Oh for the love of Pete, America.

Dear America (or at least the American Newsmedia),

Can you please stop acting like a particularly brain-damaged hyperactive dog?

Seriously, there are real things happening in the world. There are real concerns that deserve to be reported. A sizable portion of Pakistan is underwater. Russia has been on fire for weeks, and now in addition to facing concerns about nuclear plant safety and radioactive material left over from Chernobyl, they’re also facing major storms. Whooping cough is making a resurgence in the United States, and has killed several people already. The Taliban recently stoned a couple to death for adultery. Google and Verizon are working on a deal that may have serious implications for net neutrality. The ban on gay marriage was overturned in California.

But the American newsmedia doesn’t seem to care about those kinds of things, because some Muslims want to build a community center in the same general neighborhood where some other Muslims knocked down a couple of buildings nine years ago. This non-story results from the usual set of demagogues, fearmongers, and asshats, pissing and moaning that some non-Christians would dare have the sheer unadulterated chutzpah to think they could exercise their First Amendment rights and legally purchase a real estate property for private use! I guess it’s because they’re doing it in within a three-block radius of where something particularly nasty happened due to people of the same general religious faith almost a decade ago. It’s the same reason that those same people go into a tizzy whenever a Christian church opens up within a few blocks of an abortion clinic, or when a Japanese restaurant opens in Hawai’i.

Oh, they don’t? But wouldn’t that make them terrible hypocrites?

Oh.

Seriously, America. You’re outraged over a couple of liberal Muslim immigrants from allied nations (one-half of the couple behind the community center is from Kuwait. You know, the country we protected from Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War) building the Muslim equivalent of a YMCA (called “Park51”) in the general vicinity of the Twin Towers. People are saying it’s “in bad taste.” And yet, you seem to be just fine with the strip club, Off-Track Betting place, and Hookah Bar in the same radius. Are you telling me that the strip club is in good taste? That Off-Track Betting is in good taste? That tobacco hasn’t killed large numbers of New Yorkers in the recent past? You’re being stupid, America.

There are so many ways in which this attitude is wrong that I scarcely know where to begin. Let’s start with that popular conservative meme that New Yorkers are out-of-touch elitists, not “real Americans,” an idea that, just a few short weeks ago, was exemplified in the confirmation hearings over Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan. It’s nice to see the same people who use “New York” as a slur care so much about real estate dealings in lower Manhattan. Perhaps those people would like to purchase or lease some of the empty buildings in the area, to improve the local economy and contribute something to the area. You know, the way the Park51 folks are.

There’s the matter of Islam, which is a pretty diverse religion. Even some skeptics and atheists are falling into this little trap, in part because we tend to be an American or European bunch, and are not as familiar with Islam as we are with Christianity. Yes, sure, the couple behind Park51 believe in the same religion with the same holy book and the same basic tenets as the people who crashed airplanes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon. But keeping them from opening this place because of the actions of some of their fellow Muslims is like barring Fred Clark and John Loftus from opening up a YMCA near the Centennial Olympic Park. Blaming and discriminating against individual Muslims because of something that different individual Muslims did, because they share a religion (even if their actual beliefs are very dissimilar) is plain old bigotry. It’s no more valid than the idiots who try to tar all atheists with the reputations of Stalin and Pol Pot.

Sure, you could argue that moderate and liberal Muslims legitimize the radicals and conservatives, even if they don’t share the same politics. I make the same argument regarding Christians. That’s a reason to argue forcefully against the beliefs and tenets of Islam, and to not give moderates and liberals a free pass for being less crazy than the radicals; what it’s not is a reason to discriminate against them on the basis of their religion. I’ll argue against Barry Lynn about religion if it’s appropriate, but I’m not going to tell him he can’t open up his own business because some other Christian killed people nearby once. That’s unfair, unreasonable, and un-American.

There are people who see this as a potential rallying point for the same kinds of radical Muslims who conducted the attacks in the first place. I fail to see the relevance. First, I think the radicals would be just as scornful of the westernized liberal folks behind Park51 as they are against the rest of us western infidels–potentially moreso, because they’re defying conservative Islam while still professing to be Muslims. You see the same in Christian circles; liberal Christians and Catholics and so forth are fallen backsliders and false prophets, pretending to preach the faith while actually doing the Devil’s work or overly concerning themselves with “this world.” But let’s say that Osama calls up the next meeting of al-Qaeda and says “Oh, right, a new Muslim community center went up near the place where the Twin Towers fell. So our conquest of the West proceeds apace; next, we’ll be looking into getting Quran verses on the bottom of In-N-Out Burger cups.” Who gives a damn? I would think the bigger victory would be that they blew up the damn World Trade Center, and that we still haven’t fixed it. The victory would be that the people of the Great Satan have revealed their anti-Muslim bias by trying to make Muslims into second-class citizens and loudly proclaiming the infidel Christian basis of their nation and laws and motivations. I hardly think that treating Muslims like everyone else could look bad for us.

I can’t even get behind the idea of a ban as an atheist. Yeah, yeah, I’m generally against religion, and I think worship buildings are a general waste of real estate. I think churches and mosques and temples ought to be taxed unless they can show a clear benefit to society, the same way that other non-profit organizations do. But looking at the actual plans for this building, I think it would easily meet those criteria: it’s a community center dedicated to the arts, classes, and fitness, with a prayer room for Muslims. I wonder if the nearby St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church has so much as a stationary bike, let alone a swimming pool. I’m all for religious buildings that actually serve a secular good–I’d prefer they were secular buildings, but I’ll take what I can get–and Park51 looks like just that kind of place.

And so the news cycle turns on another day of this shit, with reporters bothering the President wondering what he thinks about this terrible example of the free market in action. It’s another reason that I could never be President; while Obama has given a measured response couched in Constitutional terms, my response would be more along the lines of “Jesus H. Christ, don’t you people have better things to worry about?”

And the worst part is that they do. There’s still a whole bunch of oil in the Gulf of Mexico, the job market is still complete shit, a crowd of Juggalos attacked Tila Tequila, and so on and so forth. But the Republicans are constantly trying to keep people hateful and fearful and distracted and outraged–it’s the only way they can get elected, since they don’t actually do anything–and their drummed-up scandals are like shiny things to the infants of the mainstream media. And the Democrats, being as they have evolved beyond the need for a spine, are happy to oblige and try to engage the idiots and the imbeciles in conversation as if they were saying reasonable, important things. Meanwhile, real concerns go unanswered and real news goes unreported. Because Republicans think Americans are stupid, Democrats think that’s a reasonable position even though they disagree, and Americans will obligingly prove the Republicans right.

So America, please stop being idiots. Let’s all take our collective Adderall and focus on real concerns, rather than letting the right-wing hate machine and the left-wing acquiescence machine distract us with shiny things and butterflies. I promise, we’ll all be better for it. You, me, and New Yorkers who like to swim.

