Archive for the ‘Popular culture’ Category

The Humanist Miracle

Sunday, October 9th, 2011

One of the leading arguments for the existence of supernatural power is sometimes called the “argument from miracles.” There are many reports of phenomena contrary to generally accepted scientific principles, that are taken as evidence for a power that can bend nature to its will – a deity.

There are deep philosophical debates about such events and their meanings, which you can read about here, and there are people who simply refuse to believe that miracles actually occur in the first place – who say, therefore, there is nothing to debate about.

I take a different approach. I do believe there is evidence for occurrences, for instance at Lourdes, that cannot be readily explained. But Christians have no monopoly on miracles – humanists have at least one as well, that we should never stop talking about. Besides, ours is more fun. (more…)

What We Were Spared Last Week

Sunday, September 18th, 2011

What would the God experts have said if Mayor Bloomberg had let them speak at last week's memorial ceremony?

New York’s Mayor Bloomberg resisted intense pressure last week, refusing demands to include professional God experts on the official city program commemorating the attacks of September 11. The mayor’s explanation for this conscious omission was straightforward:

It’s a civil ceremony. There are plenty of opportunities for people to have their religious ceremonies. Some people don’t want to go to a religious ceremony with another religion. And the number of different religions in this city are really quite amazing. … It isn’t that you can’t pick and choose, you shouldn’t pick and choose. If you want to have a service for your religion, you can have it in your church or in a field, or whatever.

Simple enough. The point of the ceremony was to remind the families of the victims that America still cares about them and mourns their loss, not to provide a government-sponsored platform for experts to inform us about God’s will. Nothing on the agenda was anti-religion; the program was designed in coordination with victims’ families and included readings that were “spiritual and personal in nature,” along with six different moments of silence to allow personal reflection and prayer. The only thing that was missing was the showcasing of a publicity-hungry preacher. From the reaction Bloomberg generated, though, you’d think he was Caligula, feeding Christians to the lions. (more…)


Sunday, January 31st, 2010

Hillary ClintonAs a rule, the tone of these articles for the past 2½ years has been a bit negative. That’s the nature of the beast: pointing out the inanity, past and present, of listening to con men and their flunkies tell us what God wants us to do. This piece is the other 1%: a paean to someone standing up for truth, even when it is inconvenient to do so. I speak of our Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, and her speech last week on internet freedom.

Secretary Clinton spoke at the “Newseum,” a Washington landmark dedicated to the freedoms Americans enjoy under the First Amendment to the Constitution – carved in 50 tons of marble on the building’s exterior. She started with the usual banality about how marvelous the internet is, then got a little saltier when talking about governments around the world who are engaged in censoring it. China is the most well-known offender, but Clinton slammed Muslim-dominated governments as well. She picked on not just our enemy Iran, but even our so-called ally, Saudi Arabia, which routinely blocks people’s access to internet sites not in strict conformance with Wahhabi Islam. Just within the past year, she pointed out, Uzbekistan and even a relatively moderate Muslim country like Tunisia have tightened the screws on what their people are allowed to look at online.

The Blasphemy Gambit – Part 2

Sunday, January 10th, 2010

Mohammed cartoon 4The response of Ireland’s atheists to the new blasphemy law was immediate. The day the law took effect, a group called “Atheist Ireland” published on its website 25 potentially blasphemous quotations from figures such as Jesus, Muhammad, George Carlin, and Mark Twain, daring the government to prosecute.

Care was taken in selecting the 25 candidates. The arrangement is politically correct, covering most of the world’s major religions (with the notable exception of Hinduism). Many of the passages, though, do not fit the statutory definition of blasphemy – thus playing into the hands of the law’s backers, who can now say “You are just proving that we carefully wrote a good law, that does not prevent you from saying exactly what you are claiming is blasphemous.” For example, leading the list is Jesus at Matthew 26:64: “Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.” While it is true that the Jewish priests of the day alleged this statement to be blasphemous, it would not fit the definition of the new Irish law, because it is not “grossly abusive or insulting.”


The Blasphemy Gambit – Part 1

Sunday, January 3rd, 2010

BlasphemySignIreland has a new law, effective New Year’s Day. The offense of blasphemy, which Ireland’s Constitution has long prohibited, has now been carefully defined, and made punishable by a hefty fine of €25,000.

Of course, atheists are outraged. They are good at being outraged. Richard Dawkins fumes that it is “a wretched, backward, uncivilised regression to the middle ages. Who was the bright spark who thought to besmirch the revered name of Ireland by proposing anything so stupid?”

Simply calling your opponents stupid is, well, stupid. Had Dawkins spent a little time looking at history rather than spouting off, he might have realized what a fabulous opportunity this law presents.


Game Show

Sunday, August 16th, 2009

Too bad you don’t live in Turkey. If you did, your fall television lineup of new shows would include not just sitcoms and smart detectives, but a reality show for the ages.

