religious beliefs as they are, there would be no more gunmen bursting into schools and colleges and God would protect us all. If they really believe in this line of thought, the only thing I could possibly call them would be ghouls. Just take a minute to think what they’re saying. Their righteous, omnipotent deity who loves humans and thinks of them as his progeny is either powerless before secular laws or is willing to let children and young adults die just to make a point. It’s the classic theodicy problem posed by Epicurus. If the god is able but not willing to help, he’s downright malevolent and that’s the kind of deity that we’re being told should be praised and revered in public. That’s hardly a deity to worship.

Tragedies are supposed to make you question why they happen and what can be done to make sure they don’t happen again. But to the ghouls whose petty tyrant of a God won’t intervene in a dire situation they’re an excuse to proselytize rather than question their devotion. Instead of the hard thing to do, asking why their god would allow something like that, they blame humans for a deity’s shortfalls. Or at least that’s the only reason I can think of for their actions without having to resort to a more sinister explanation. They may see this tragedy as a chance to advance their ideology and opportunistically jumping on others’ grief to convert more followers to their cause, acting as the religious version of the ambulance chasing lawyer if you will. Either way, it takes a rather compromised set of morals to think that the non-intervening deity is in the right here.

[ illustration by Koren Shadmi ]

Whenever you wonder why you just can’t convince a religious fanatic of a fact that seems evident to you, it may be useful to do a little reading and find a story that illustrates the vast chasm between your worldview and his, the chasm that renders you unable to understand each other. For example, days of deadly protests erupted in Afghanistan when it was discovered that the Army put a bunch of Qu’rans in a box to be burned along with its trash and went ahead with a routine disposal. By the reaction of the Afghan fundamentalist you would think that there was a very limited supply of Qu’rans in the world and burning them meant that their book was going to be erased out of existence. At one time, yes, books were burned to be censored and destroyed because in the ancient world there was no means of true mass production of literature. Nowadays, you can buy a Qu’ran at just about every streetcorner across the world and there are millions of copies in existence. What could be so utterly offensive to someone living in the 21st century about a book being destroyed, especially one that is available globally and has been digitized countless times for download and printing even more copies?

But then again, to me, a book is a book. To them, every copy of their holy text is so sacred that humans should be killed in retribution if it’s damaged or burned. It’s not even the information contained in the pages that’s the important thing to them, information that’s been preserved in every media format we currently have thousands of times over, it’s the thought that someone doesn’t take their religion as seriously as they do that they find so infuriating. This is why Muslim radicals have been going on a rampage across the world, threatening those who dare disobey their demand to live in a world according to them. In the West, the days when the unhinged fundamentalist throng would execute people in the streets for doubting their dogmas are gone. But disturbing numbers of Muslim nations are either too afraid to stop their radicals or tacitly encourage them by allowing an occasional judge or minister in high places to declare open season on the heretics and deliberately refuse to persecute bloodthirsty lunatics who respond to any doubt or question with barbaric violence. And it’s that blind devotion and hatred of violent religious radicals that I find too difficult to even try to understand…

For the last week or so, there’s been a new meme making its way across the web, a Failbook post in which a particularly devout and ignorant person declares that a mere ten foot difference in our orbit is all it would take for Earth to become either an uninhabitable hothouse, or a frozen ice cube of a world. Someone with a shred of sanity and some basic knowledge replied to his friend to politely explain why that’s impossible, and in what can only be described as cementing one’s idiocy, the original poster demanded not to be corrected again. It’s truly a frightening display of imbecility to behold, and it may have served as an inspiration for Phil Plait to give us a basic rundown of the 3 million mile change in our orbit from aphelion to perihelion, and end it with an odd and out of place invitation which dealt with something that wasn’t even mentioned until then…

Oh, and hey, one more thing. Every now and again I’ll hear from a kid or parent who tells me that they had a teacher or friend claim that if the Earth were just a few thousand miles closer or farther from the Sun we’d burn up or freeze. That’s clearly silly, since over the course of six months the Earth’s distance to the Sun changes by 3 million miles! Not only that, but the Earth is 8,000 miles across and spins once a day. That means at noon you’re 8,000 miles closer to the Sun than you are at midnight, and I don’t general see people bursting into flame and then freezing in a block of ice every 12 hours. So if you ever hear that particular bit of silliness, refer ‘em here.