Sincerely,
Tom

I Hate Stereotypes

The only reason this is here is because I couldn't find a good shot of the Stereotypes bowling team from The Simpsons.I really do. I hate that it’s a natural impulse–in fact, a necessity of communication–to lump people together and assign characteristics to those lumps. I hate that stereotypes are almost always based around some kernel of truth, so that a legitimately true statement can be dismissed as “propagating a negative sterotype” or “[insert group here]ism.” But what I hate the most, what really rankles my hackles up, is when people act in ways that reinforce those stereotypes. I hate seeing liberals who are indignant vegan newagers. I hate seeing racist homophobic Republican NRA members driving rusty pickup trucks with Confederate Flags on the back. I hate seeing disgustingly socially inept nerds like these assholes. I hate hearing Michael Steele talk about things.

Which is why I’m upset by the reaction to Jen McCreight’s Boobquake idea. Here’s the Cliff’s Notes version of Boobquake, for the uninitiated: a Muslim cleric said that women dressing immodestly causes adultery, which in turn causes earthquakes. Jen reasoned that the proper response to this ridiculous (but empirically testable!) claim was to ridicule and empirically test it. So was born Boobquake: a suggestion for women to dress immodestly on a specific day (this coming Monday, April 26th), either causing worldwide earthquakes with their abundant cleavage, or falsifying the cleric’s inane hypothesis. It’s a cute idea, reminiscent of Rebecca Watson’s recent Great Apple Experiment–both taking a ridiculous claim and simultaneously giving it the (lack of) respect it deserves while also taking the opportunity to do some good science and promote skepticism.

The response has been enormous and unexpected. Most of it seems to be pretty positive. Some of it is from the “duhr hurr hurr boobies” wing of society, and some of it seems to miss the point entirely. But then there’s been a particular flavor of response from some self-described feminists talking about just how horrible this whole idea is, because it objectifies women and plays right into the patriarchy’s wishes to see see scantily-clad women. It’s “‘Girls Gone Wild’ with a cause slapped on it,” and “capitulating to Dude Nation’s fondest desire,” and “Since when did we ‘stick it to the man’ by wearing low-cut shirts or short shorts?”

This entire post will be dismissed because I used this image.And this is where I have a problem, because I don’t like it when feminists–who I agree with and would generally count myself among–reinforce the Limbaughian stereotype that they’re sex-negative humorless man-hating bluenoses. And yet, here we are.

I see two big problems with the reasoning of this position. First, there seems to be an assumption that there’s one “the man” or one “patriarchy” to fight against. I can’t imagine the cognitive dissonance which must occur to be able to hold that assumption in light of this situation. Here we have an explicit rebellion against the misogynistic rules of patriarchal fundamentalist Islam, which force women to dress in a way that hides any hint of their sexuality. Of course, in order to defy those rules, one would have to dress in a way that doesn’t hide a woman’s sexuality, and coincidentally there’s a closer-to-home patriarchy that marginalizes women for not flaunting their bodies (also, for flaunting their bodies too much–we have a very picky patriarchy). I’d think that this is clear evidence of (at least) two distinct patriarchies with different ways of marginalizing women and different sexual values, but apparently we’re all one Clan of the Dangling Penis. Even when you fight against them, you’re working for them.

The second big problem is an apparent inability to understand the difference between choice and coercion. I won’t deny that our society rewards women who fall within a certain range of body types and who dress in such a way as to walk a fine line of sexual objectification, largely ignoring those who fail to fit or comply. It’d be silly to deny that. But there’s a missing step between “society objectifies women by forcing them to dress provocatively” and “women who dress provocatively are being forced to do so by society.” To make the claim–implicitly or explicitly–ignores the fact that women have agency. A woman can choose how she dresses, regardless of what society expects of her. Women are, in fact, capable of choosing to dress provocatively, and may even be capable of doing so for reasons other than gaining male attention. When one is forced to do something, regardless of what that thing is, it breeds resentment and foments a rebellious attitude. When one chooses to do something–even if it is the same thing–there’s no reason to resent or rebel. Who would you rebel against? Yourself?

When I was a child, I was often forced to take naps. I did not enjoy it, I didn’t want to do it, and I faked sleep or read surreptitiously or did other things besides napping. Now, I frequently take naps by choice–am I therefore playing into the hands of the parents and teachers who wished me to take naps in the past? I have had jobs in the recent past where I was required to wear a tie every day. While I liked my array of ties, it was time-consuming to put them on and restricting to have them on all day, every day. The dress code at my current job is more relaxed; I still wear ties, but only when I choose to do so–and I do it because I like my ties, and I like the way they complement my shirts. I’m not vindicating my old bosses every time I spend a minute or two on a Full Windsor knot, I’m exercising control of my wardrobe through personal choice.

I quoted a bit from a Salon article above, and I’d like to examine the full quote in more detail, because I think it’s emblematic of the whole problem:

Since when did we “stick it to the man” by wearing low-cut shirts or short shorts? When women burned bras back in the day, there was a statement there, full of boldness and righteous anger. This type of happening feels like feminism lite, “cute” feminism or “male-friendly” feminism.

I like that she follows up her “we never protested by flaunting sexuality” clause with the example of burning bras (which, strangely enough, apparently never happened). Sure, bras represented the uncomfortable yoke of male expectations and enforced femininity, but is she really suggesting that there weren’t any men at the time who would have supported the idea of women without bras? I wasn’t around for those protests–but apparently, neither was Beth Mann–but I have a hard time imagining a world where no man enjoyed seeing nipples through shirts.

But again, we run into the problem of “the man.” I don’t know, if your point is to “stick it to the man,” doesn’t that depend on what “the man” wants you to do? Like, going braless was a response to “the man” enforcing certain standards of femininity (like wearing bras, and fake lashes, and makeup, and so forth). If “the man” wants you to hide your femininity under a veil and a burqa, are you still going to throw away your bra and makeup? Would that really make any sense?

The point of the protests in either case would be against the enforced standards of femininity. In one case, those standards included wearing bras and makeup, so women went braless and threw their makeup away. In the other case, the standard is extreme modesty, so wouldn’t the equivalent protest to be to throw away the burqa and veil and dress immodestly?

Finally, there’s the pejorative of “‘male-friendly’ feminism.” Yes, heaven forbid and saints preserve, the last thing any feminist should want is to be male-friendly! Why, that might make men think they could support women’s rights and feminist causes without being derided or denigrated, that they could participate in rallies and marches without others saying that they’re just there to gawk and pick up chicks, that they could call themselves feminists without worrying that they might be using the term presumptuously. Certainly, feminists would have no use for male allies–why, they’re the patriarchy, and clearly they’re all equally part of the problem, and it’s no sense being friendly to any of them so that you might actually get them to see how they might even unconsciously contribute to oppression. No, the feminists have gotten so far by being branded “man-haters,” and that term certainly isn’t ever used to dismiss what they have to say, so they should wear it with pride and continue to practice a staunch policy of borderline misandry.

I guess this is what it boils down to for me: On one hand, there’s Jen, a Ph.D. student who is responding to misogynistic religious mores by suggesting that women choose to dress immodestly for the sake of an actual scientific experiment. On the other hand, there are women who call Jen a bad feminist because her flippant academic suggestion means women will expose their femininity, which might cause men to think dirty thoughts. I don’t know about you, but I’d say the real feminist cause isn’t the one that encourages women to refrain from doing things because of what men think.

Then again, what do I know? I’m part of the problem.

