Saturday, October 22, 2011

Just Like The Alamo, If All Of The Mexicans Were Homos Who Were Trying to Get Married

While most of the current crop of Republican presidential candidates are a sorry lot, if I had to pick the most pathetic of the bunch, it would have to be former Senator Rick Santorum.  Like a Ming loyalist general fighting on decades after the Manchus conquered China, he continues on with his quixotic campaign to keep gays from getting married or serving in the military.

In an interview with a Shane Vander Hart of Caffeinated Thoughts, Santorum was asked by Vander Hart what some of the hills are that he would die on.

"The battle we're engaged in right now is same sex marriage, ultimately that is the very foundation of our country, the family, what the family structure is going to look like," Santorum explained. "I'll die on that hill." (Underlined for emphasis)

While one could argue that Santorum's use of such dramatic language was due to the way Vander Hart framed the discussion, Santorum has a history of being a drama queen when it comes to the issue of gay marriage.  This post was inspired by a letter I received in the mail a couple of years ago from the National Organization for Marriage, either written by or for Santorum and signed by him.

Santorum also seems overly concerned with people who like to have sex, and (shudders!) use contraception so that the act does not result in pregnancy!

"One of the things that I will talk about that no president has talked about before is I think the dangers of contraception in this country, the sexual liberty idea and many in the Christian faith have said, you know contraception is OK. It's not OK because it's a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be."

Santorum continued: "They're supposed to be within marriage. They are supposed to be for purposes that are, yes, conjugal but also procreative, and that's the perfect way a sexual union should happen. When we take any part of that out, we diminish the act. If we take one part out, it's not for the purposes of procreation, it's not one of the reasons, then you diminish this very special bond between men and women. So, why can't you take other parts of that out? And then all of the sudden it becomes deconstructed to the point where it's simply pleasure, and that's certainly a part of it, and it's an important part, don't get me wrong. But there is a lot of things we do for pleasure and this is special and it needs to be seen as special."

Oh?  And how are things "supposed to be" Ricky boy?  Is he seriously saying that my wife and I, who have two children and do not intend to have anymore (I'm 42 and she's 48), should never have sex again for the rest of our lives?   For us, sex is simply all about pleasure, and why should it be about anything else?  And that is what makes it "special" for us.

Ricky, to borrow a line from the Robin Williams movie 'Good Morning Vietnam', "you're in more dire need of a blowjob than any white man in history."

h/t: Crooks and Liars.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Quiet Voice on the Margins

In today's edition of The New York Times, there is an op-ed by two evangelical Christians, Karl W. Giberson, a former professor of physics, and Randall J. Stephens, an associate professor of history, titled "The Evangelical Rejection of Reason."

Giberson and Stephens rebuke the bulk of the crop of the Republican presidential candidates for being "a showcase of evangelical anti-intellectualism."

They make an important point that "evangelical Christianity need not be defined by the simplistic theology, cultural isolationism and stubborn anti-intellectualism that most of the Republican candidates have embraced."

The two professors also rightly add that "Scholars like Dr. Collins and Mr. Noll… recognize that the Bible does not condemn evolution and says next to nothing about gay marriage. They understand that Christian theology can incorporate Darwin’s insights and flourish in a pluralistic society."

Theirs are voices that definitely need to be heard more by fellow evangelicals.  But alas, Giberson and Stephens can't resist taking a backhanded swipe at atheists by declaring that "even today atheism is little more than a quiet voice on the margins."

I wish Christians would make up their minds about us.  We're either a tiny, insignificant minority to be ignored, or we are a threat to the American way of life.  Of course, the truth is, we're neither.  We should not be ignored, nor are we trying to destroy the United States.   We are for the most part patriotic Americans who simply believe that belief should not be elevated over nonbelief in public life. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

The End of the World Is Near

We atheist bloggers had a lot of fun last spring with the publicity surrounding Harold Camping's prediction that May 21, 2011 would be Judgment Day.  As I wrote in several posts on my blog, I personally witnessed a number of people in New York City handing out pamphlets or holding up signs proclaiming the imminent doom of those of us who refused to repent.

Of course, Camping's dire prognostications did not come true that day.  Mostly forgotten is that Camping also warned us that the actual end of the world would not occur until October 21, 2011, which is this Friday.  The God of the Bible, cruel bastard that he is, couldn't hold out until Monday the 24th so that we could all have one last weekend of fun and decadence.  I still have the pamphlet I found many months ago, which confidently declares that:

"On October 21, 2011, God will completely destroy this creation and all of the people who never experienced the salvation of Jesus Christ along with it.  The awful payment for their sinful rebellion against God will be completed by the loss of everlasting life.  On October 21, 2011, all of these poor people will cease to exist from that point forward."