Penitents Compete will feature ten contestants who are atheists. They will be browbeaten by a panel of four God experts: a Jewish rabbi, a Christian priest, a Muslim imam, and a Buddhist monk. One lucky winner at the end of the ordeal, presumably the one who has the most spectacular on-air conversion experience, will win a free pilgrimage to the appropriate holy site: Mecca for Muslims, the Vatican for Christians, Jerusalem for Jews and Tibet for Buddhists. (Protestants may object to the Vatican prize; knowledgeable Buddhists ought to prefer Gautama’s birthplace in Nepal; the Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce is fuming – these are the kinds of headaches the show’s producers will face.)

Think hard: would you rather go on Survivor and eat bugs, or go on Penitents Compete and have your morality assaulted in front of millions because you know the platitudes these four experts are spouting are simply fake? Bugs, at least, have an appealing crunchiness.

Speaking of bugs, there is a fly in the ointment. The Muslims don’t want to play; Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate is reluctant to supply an imam to represent Islam. “Doing something like this for the sake of ratings is disrespectful to all religions. Religion should not be a subject for entertainment programs,” Religious Affairs Chairman Hamza Aktan said. Applying advanced techniques of scriptural exegesis to this comment, we find two hidden meanings:

Angels & Masons

Sunday, May 24th, 2009

In the new Tom Hanks movie Angels & Demons, the Illuminati are portrayed as a secret society of scientists and mathematicians bent on revenge against the Catholic Church for having burnt several of their members back in the 17th century. Today’s Catholic League, which can’t stand the film even though it is in truth quite pro-Catholic, has mounted a publicity campaign about how “false” the movie is. The Illuminati, they claim, was nothing at all like its film portrayal; even the dates are all wrong.

The League is correct in this nitpick. The Illuminati had little to do with science, and did not exist in the historical era described in the film. There was, however, a powerful international secret society that fought the Church tooth and nail to promote its humanist values, including a respect for science. It still exists today, though it has lost its original edge. It is called the “Freemasons.”

The origin of Freemasonry is lost to history. Legends attributing it to the builders of Solomon’s Temple are certainly fantasy. Other legends linking the first Freemasons to


Seasonal Confusion

Sunday, December 28th, 2008

Perhaps they got the idea from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. That’s the movie that deliberately confuses Halloween with Christmas and gets laughs when the Oogie-Boogie kidnaps Santa and delivers shrunken heads and man-eating wreaths to children on Christmas morning. (Ultimately, it works its way back to being heartwarming, but that’s not why kids like it.) The folks at Praise Chapel Christian Fellowship in Kansas City aren’t delivering any shrunken heads, but instead are borrowing the Halloween tradition of dressing up in costumes. Not costumes of witches or mummies, but costumes of Jesus. At the urging of Pastor Kelly Lohrke, some 400 parishioners, men and women alike, spent the week before Christmas wandering around town wearing crowns of thorns, long robes, and fake beards at shopping malls, restaurants, and even at work.

This is an abomination – not to me, but to God. Deuteronomy 22:5 could not possibly be clearer: “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.” Pastor Lohrke should be ashamed for having condemned hundreds of his female parishioners to Hell. If he tries this stunt next year, as he says he will, he needs to restrict it to men.


Italian Joke

Sunday, September 14th, 2008

Sabina Guzzanti is a moderately successful Italian comedian – sort of an Italian Kathy Griffin. In 2003, she directed and appeared in the first episode of a late-night political satire program, Raiot, which poked fun at Italy’s Premier Silvio Berlusconi. The first episode was also the last; Berlusconi’s lawyers immediately sued Guzzanti for “lies and insinuation,” and the show was cancelled.

Harsh? Perhaps, but not nearly as harsh as the penalty Guzzanti is looking at now. At a rally in July, she joked that within 20 years Italian teachers would be vetted and chosen by the Vatican, but that would be ok, because “Within 20 years the Pope will be where he ought to be — in Hell, tormented by great big poofter devils, and very active ones, not passive ones.” (Poofter, I have learned, is Australian slang for homosexual.)

She’s now staring at five years in prison, for “offending the honor of the sacred and inviolable person” of Pope Benedict XVI. Giovanni Ferrara, public prosecutor of Rome, has applied for permission from the Ministry of Justice to seek that penalty against her, pursuant to the terms of the 1929 Lateran Treaty between Italy and the Vatican.

“What,” you may ask, “does a treaty have to do with jailing comedians?” Therein lies a tale.


Bar Chaplains

Saturday, January 26th, 2008

Seeking a brief respite from the pressure of God experts telling you everything you are doing wrong? Don’t go to a bar, at least in Pennsylvania.

Pastor “Chuck” Kish of the Bethel Assembly of Carlisle, Pennsylvania is launching a program to install “chaplains” in local bars. The chaplains will wear clerical garb, stare at people, and be available to “help” them with their problems. The plan is to start in upscale bars, and then branch out to bars frequented by college students, many of whom apparently need all the religious guidance they can get.

The bar chaplain idea was not Pastor Kish’s. It was the idea of the Holy Spirit, speaking through Pastor Kish, as he humbly admits.