An interesting experiment

A friend of mine and fellow vocal atheist has started up a new blog as a sort of religious exchange program. He agreed to read the Bible if his friend agreed to read The Blind Watchmaker. Both are blogging about it, and I’m interested in how it all turns out. There’s not much there yet, but I know that steady comments and regular readers are a pretty good impetus to keep writing, so please go check it out:

Understanding the Christian
And the Christian counter-blog is at:

Understanding the Skeptic
Enjoy!

It’s that time again

The only kind of tree that's ash before it's burned.
Think he's ever caught an Easter Bunny in one of those?
That'll put crosses on a lot of foreheads.
Wow, I'd forgotten about this one.
I come not to bring peace, but a chainsaw.
Happy Wednesday, everyone!

Christmas Musings

Jeremiah 10:1-4 has been making the atheist rounds recently as another bit of irony for the holiday season. If you’re not familiar with the passage, it’s the one that goes thusly:

10:1 Hear ye the word which the LORD speaketh unto you, O house of Israel:
10:2 Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.
10:3 For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.
10:4 They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.

It’s always entertaining to find these little bits of dissonance between what the Bible teaches and what the “keep Christ in Christmas” crowd believes and practices. Oh, naturally there’s an apologetic to explain this away (‘the passage clearly refers to the making and worshipping of wooden idols which are covered in silver and gold plating,’ (from here. Go ahead and read Jeremiah for yourself; KJV is very different from NIV on this matter), but that really doesn’t make it any less entertaining1.

Nor does it make the practice of putting up a Christmas tree any more Christian. I don’t need to go on about the pagan origins of Christmas, how festivals like Saturnalia and Yule and Sol Invictus got rolled up into Christian traditions over the centuries. Such information is readily available (and I’ve just spent about half an hour Googling it…interesting stuff).

What boggles my mind is the abject ignorance of a great many Christians with regard to all this. Sure, there’s an apologetic for Jeremiah, but I guarantee that most Christians don’t even know the passage, let alone the explanation for why it doesn’t mean what it says. I recently followed a Twitter conversation between Neil Gaiman and some appallingly ignorant Christian, stemming from Gaiman’s promotion of Tim Minchin’s excellent godless Christmas song, “White Wine in the Sun.” The conversation had some real highlights, notably Gaiman’s suggestion that if the word “Christ” puts God in Christmas, than doesn’t the word “Easter” put Oestre in Easter? The obtuse kid apparently misunderstood and thought “Easter” was the name of the person who decided to make Easter a holiday.

And then there’s Garrison Keillor, who has made me decide that Lake Wobegon Days is now several notches lower on my “to-read” list. Somewhere beneath Ender’s Game in the “books written by pompous religious bigots” section of the list2.

All this, plus the litany of “keep Christ in Christmas” bumper magnets I see (year round, like tacky Christmas decorations left up in April) and witch-hunt websites tracking which retail stores dare to prefer an inclusive phrase like “Happy Holidays” when greeting guests, makes me wonder: what the hell is wrong with these people?

Why would you find an event so important that you think everyone should think about it the same way you do, but not care enough to actually find out about its origins? Why do you require underpaid cashiers and greeters to validate your beliefs and customs? Why do you feel the need to exclude people from a celebration?

I just don’t get it. I don’t understand why people would effectively say “this is our party, and if you’re not like us, you’re not invited. And we’re going to trash any party you try to throw, because today is our party day.” It’s silly and petulant; getting upset that the greeter at Wal-Mart said “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” is as asinine as being offended that they said “have a nice day” instead of “happy birthday.” Why is it somehow offensively impolite to not make assumptions about a stranger’s religious beliefs? Why is it so important to dictate how other people conduct themselves in private?

What makes this all the more inane is that it’s the secular parts of the holiday–days off, giving gifts, spending time with family and friends, etc.–the things that are most commonly celebrated, that make the holiday popular and heavily anticipated. Would Christmas be as popular as it is if it only had the Christian religious aspects? If there weren’t these pagan and secular trappings attached to the holiday, it’d be another Good Friday or Ash Wednesday or Rosh Hashanah–significant to the observant, just another day to the rest of us.

And maybe that’s part of the anger–the fear that the little bits of Christmas which actually have something to do with Christ will be somehow supplanted with the secular parts, and so Christ has to be tacked onto the secular parts in order for the religious justification to survive. And there’s really nothing wrong with that; maybe you have an angel on top of the tree instead of a star, maybe you sing “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “Silent Night” instead of “Deck the Halls” and “Frosty the Snowman,” maybe you watch “The Nativity Story” instead of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”…but I still don’t understand why it matters to anyone what anyone else does on the holiday.

It all seems to come down to what Christmas is “about.” For me, Christmas is usually about family and songs I only want to hear for maybe seven days out of three hundred sixty-five and classic movies like “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Die Hard” and presents and awkward moments in the closet. This year, it was about stupid-induced injuries and a broken-down car and forgetting my hard drive with all the Christmas music on it and a veritable overload of Doctor Who. And a bunch of other things. But it seems like some people can’t quite handle the idea that Christmas has different meanings for different people at different times. They have to find the true meaning of Christmas, for everyone. And their true meaning is “Jesus.” Everything else falls by the wayside, including values like togetherness and inclusiveness, which other people might even associate with that “true” meaning.

Or to put it in terms that even the most myopic, self-absorbed ideologue should be able to understand, there’s room for everyone at the Christmas Inn3.

Happy Holidays, everyone.


1. At the very least, it’s a prime example of how different translations influence interpretation. I defy anyone to read the KJV version and get “metal-plated idols carved out of wood,” though that’s a clear implication in the NIV. The other half-dozen or so versions I looked at varied in between.

2. Ender’s Game is higher largely because I feel somewhat obligated as a sci-fi fan to read it, and because I’m told I’d enjoy it. Also, to be clearer about Keillor, he’s in the subsection of “writers who may or may not be pompous religious bigots, but who write pompous religious bigotry and occasionally pass it off as satire, even when it’s neither funny nor particularly satirical.” It’s a small subcategory.

3. Alternately: “Maybe Christmas isn’t what’s said at a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

I don’t want to alarm anyone, but…

Okay, I know we’ve all been avoiding the subject for awhile now, but things are getting dire. We can’t go on pretending like there isn’t a problem when there so clearly is. I know you’ve all noticed it, and if we don’t do something about it soon, life as we know it may be radically changed. This isn’t the time for sugarcoating the truth or trying to put a positive spin on things, so I’m just going to come right out and say what we’ve all been too afraid to mention:

The days are getting shorter.

The process has been going on for months, though I think we were all pretty slow to notice. At the start, there was plenty of daylight–I mean, we save it up every year, right?–so what’s a little time off one end or the other. Unfortunately, all those tiny little cuts have quickly added up, and suddenly there’s a lot more nighttime than there used to be. I’ve run some numbers, and it looks like tomorrow is going to be six seconds shorter than today. But that’s just a drop in the bucket, really: according to my projections, by this time next month, the day will be over half an hour shorter. And even that’s not the worst part. Check out my graph:
The darkness is falling!
That’s right: by mid-August of next year, there won’t be any daytime left.