Tellingly, I don't see any of the street corner doomsters in New York City warning us about the approaching end of the world.  I wonder how many of them still hold out hope that the world will indeed end this Friday, even if they dare not express it because they have retained a small sliver of awareness that tells them "I don't want to look like a fool in public."

As for Camping's Family Radio website, all references to Judgment Day and the End of the World appear to have been scrubbed.  On this page, there's even mention of a Special Promotion from October 17 through October 24

That being said, Camping himself is apparently still sticking to his guns.  According to this article,
"Camping recently said in a statement, 'We can be sure that the whole world, with the exception of those who are presently saved (the elect), are under the judgment of God, and will be annihilated together with the whole physical world on October 21, 2011.'"

Yeah, whatever.  See you all on the 22nd.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Two Decades of Atheism

A lot of atheists who were formerly religious can probably recall the moment when they came to that inescapable conclusion that "I guess I am an atheist."  Likewise, it also holds true for many people who embrace a particular religious faith that they remember when they made the decision to give their hearst and souls to their beliefs.

Perhaps I am atypical in that I really don't remember the day I realized that I no longer believed in any divine being that watched over us and took a personal notice or interest in our lives.  I don't know if it was due to a book or something else I may have read, or that I had been through a life changing experience.  Whatever it was is lost in the mists of time.  All I remember was that it was the final step in a journey that had seen me abandon Catholicism while still retaining belief in a personal god that I could communicate with, until I realized that there was nobody there and my religious beliefs had all along been just a way to provide myself with a sense of purpose and importance.

What I do remember is that I had become an atheist sometime in the year 1991.  That means I have been an atheist for approximately 20 years, or nearly half of my 42 years spent thus far on this Earth, and almost my entire adult life.  It has been long enough that I can look back on the past two decades with a long term perspective.

Intellectually, becoming an atheist was a very liberating experience for me.  I was no longer under the rule of a watchful deity that expected me to go to church once a week, refrain from eating meat on Fridays during Lent or cared if I masturbated once in a while.  I was no longer a slave to an overseer who existed only in my imagination, and I was overjoyed at the realization that I was in charge of my life.  I did not have a crisis of morals either.  Rejecting Christianity or my own personal religious beliefs that had succeeded it did not make me want to lie, cheat, steal or engage in other terrible things.  Instead, giving up religion was like taking the training wheels off of a bicycle. 

I would be mistaken though if I were to say that my life was all peaches and cream once I became an atheist.  The early 90's were pretty good to me, but during the mid-90's I went through a rough period in my life.  For a while, it seemed hard to believe that I would ever get out of the emotional ditch I had landed in.  But throughout it all, I never quite lost a dogged optimism that I had the power to make my life better.

By the late 90's, my life improved markedly.  I met and married the love of my life, I made a career move that would see me making a good salary, my wife and I purchased a house, and we had two beautiful, healthy children together.  I achieved things that only a few years early seemed unattainable. 

I did have a serious personal crisis for a few months about six years ago where I feared I would lose everything I cherished.  Some people in my place, in a time of extreme personal distress, might have returned to the refuge of religion, and when the crisis inevitably passed, would have seen it as proof that it was all due to them crawling back on their hands and knees to God and seeking divine aid.  I, on the other hand, did none of that.  From the moment I became an atheist, never at any time where I felt any personal despair did I consider turning to religion for aid and solace.  I realized that the only thing I had any control over was how I behaved and things would turn out either well or badly regardless of whether I prayed to a god or not.  I passed through my great crisis, never wavering in my atheism, and I emerged wiser and stronger than before.

Looking at my life now, I have to say that I think I have it pretty good and consider myself to be rather fortunate.  Of course, my life isn't perfect, and there are some things that I wish could be different or that there are some personal changes I could make.  Then again, don't most people feel that way about themselves?   Besides, while I may be 42, I still have many years left to look forward to and experiences to have.  In the last few years, I have taken up scuba diving and have taken part in a shark feeding dive, and even crazier still, I did a tandem sky dive.

I'm sure there are some theists, Christians in particular, who would say to me "Tommy, sure you may think you have a good life now, but you are missing out on so much by not seeking a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and you are turning your back on the chance for eternal life."

But when you live the life of a satisfied atheist, that's the only thing left up their sleeve, isn't it?  "You better believe or before you know it you'll be dead and then it will be too late!"