Now far be it from me to say that Phil was responding to this massive failure of critical thinking featured on an offbeat blog cataloging people’s inability to self-censor on the web, but it’s certainly up his alley. And really, if all it takes is ten feet from one perfect spot to either freeze or burn up, then we should be all extinct three times over. As noted by the voice of sanity in that thread, all those recent quakes in the Indian Ocean, Pakistan, Haiti, China, and Chile should’ve moved us so far off our ideal orbital niche that our planet would be utterly devoid of all life. Since this hasn’t happened, I could only assume that her assertion is wrong, and if she quotes such a ridiculous and easily debunked claim with a straight face, attributes this supposed fact to God’s powers, then growls at being corrected while managing to have friends who approve, it’s actually a very scary indictment of her and her friends’ education. I’m sorry, I meant lack of education. And it really does scare me to know that a whole lot of people go on to parrot nonsense like this without a second thought and choose to remain proudly ignorant when confronted with the facts because admitting that they’re wrong is an alien notion to them.

You’ve probably heard of a recent survey which found that atheists are highly knowledgeable about religious history and beliefs. Having taken the online version of the quiz used in the poll myself, I can tell you that’s it’s actually really easy, the kind of stuff you learn in a breezy comparative religions class. Obviously, this finding is in stark contrast with what religious zealots have been preaching about atheists, that the only reason why any atheist would choose to become an atheist is abject ignorance. Now, it turns out that atheists tend to know at least as much as the average believer if not more about religious basics. What are the zealots to do? Why say that atheists are just really good at trivia but are actually too stupid to think things through and really get an understanding of the complexities of religious dogmas. Or as John Mark Reynolds says in the always reliably execrable On Faith section of the Washington Post between standard issue pseudo-pious whining…

To their credit, secularists have rejected something, and this generally means knowing something about what one has rejected. This is true, if by “knowing something” one means getting quiz show questions right — not understanding. Pew has released a study that shows if the average atheist and the average theist appear on religious Jeopardy, the theist is in trouble. However, wisdom and understanding are different from “just the facts.” It is good to know facts, but that doesn’t mean you get it.

No John, we actually get it and what we get that you’re indulging yourself in thinking of yourself a wise scholar of the metaphysical but in reality, you’re just making excuses for why people who actually know the facts don’t necessarily want to follow your beliefs and accusing them of being selfish hypocrites while painting your faith as carrying humanity’s sinful burden. But in the real world, you and people like you are humanity’s burden, not the other way around. You demand money, you demand respect, you demand obedience, you demand that all scientific research support your personal ideology, and should any of the above fail to happen, you throw a fit, accusing your detractors of being stupid, selfish, and careless minority who conspires against you, like the grown up version of a spoiled toddler who didn’t get a toy you wanted at the store. And by the way, that’s not at all pretentiously condescending or patronizing, you know, the way atheists are always said to act when they’re discussing their thoughts on religion based on a priest’s in-depth reading of r/atheism.

Again, it’s one thing if you believe in a deity and that belief makes you happy. But going around and spitting fire and brimstone speeches, or verbally slathering those who disagree with you in libelous muck is not simply a distasteful thing to do, it’s also a sign of social ineptitude that makes so many people turn away from religion as preached by theologians. Why do you think so many atheists are angry? Maybe, just maybe it could have a connection to pious blowhards who call them stupid, weak-willed, and label them genocidal Nazi maniacs as they manage to spectacularly overlook well documented and well known modern history? Maybe our wannabe pundit should spend some time learning a few things about reading comprehension and social graces rather than continue being a human parasite who benefits from everything that’s given to him by science, technology, and yes, secular laws that defend his right to sound like a condescending, self-absorbed twit, while doing nothing but spewing divisive contempt and demagoguery. And Washington Post? Shame on you for asking so many rabid and interchangeable zealots a national platform to spew their pious libel without a filter.