I think it goes without saying that we’re in desperate times here. Unless we do something soon, we’re going to have to face existence without the sun. The consequences to nature and to our way of life would be tremendous: solar power will be a thing of the past; crops will cease to grow, diurnal animals will never wake from their slumber, and so forth. We must do something soon to find out what’s precipitating this quick descent into eternal darkness, before it’s too late.

What can we do in the meantime? Some of the steps are obvious. First, save daylight. Use your experience from countless “daylight savings times” to capture and store as much daylight as possible. Naturally we’ll have to ration it in the long nights ahead, but if we build up our daylight reserves, we may be able to extend normalcy for a little longer.

Second, don’t panic. Panicking won’t get us anywhere. Turn that energy and worry into thought and action. We’re going to need all the ideas we can get to adapt to a sunless world or a world of severely limited daylight. The more minds we have working on this problem, the more chances we have of coming up with viable solutions.

Finally, and this may sound crazy, but stick with me: celebrate. I know, I know, it’s strange advice, but here’s my reasoning: we don’t know what’s causing this problem; it’s possible that there’s some kind of intelligence or awareness behind it. A large, worldwide celebration would demonstrate that we’re not afraid, and just like the way that a small cat puffs up its fur and makes a lot of noise to frighten away a larger dog, our loud, bold celebration might scare off the encroaching darkness. On the other hand, it’s possible that the problem lies elsewhere, in which case our celebration might alert the sun or the source of the daylight of our appreciation for it and desire for its return. Besides, in times of crisis like this, it’s best to band together and enjoy what may be the last few weeks of normal life we have left.

Humans are a smart, adaptable species, and I have confidence that we’ll be able to either solve this problem or make the changes and sacrifices necessary to survive it. But we won’t get anywhere by pretending the problem doesn’t exist, and we need to take action now.

Alphabetical Blasphemy

Since today is International Blasphemy Day, I thought I’d take a few minutes to quickly blaspheme against as many religions as I can think of off the top of my head. So, here goes:

  • Ásatrú: I’m not sure how to feel about Ásatrú. I mean, on one hand, it’s got to suck to have other people casually citing your gods as the silly mythological ones that no one believes in anymore, but on the other hand, you’ve got fucking Thor. Plus, your canon is huge–once you’ve finished the Edda, you can start working on Journey Into Mystery. Even Catholicism doesn’t have regular monthly updates. Or continuity editors, for that matter.
  • Baha’i: I’ve read about Baha’i half a dozen times, but any information about them just kind of slides off my brain. I’m pretty sure their schtick has to do with letting the dogs out.
  • Christianity: I realized today that I’d really like to do a comedy version of the Jesus story. Not “The Life of Brian,” but an actual, accurate adaptation of the gospel stories (inasmuch as you can call any mash-up of those four contradictory stories “accurate”) done in a wacky slapstick style. It occurred to me while reading Jesus, Interrupted that Jesus gets run out of town and stoned quite a few times. I can just imagine the scenes of Jesus and his crew running with huge crowds of angry Jews chasing them with stones and stuff, while Ciaphas (or someone) shouts “JEEEESUUUUS!” in a Mr. Slate/Dean Wormer style. The more I think about it, the better I think it would be. I just need to figure out how to funny up the downer ending. Much as I’d like to, I can’t steal this idea:
  • Deism: Deism is kind of like the bathtub drain of religious belief; it’s almost totally empty, and so many things seem to end up sucked down it. Every major argument for the existence of gods ends up getting as far as Deism and no farther; people who aren’t quite ready to give up religious belief altogether seem to get caught in it like clumps of hair, Antony Flew fell in from the other side of the tub, much though Christians would like to claim that he made it across the Deistic divide; and American government has spent so much time caught in the gutter that it’s started using it for ceremonial purposes.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is “Deism sucks.”

  • Ellinais: All the lameness of Ásatrú, but without the awesomeness of Thor. Sure, Hercules and Zeus are cool and all, but there’s so many also-rans–the Legion of Substitute Olympians like Iris and Eris and Nike and such. I don’t know, I just can’t imagine Odin turning into a golden shower to impregnate someone.

    Oh, and as long as I’ve mentioned Eris, I might as well mention Discordianism. Either it’s a parody religion with its collective head up its own ass, or it’s a real religion based around trying way too hard to be funny. I can’t tell the difference, and I’m convinced that its followers can’t either, and most of them are just playing along so they don’t look like they don’t get the joke.