One of my favorite atheist bloggers, The Jolly Nihilist, in his most recent post, wrote:

"Even a staunch atheist such as me—one who, as an evidentialist, has tried to look at the evidence objectively and, in so doing, has had his non-belief repeatedly reaffirmed—is not immune to occasional frightful thoughts of being consigned to an eternity of agonizing punishment in hellfire."

Maybe it is because I have been an atheist for twice as long as Jolly, I never even consider the possibility that I will suffer for an eternity in the afterlife if I die without believing that the creator of a universe filled with billions of galaxies impregnated a virgin teenage girl in the Galilee a couple of thousand years ago.  To be honest, I don't know if everything contained in this universe is the product of some divine intelligence.  But if it is, then I have the feeling such a being won't be disappointed or upset that I did not believe in its existence or cringe in fear of it.  Any being powerful and intelligent to create so much is surely secure enough with itself that it won't be troubled by such trivial things.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

God's Got a Lot of Buffers

Fans of the movie The Godfather Part II will no doubt recall the scene that inspired the title above.

One of the things about really devout Catholics is that they don't just pray to God.  They are constantly calling on the Virgin Mary (also frequently referred to as Our Lady), or Saint This, That or The Other One to intercede with God on their behalf.  There are a lot of saints in Catholicism.  Heck, there's even a Patron Saint of Artillery.

One of my wife's cousins, who can hardly seem to write about anything on Facebook except religious nonsense (and who I suspect is not exactly playing with a full deck), is really into Padre Pio and promoted Pio as someone to whom directing intercessory prayers could really get some results.

So how does this intercessory prayer thing work?  According to the New Advent web site, "The Catholic doctrine of intercession and invocation is set forth by the Council of Trent."

Here is what the Council had to say about intercessory prayer:

"the saints who reign together with Christ offer up their own prayers to God for men. It is good and useful suppliantly to invoke them, and to have recourse to their prayers, aid, and help for obtaining benefits from God, through His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, Who alone is our Redeemer and Saviour.

Prayer is offered to a person in two ways: one as though to be granted by himself, another as to be obtained through him. In the first way we pray to God alone, because all our prayers ought to be directed to obtaining grace and glory which God alone gives, according to those words of the Psalm (lxxxiii, 12): 'The Lord will give grace and glory.' But in the second way we pray to the holy angels and to men not that God may learn our petition through them, but that by their prayers and merits our prayers may be efficacious."

So, God is more likely to answer the prayers of Timmy's family to cure his cancer if the family pleads to scores of saints, who in turn will give the almighty their hearty recommendation?  That sounds exactly like some autocratic monarch who only answers the appeals of his subjects if some influential minister at court has the monarch's ear.

I also came across a lot of this intercessory prayer stuff while reading the Spiritual Diaries of Ignatius of Loyola, or Iggy for short. Take this entry from February 15, 1544:

"Next on preparing  to leave for mass, as I began to pray, I could feel, and was shown, our Lady, also how great had been my fault the previous day: I felt moved within and wept, for I seemed to be putting Our Lady to shame in having her intercede for me so often, because of my many failing.  So much so that Our Lady hid from me and I found no devotion in her or higher than her.  A little later, when I sought to go higher, as I could not find Our Lady (maybe she was hiding out in the Lady's Room?) a mighty impulse to weep and sob gripped me (Oh fuck!  There he goes again with the weeping!) and I seemed to see or feel that the Heavenly Father showed Himself propitious and kind - to the point of making clear to me that he would be pleased if Our Lady, whom I could not see, would intercede."

On February 18, it got even more convoluted:

"A little later I wondered where I should begin and it occurred to me that it might be with all the Saints, putting my cause in their hands, so that they might pray to Our Lady and Her Son to be intercessors on my half before the Blessed Trinity."

In other words, Iggy wanted the saints to convince the Virgin Mary and Jesus to plead his cause to the Trinity.  Talk about sending it up the chain of command.  But the part that gets me is that Jesus is supposed to be one third of the Trinity, so isn't that like asking Jesus to plead to himself?  Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.  I can see why some people would find Protestantism more appealing, because it cut out the middleman, in this case, the Catholic Church and its legions of saints hanging around that Versailles in the sky.

Way back when I was a believing Catholic more than two decades ago, I don't recall ever praying to saints or even the Virgin Mary. Though I knew about some of the different saints, I never really gave it much consideration. When I prayed, which was often, I prayed to God only.  Maybe that's why my prayers were never answered!