  • Freethinkers: When people accuse atheists of being smug and superior, this is the kind of stupid bullshit they’re talking about. “Freethinker” is even worse than “Bright” in this regard; it’s effectively calling everyone else a slave-thinker or restricted-thinker. Any organization with cute derogatory terms for everyone in the outgroup has its head way too far up its own ass. Can we please resign this elitist term to the dustbin of history?
  • Gnosticism: Hey, look, an entire religious movement based around being super-special elites who know secret things that make them better than you. It’s the religion equivalent of high schoolers with an in-joke.
  • Hare Krishna: A religion known mainly for hanging out in airports, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (which sounds more like an organization that James Bond would fight against) peaked with a mention in a George Harrison song and had officially jumped the shark by the time they started denying the moon landings on religious grounds. Yeah, let’s teach that controversy. Bald assholes.
  • Humanism: You know, there’s not a lot I disagree with when it comes to Secular Humanism, but something about the tradition kind of squicks me out. I think it’s the adherence to a specific set of ethics, or something. I guess I’m technically a Humanist, but it’s not a term I really use. So, yeah, Humanists…stop being so squicky.
  • Islam: I thought about just putting a crude cartoon of Mohammed here, but then a new thought occurred to me. See, like my “Laugh-In of the Christ” above, I think the life of Mohammed would make a fun movie. See, the Hadith has this bit about Mohammed flying up to heaven on a magic donkey that my brain connected to the end of “Grease,” where Danny and Sandy fly into the sky in their car, and I thought “it’d be awesome to do the story of Mohammed like ‘Grease’!” See, you start it with “Allah (is the Word),” then there’s “Sunni Nights,” “Look at Me, I’m Aisha B.,” and “Madrasah Dropout.” By the end, Mohammed will be all clean-cut and wearing a sweater, and Aisha will be sewn into her leather burqa. I know she’s only supposed to be six years old, but given Hollywood’s proclivity toward casting older people as younger people, I suspect that we might get an actual teenager in the role. I recommend Miley Cyrus.
  • Jainism: You know, if the Jains were serious about their commitment to not killing any living things, they’d all take medication to inhibit their immune systems. You guys are so careful that you sweep bugs out of the sidewalk in front of you and avoid root vegetables since they kill living plants, but what about all those living bacteria that your body’s killing all the time? Bunch of hypocrites.
  • Kemetism: Why resurrect Egyptian mythology as a religion if you’re not going to mummify the dead and build pyramids? Neopagans ruin everything.
  • Libertarianism: Because substituting “the market” for “God” is still a religion.
  • Mormons: Mormonism is religion as done by fanfic.com. It’s a mishmash of Christianity, 19th Century science fiction, Masonic ritual, American patriotism, wish fulfillment, and really awful pseudohistory. “So, this guy discovered some magic stones, which may or may not have been in a breastplate of some sort, then used them to translate a book of golden plates (though the book wasn’t in the room at the time), written in ‘reformed Egyptian’ by Indians who were actually Jews who sailed across the ocean to America, where Jesus went on walkabout once. Apparently, there’s no such place as Hell (but somehow there’s still a devil), so everyone gets into Heaven, but some people get better rooms, and if you’re really good and wear your magic underpants and never drink coffee, you get to be the god of your own planet when you die! Oh, and God is from another planet, which orbits a star called Kolob, and there are Puritans living on the moon! And black people will turn white if they start behaving, and God and Jesus had bunches of wives, but we don’t talk about those things anymore.” Joseph Smith was fucking Harold Hill, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it started as a drunken bet that just got out of hand. In fact, I would be very surprised if it didn’t start as a drunken bet that got out of hand.
  • Newage: Ah, newage, less a religion, more a smorgasbord of stupidity. There is no dumb idea that newage hasn’t adopted, embraced, and woefully misunderstood. If Deism is a shower drain, then newage is the trap pipe underneath that collects all the gunk and detritus that gets past the screen.
  • Objectivism: What kind of cult of personality outlives their personality? One with the personality of a petulant junior high student, I guess. It’s a shame that Ayn Rand and L. Ron Hubbard are both dead; I’d really like to see a definitive decision on which cult leader was the bigger hack.
  • Pantheism: Pantheism saw Deism’s non-interventionist, impersonal prime mover god, and said “that god’s not useless and superfluous enough! I can do better.” And by George, they did at that. Way to set the bar high, Pantheists.
  • Quakerism: The graph of Quaker popularity drops off significantly after the end of the 18th century, and has a short, sharp resurgence in 2003 or so, when everybody took the Belief-O-Matic Quiz and found out they were “Liberal Quakers.” In between, it’s all oatmeal.
  • Rastafarianism: I think if you actually did the demographics, Rastafarianism comprises equally Jamaicans and pretentious college stoners who want to give up shampoo.
  • Satanism: I don’t know what’s worse: that Christians repeatedly get panicked over an effectively nonexistent religion, or that they get panicked over an effectively nonexistent religion that they think is made up of Dungeons and Dragons players and KISS fans. Never has there been a sweatier, hairier nonexistent religion.
  • Taoism: ‘Nuff said.
  • Unitarian Universalism: All the uselessness of Deism with all the boredom of church! UU is the best argument for good atheist meetup groups.
  • Voodoo: The only group who has contributed more easy plot devices to horror movies than the gypsies. It’s almost a shame that no one knows anything accurate about them.
  • Wicca: A fifty-year-old ancient religion made entirely out of pale skin, fishnet sleeves, awkward body fat, pretentious teenagers, and lesbians. No religious tradition in history has ever needed a harder smack with the cluestick.
  • X-Files: I know it’s not a religion, I’m just using it as a handy term for all the conspiracy theorists out there who aren’t adequately covered by the rest of the list. The X-Files was basically “Left Behind” for the Coast to Coast AM crowd. Which explains why the show ended up being totally incoherent, ridiculous, empty, and raising far more questions than it was poised to answer.
  • Yoga: As I understand, this religion gives you the ability to stretch across the screen and breathe fire. And according to the manual, it supposedly allows you to teleport, but that’s, like, 12th-level Yoga or something.
  • Zoroastrianism: Spanish for “the foxastrianism.” Extant since somewhere around 600 BCE, it’s like the little religion that could…worship a god who answers phones on the Enterprise and drives a Japanese car.
  • Everyone else: chances are, you’re too lame or tiny to merit notice. I mean, come on, I picked Kemetism over you? Yeah, sucks to be you. With the exception of Scientology (aka Mormonism with a higher page count): it’s okay, Scientology, someday you’ll catch Nicholas Cage for killing John Travolta’s kid. In the meantime, enjoy being 4chan’s bitch.

And that’s the end of it. Happy Blasphemy Day, everyone!

On Labeling

Mmm...babycakes.I keep running into an issue with labels. It wasn’t long ago that I revised my own from “agnostic” to the more accurate and more useful “agnostic atheist” (in a nutshell, anyway–but this is a topic for a future post). The problem I have is that the relevant parts of my beliefs didn’t change, only what I called myself did. I didn’t have a belief in any gods when I called myself an agnostic, and I don’t have any belief in any gods now that I call myself an atheist. From any objective standpoint, I was an atheist the whole time.

And this is the substance of the problem: the dissonance between what a person calls himself or herself, and what categories a person objectively falls into. These labels are frequently different, and frequently result in various confusions and complications.

On one hand, I think we’re inclined to take people at their word with regard to what their personal labels are. It’s a consequence of having so many labels that center around traits that can only be assessed subjectively. I can’t look into another person’s mind to know what they believe or who they’re attracted to or what their political beliefs really are, or even how they define the labels that relate to those arenas. We can only rely on their self-reporting. So, we have little choice but to accept their terminology for themselves.

But…there are objective definitions for some of these terms, and we can, based on a person’s self-reporting of their beliefs, see that an objectively-defined label–which may or may not be the one they apply to themselves–applies to them.

I fear I’m being obtuse in my generality, so here’s an example: Carl Sagan described himself as an agnostic. He resisted the term “atheist,” and clearly gave quite a bit of thought to the problem of how you define “god”–obviously, the “god” of Spinoza and Einstein, which is simply a term applied to the laws of the universe, exists, but the interventionist god of the creationists is far less likely. So Sagan professed agnosticism apparently in order to underscore the point that he assessed the question of each god’s existence individually.

On the other hand, he also seemed to define “atheist” and “agnostic” in unconventional ways–or perhaps in those days before a decent atheist movement, the terms just had different connotations or less specific definitions. Sagan said “An agnostic is somebody who doesn’t believe in something until there is evidence for it, so I’m agnostic,” and “An atheist is someone who knows there is no God.”

Now, I love Carl, but it seems to me that he’s got the definitions of these terms inside-out. “Agnostic,” as the root implies, has to do with what one claims to know–specifically, it’s used to describe people who claim not to know if there are gods. Atheist, on the other hand, is a stance on belief–specifically the lack of belief in gods.

So, if we’re to go with the definitions of terms as generally agreed upon, as well as Carl’s own self-reported lack of belief in gods and adherence to the null hypothesis with regard to supernatural god claims, then it’s clear that Carl is an atheist. Certainly an agnostic atheist–one who lacks belief in gods but does not claim to know that there are no gods–but an atheist nonetheless.

The dilemma with regard to Sagan is relatively easy to resolve; “agnostic” and “atheist” are not mutually exclusive terms, and the term one chooses to emphasize is certainly a matter of personal discretion. In the case of any self-chosen label, the pigeon-holes we voluntarily enter into are almost certainly not all of the pigeon-holes into which we could be placed. I describe myself as an atheist and a skeptic, but it would not be incorrect to call me an agnostic, a pearlist, a secularist, an empiricist, and so forth. What I choose to call myself reflects my priorities and my understanding of the relevant terminology, but it doesn’t necessarily exclude other terms.

The more difficult problems come when people adopt labels that, by any objective measure, do not fit them, or exclude labels that do. We see Sagan doing the latter in the quote above, eschewing the term “atheist” based on what we’d recognize now as a mistaken definition. The former is perhaps even more common–consider how 9/11 Truthers, Global Warming and AIDS denialists, and Creationists have all attempted to usurp the word “skeptic,” even though none of their methods even approach skepticism.

The danger with the former is when groups try to co-opt people into their groups who, due to lack of consistent or unambiguous self-reporting (or unambiguous reporting from reliable outside sources), can’t objectively be said to fit into them. We see this when Christians try to claim that the founding fathers were all devout Christian men, ignoring the reams of evidence that many of them were deists or otherwise unorthodox. It’s not just the fundies who do this, though; there was a poster at my college which cited Eleanor Roosevelt and Errol Flynn among its list of famous homosexual and bisexual people, despite there being inconsistent and inconclusive evidence to determine either of their sexualities. The same is true when my fellow atheists attempt to claim Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Paine (among others), despite ambiguity in their self-described beliefs. I think, especially those of us who pride ourselves on reason and evidence, that we must be careful with these labels, lest we become hypocrites or appear sloppy in our application and definition of terms. These terms have value only inasmuch as we use them consistently.

The matter of people adopting terms which clearly do not apply to them, however, presents a more familiar problem. It seems easy and safe enough to say something like “you call yourself an atheist, yet you say you believe in God. Those can’t both be true,” but situations rarely seem to be so cut-and-dry. Instead, what we end up with are ambiguities and apparent contradictions, and a need to be very accurate and very precise (and very conservative) in our definition of terms. Otherwise, it’s a very short slippery slope to No True Scotsman territory.

Case in point, the word “Christian.” It’s a term with an ambiguous definition, which (as far as I can tell) cannot be resolved without delving into doctrinal disputes. Even a definition as simple as “a Christian is someone who believes Jesus was the son of God” runs afoul of Trinitarian semantics, where Jesus is not the son, but God himself. A broader definition like, “One who follows the teachings of Jesus” ends up including people who don’t consider themselves Christians (for instance, Ben Franklin, who enumerated Jesus among other historical philosophers) and potentially excluding people who don’t meet the unclear standard of what constitutes “following,” and so forth.

Which is why there are so many denominations of Christianity who claim that none of the other denominations are “True Christians.” For many Protestants, the definition of “True Christian” excludes all Catholics, and vice versa; and for quite a lot of Christians, the definition of the term excludes Mormons, who are also Bible-believers that accept Jesus’s divinity.

When we start down the path of denying people the terms that they adopt for themselves, we must be very careful that we do not overstep the bounds of objectivity and strict definitions. Clear contradictions are easy enough to spot and call out; where terms are clearly defined and beliefs or traits are clearly expressed, we may indeed be able to say “you call yourself be bisexual, but you say you’re only attracted to the opposite sex. Those can’t both be true.” But where definitions are less clear, or where the apparent contradictions are more circumstantially represented, objectivity can quickly be thrown out the window.

I don’t really have a solution for this problem, except that we should recognize that our ability to objectively label people is severely limited by the definitions we ascribe to our labels and the information that our subjects report themselves. So long as we are careful about respecting those boundaries, we should remain well within the guidelines determined by reason and evidence. Any judgments we make and labels we apply should be done as carefully and conservatively as possible.

My reasons for laying all this out should become clear with my next big post. In the meantime, feel free to add to this discussion in the comments.

Reductio ad Shaquillum

I can conceive of a universe which is greater than all possible universes. If there is a maximally perfect being (God), then he would necessarily have made the greatest conceivable universe.

A universe which has Shaquille O’Neal movies in it is necessarily less great than a universe which does not have Shaquille O’Neal movies in it.

Since this universe has Shaquille O’Neal movies in it, I can conceive of a greater universe. Therefore, since this is not the greatest conceivable universe, it must not have been created by a maximally perfect god.

–The Kazaam Cosmological Argument*.


*Okay, all right, it’s an Ontological Argument, so the name’s not accurate, but the pun wouldn’t work otherwise. I tried the other way, but wrote myself into a corner somewhere after “Shaquille O’Neal’s acting career began to exist.” Now, given the quick annihilation of said career, it’s possible that it was just a virtual career, part of normal career vacuum fluctuations…

You might think it’s hysterical

So, Bronze Dog had a recent post riffing on the apparent problems woos have with humor. I think a lot of it stems from lacking a sense of irony and self-awareness, since those are key elements of a great deal of humor, but that’s another post in itself. In the comments, Valhar2000 pointed us to a brief and really lame website called Jokes About Atheists. It’s not just that the humor is not really humorous (although some of the images are funny–I particularly liked the “There is probably no cod” bus), but the website uses Comic Sans as its font. Comic Sans? Really? Yeah, maybe if I were twelve copy-pasting Internet jokes onto my Geocities page, Comic Sans might seem like a good idea. For (presumably) adults to go use it really speaks to the lack of awareness we’re talking about here.

Anyway, among the half-dozen or so “jokes” (which, by the way, make some glaring omissions–where’s the one about the Marine who punched the atheist professor in the face? Or the one where the atheist is eaten by a Christian bear? This site is far from comprehensive) is a list in the style of Jeff Foxworthy’s “You might be a redneck” jokes. It’s an interesting look into what some Christians consider humor, and seemed like some easy post fodder while I continue working on the more in-depth posts (I promise I haven’t quit writing!). Without further ado:

You MAY Be a Fundamentalist Atheist if….

Yep, off to an auspicious start.

…you became an atheist when you were 10 years old, based on ideas of God that you learned in Sunday School. Your ideas about God haven’t changed since.

Converting to Christianity in childhood and never questioning or improving upon your beliefs, however, is a-okay!

Incidentally, I think someone who based their atheism on Sunday School God alone would be a pretty bad (and pretty easily reconverted) atheist. Most of the atheists I know–those in the more skeptical, scientific camp–base their disbelief on the lack of evidence for any god, whether Sunday School or Theology Class, and generally have done some research on the matter. Not that it’s necessary–if Sunday School teachers provided evidence instead of cutesy stories, this wouldn’t even need to be on the list.

…you think Christians are narrow-minded for believing in only one religion, but atheists are open-minded for believing in absolutely none.

I don’t know anyone who thinks either of these things as stated here. I think many Christians are often narrow-minded or closed-minded for refusing to consider other points of view, refusing to acknowledge evidence, and refusing to question their beliefs. Consequently, those who do question their beliefs, acknowledge evidence, and consider other points of view are what I’d consider open-minded. I’ve known lots of open-minded Christians; I haven’t known quite as many closed-minded atheists (except perhaps on political and economic views).

…you think the USA government is a theocracy.

I think there are people who are trying to move it that way, does that count? I think it’s a bad idea to mix religion and government, and I’d like to see a stronger separation between the two. I’d especially like to see a public open-minded enough to see the religious beliefs of political candidates as less cause for concern than policies and platforms.

…you refer to C.S. Lewis as “that traitor.”

C.S. Lewis was an atheist?

…you think George Carlin was the greatest comedian of all time.

He’s certainly up there. Who did you have in mind instead?

…you spend hours arguing that a-theism actually means “without a belief in God ” and not just ” belief that there is no god” as if this is a meaningful distinction in real life.

I don’t know that I’ve spent hours arguing this, but it is a meaningful distinction, whether or not theists want to accept it.

…”thinking for yourself” means adopting an atheist viewpoint.

Thinking for oneself doesn’t mean that one comes to a completely unique conclusion.

By the way, what’s an “atheist viewpoint”?

…you believe that nativity scenes should be banned from public view, but that anyone objecting to pornography only has to look the other way.

I’m not sure if this is more a strawman or a false dichotomy; I don’t know anyone who thinks that “nativity scenes should be banned from public view;” it’s certainly not a point of view of most atheists, even if there are some asshats who might advocate it. Most atheists who have any opinion that even resembles what’s stated here (and many others who value church-state separation) want nativity scenes removed from public property, since the secular government is supposed to remain neutral on matters of religion. There are two ways to enforce that neutrality on state grounds: the first is to allow any religious group to put up any display (within whatever secular guidelines the state sets) on the public land for any holiday. So we could have light-up plastic Jesus and the manger on Christmas, a light-up plastic Buddha for Buddha’s Birthday, a light-up plastic Flying Spaghetti Monster for Talk Like a Pirate Day, a light-up plastic Wookiee for Life Day, a light-up plastic Raelian UFO on August 6th, a light-up plastic angel killing light-up plastic Egyptian children for Passover, and a light-up plastic maypole with light-up plastic naked pagans dancing around it on May Day. If we’re going to allow the light-up plastic nativity scene, then this is the only fair option.

On the other hand, rather than allowing the courthouse lawn to become a constant rotating showcase for every religion’s chosen kitsch, the government could maintain neutrality by disallowing any religious displays on public property, which is the same policy used for political campaign signs, another point of government neutrality. For the government to declare the courthouse lawn (and other public properties) religious display-free zones does not stop religious groups and individuals from using church grounds or their own private lawns to erect their electric shrines. There’s no “barring the nativity from public view.” You could put a nativity on every lawn in town, provided that the owners of those properties want nativities on their lawns. Why is it such a big deal, why is it so necessary to put your decorations on the town’s lawn as well?

…you assert that “faith is believing things which you know aren’t true”.

It’s “faith is believing what you know ain’t so,” and it’s a Mark Twain quote. Get it right.

Incidentally, while this is a nice pithy and humorous phrase, I can’t imagine anyone actually using it seriously. A more serious variation would be “faith is belief without evidence or in spite of evidence to the contrary,” or “faith is the excuse we give to believe things without good reason.” The latter’s pretty close to something Matt Dillahunty is wont to say, the former is just a basic definition of faith as used in this kind of context.

…you think you descended from apes.

I’ll do you one better: I think I am an ape, and a great one at that.

I wonder how Francis Collins, Ken Miller, and every other theist who accepts basic biology feels about suddenly being a “fundamentalist atheist.”

…you get angry if someone implies you’re going to a place that you don’t think exists.

Yeah, it’s a little upsetting to know that there are large swaths of people who think I deserve to be tortured forever because I disagree with them. I don’t get angry about it, I just feel sad that people can have their basic empathy and compassion so twisted and contorted by irrational beliefs. I’m also frustrated that people can look to this sort of improportionate punishment, where actions are equated to thoughtcrime, and where all violations of arbitrary rules result in infinite penalty, and call it “perfect justice” and “merciful.”

…you think marriage is an obsolete fundy institution — except for homosexuals.

This conflates two (possibly three) different positions, I think, which you can see battled out in any Pharyngula thread on same-sex marriage. On one hand are people who think that marriage is a (primarily) religious institution and that the government shouldn’t be bothering with marriage at all, and advocate the replacement or dissolution of civil marriage. On the other hand are poeple who see marriage as a civil institution (or see civil and religious marriage as separate institutions, which is my position), and on that basis see no justification for allowing straights to marry and denying that right to gays. Religious institutions can do whatever they want with their religious marriages, and the government is not required to recognize or endorse religious marriage rites, just as religious groups are not required to recognize or endorse civil marriage contracts. Both positions are reasonable, stemming from different premises on the purpose and benefits of marriage.

…you become upset when a Christian says that not everything in the Bible should be taken literally.

I suppose this might be a sign of an inexperienced atheist debater, but I can’t imagine most “fundamentalist atheists” getting upset by this sort of thing. Now, when a Christian takes an explicitly literalist position (whatever that means), then interprets passages in a figurative way in order to smooth over obvious contradictions and uncomfortable implications, or when a Christian claims that their obviously subjective figurative interpretation of passages is the “literal” interpretation, that’s frustratingly hypocritical. I find it laughable, though, that Christians can claim “not everything in the Bible should be taken literally,” without providing any justification for which passages should be taken literally, and which ones are figurative.

…you call a view held by less than ten percent of the American public “common sense”.

Why use “the American public” here? Is “the American public” somehow the ultimate arbiter of “common sense”? Let me turn this around: Ray Comfort calls Christianity “common sense,” despite the fact that it’s a view held by less than a third of the Earth’s population. “Common sense” is worthless; it’s context- and culture-specific, and it’s certainly not a method of reliably determining truth.

…you have, at least once, phoned, emailed or written the ACLU.

I guess there are no non-American fundamentalist atheists. And I guess all those religious people who have been defended by the ACLU are fundamentalist atheists.

…you’ve ever called a Christian a “Paulian”.

Guilty as charged. Of course, it was in response to Christians who, when faced with contradictions between Jesus’s words and Paul’s words, chose the latter. I guess when I see “Christian,” I assume it means “follower of Christ” or “Christ-like,” not “follower of some guy who never actually met Christ but is apparently more of an expert on Christ’s views than Christ was.”

…you just can’t see any difference between Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, etc, and Osama bin Laden.

Sure I can: Osama has a beard.

…your first inclination when purchasing the Darwin fish for your car was the hope of being offensive.

This only barely makes sense. First, so what? If I want to have offensive decorations on my car, that’s my prerogative. I don’t see how it makes one a “fundamentalist” anything, any more than “My pit bull could eat your honor student” makes the driver a “fundamentalist dog owner,” or a knock-off Calvin pissing on a Ford emblem makes the driver a “fundamentalist Chevy driver.” Second, believe it or not, it’s not just atheists who accept evolution, though it does seem to be primarily Christians (of certain stripes) who would be “offended” by a decoration supporting good science. Third, if my “first inclination” was to be offensive, there are much better car decorations I could have picked. There’s the T. rex eating the Jesus fish, there’s the one where the Darwin fish is fucking the Jesus fish, and there are countless pithy bumper stickers. Incidentally, how many Christians’ first inclinations are to offend people when they pick out bumper stickers like “One Nation UNDER GOD” or “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve”?

…you use one or more of the following alternate spellings: GOD-“gawd” JESUS-“jeeezus” “jayzus” “jebus” “jeebers” BIBLE-“bibble” “babble” “wholly babble” “buy-bull”.

Yeah, this is pretty immature stuff, and I’m a little embarrassed when I see other atheists do it (though I am partial to “Jebus,” just for the Simpsons reference). It’s about as childish as “evilution,” “Darwinist,” “DemocRAT,” and so forth.

…you insist that science is completely partial to all ideas, is not dogmatic and researches all possibilities.

Science isn’t dogmatic, that much I will insist. You don’t see Nobel prizes going to people who strongly reaffirmed the status quo and found nothing new or surprising or paradigm-shattering. As far as “partial to all ideas” and “research[ing] all possibilities,” it’s certainly possible for science to do those things, but it’s usually not necessary. Most ideas are, frankly, stupid, and most possibilities aren’t worth the time, effort, and grant funding to investigate. I don’t need to investigate whether or not clouds are really the cast-off tails of giant invisible floating rabbits; the idea has no evidence behind it and contradicts things we already know about the universe–particularly rabbit physiology and cloud formation. Science researches the possibilities that have some probability given what we already know is possible (or given areas where we don’t know what the possibilities are). We don’t need to research those possibilities that are rendered highly improbable or nonsensical by what we already know, unless there’s some evidence that those possibilities may be true. Take homeopathy, for instance: there’s no reason science should investigate homeopathy, because it’s internally inconsistent, it lacks provenance, and there is no physically plausible mechanism for its operation. The only reason science does investigate it is because so many people believe it works, and only science can determine whether or not it actually does.

Point being: science can and will be open to all ideas and has the capability to research all possibilities, but your possible idea needs to be accompanied by a compelling reason for scientists to spend time, money, and effort on the research.

…you think that if schools teach the Intelligent Design theory of creation, they should also teach the “stork theory” of where babies come from.

Only if we’re going with the “equal time” argument for teaching Intelligent Design Creationism, in which case we should be giving “equal time” to any alternate ‘theories’ of accepted science, regardless of how invalidated they have been by the evidence, or how little actual evidence they have supporting them. There are plenty of arguments proffered by cdesign proponentsists; in many cases, equal time being one of them, they open the door wide to teaching all manner of debunked, discarded, and discredited alternate ‘theories’ in classes throughout the curriculum. Hell, Michael Behe himself said that a definition of science which included Intelligent Design would also include Astrology. I guess he must be a “fundamentalist atheist” too.

…you have any “bible contradictions” website saved in “favorites”.

The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible is more than just a “bible contradictions website.”

…you insist on capitalizing “atheist”.

Why would anyone do that? I generally make it a point to not capitalize “atheist.” I don’t capitalize “theist” either; they’re not institutions, they’re positions.

…you think that “Lord of the Rings” and “Harry Potter” are more believable than the Bible.

I’ve given this one some thought, and yeah, I think I have to agree. “Harry Potter” is set in a world that actually bears some resemblance to the real world, and is generally internally consistent. There aren’t large swaths of “Harry Potter” that contradict other parts of the series, and the characters have human personalities and understandable motivations. There are lots of fantastic, impossible elements, to be sure, but at least they make sense in the context of the story. “Lord of the Rings” is even more internally consistent, and the world is far more fleshed-out; while Middle-Earth doesn’t bear much resemblance to reality, the characters’ relationships do. More than that, the magical aspects are generally fairly understated; there isn’t the same kind of flashy wizardry one finds in “Harry Potter,” but a much more subdued magic that one could almost accept as real.

Contrast this with the Bible, which is not only inconsistent with itself, but is inconsistent with the reality it purports to be describing. The characters, when they are given any development at all, often come across as unhinged or disturbed in how their demeanor, statements, and actions change from one scene to another. Jesus, being the character who receives the lion’s share of development in the story, is the best example of this–sometimes he’s inclusive and insightful and patient, other times he’s cursing fig trees for being out of season and being intentionally obtuse so only the right kind of people understand what he’s saying. God is right behind, seeming like an entirely different character from the first half of the book to the second. It’s as though at the start of “Order of the Phoenix,” people had started talking about how loving and benevolent and forgiving Voldemort was. That kind of abrupt, unbelievable diametrically-opposite shift in characterization won’t fly in decent fiction, in large part because of how unrealistic it is. Unless God had an iron rod shoved through his frontal lobes between Malachi and Matthew, his dramatic demeanor change just isn’t believable.

Naturally this is all apples and oranges; neither “Harry Potter” nor “Lord of the Rings” is seriously claimed by anyone to have actually happened, while there are plenty of Christians who look to their favorite novel as an accurate record of history and science.

…you think if a Christian won’t argue when challenged, they are too frightened or can’t answer; but if they do address your arguments, you think it’s a sign that they are “threatened” by your argument.

I can’t respond to this one: I don’t think I’ve ever had a Christian actually address my arguments.

By the way, “threatened” sounds an awful lot like projection to me–as do about half of the rest of these items.

…when someone says ‘God bless you’ when you sneeze, you take it as an open invitation to express your non-belief.

Once you’re stealing jokes from Dane Cook, it’s a real sign that you should stop trying to be funny.

Incidentally, expressing one’s beliefs (or lack thereof) in inappropriate situations or unwanted circumstances, taking any opportunity to bring up their convictions in conversation? Yes, the atheists clearly have that market cornered.

…you have actually calculated the number of people drowned in The Flood you don’t believe.

Can’t say I’ve done the math on this one. It’s really only an interesting figure if you’re comparing God’s death toll with others, or if you’re trying to demonstrate how absurd it is that so many living things could die and no one but the Jews would notice.

…you feel guilty whenever you use the word faith and have decided to remove it from your vocabulary.

Sorry, I look at that word between “word” and “and,” but my eyes just kind of slide off it. Looks like there’s an SEP field at work here.

Seriously, I can’t say that I’ve removed the word faith from my vocabulary, nor do I know anyone who has, nor do I even really know what that would mean. I am a lot more careful with how I use “faith,” and I try not to use it when I actually mean “trust.” It’s the same with “theory,” “believe,” “prove,” and several other words. I care about what words mean, and I try to be as precise as possible when I’m communicating, particularly when it comes to difficult concepts.

…you think religious tolerance does not include Christianity.

I think religious tolerance includes more than just Christianity, despite what so many Christians seem to think.

(This partial list was originally compiled by “GakuesiDon” and “Tekton” and various contributors)

Quoted for credit.

I find it interesting how few of these are actually atheist-specific. I imagine it has a lot to do with the fact that there’s no central atheist doctrine or dogma, which tends to limit how much atheists actually have in common with one another. Consequently, these Christians have to make jabs at science (via evolutionary theory), church-state separation supporters of all stripes, liberal Christians (who I have also seen drawing parallels between Falwell and bin Laden), fundamentalists of other religions (I suspect that a fundamentalist Muslim’s idea of “religious tolerance” might not include Christianity either), people who support the ACLU (which defends believers and nonbelievers alike, contrary to conservative propaganda), and of course a veritable squadron of strawmen. It’s also very specific to American Christianity (and then, to a particular non-literalist-but-still-creationist form of American Christianity), where no thought whatsoever is given to the rest of the world. They posit two camps, one of which is there specific brand of “Christian,” and the other is the “fundamentalist atheists,” who somehow encompass an awful lot of people who claim to be religious.

I’ll admit, I’m tempted to do a “you might be” list of my own, since it would be so easy to turn these around on the believers (and not just Christian ones, either), but I have slightly better taste than that.