Saturday, December 31, 2011

Old White Men Should Grow Their Own Vaginas

My patience has reached it's limit with all of these older white men that continue to chime in on the issues concerning girls and young women, and what they do with their respective sexual bits.  Case in point: Markus Horner, who wrote the opinion piece: "America's daughters need time to grow up," in the Dallas Morning News.  His bio is listed as, "... a handy-man and author of 'Consistently Persistent - Living with the Tourette Trifecta'.  He is also a Community Voices volunteer columnist."  (I wish I could find an electronic edition of this article, but the best I can do is to provide this: NeighborsGo - Plano, Murphy, Wylie Edition: Dallas Morning News; Community Opinions, December 30, 2011.)

Horner begins by praising Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the Department of Heath and Human Services, for overruling the FDA's decision to remove the age restrictions of the Plan B One-Step contraception and make it available over the counter.  Horner explains in his article that he is left with a, "sickening feeling," because:
"... corporate greed came very close to causing us, as parents of little girls, an unbelievable level of stress.  I doubt that I would get much argument from any parent when I say that we do our very best to teach our children good morals, ethics and responsibility.  But our children do not always do what we want them to do, and this decision could have made things even worse."
Are you kidding me?  Well, okay then, let me be the first parent of a teenage daughter to stand up and give you an argument.  I'll start with this:
"Yes, I am well aware of the need to teach contraception, but not at the age of 12 or 13."
First of all, your assertion here is completely absurd!  Where in the world did you come up with the idea that 12 and 13 year-old girls would be looking for Plan B or are being taught contraception?  My 14 year-old daughter will not be taught contraception until she is mature enough to understand.  Her school district thus far has NOT taught contraception, nor have they even approached the subject of sex beyond anatomy.  So which school district is it that's teaching this to 12 and 13 year-old girls?

I'd like you to provide your readers with the references where you get your demographic data.  Because frankly, I don't believe for a moment that this demographic of girls is subject to your claim, and I certainly don't believe that they would constitute a significant population of those younger girls that would be actively pursuing Plan B.

We all know why you picked that demographic, Mr. Horner.  You chose that age group because 1) you needed an exaggeration for a shock factor, and 2) you needed the delusion of fear in your readers.  For example, in another paragraph you go so far as to try to convince your readers that pedophiles will have a much easier time covering their tracks with Plan B.  It almost seems that in your fantasy world, it's you and you alone that stand between these innocent young girls and the monsters that are waiting to rape them and then shove a pill down their throats.  What a hero you must be.  But wait a second Mr. Horner, have you considered that you don't have to be a woman to buy Plan B?  I thought not.

Second, don't think for a minute that you could sneak this little nugget in without anyone noticing:
"Yes, our younger daughters need to be taught about the biological aspects of conception.  But they also need to be taught about the benefits of abstinence."
Those two sentences alone tell me a great deal about the type of mind behind the words.  Whenever certain groups discuss the uncomfortable subject of sex with their daughters, for whatever reason, they scurry back to the warm, fuzzy security blanket of... abstinence.  You see, by playing the abstinence card, I'd bet good money that Mr. Horner believes that there is a particularly reverent, cosmically accepted rite of passage for young women.  It's that spiritualistic moment when fathers hand over their daughters to another man for safekeeping.  It's only then that young women are finally given permission by their fathers and their community to use their vaginas and their uteruses!  (Yes, I've left out the LGBT community, but hopefully you'll soon see where I'm going with this...)

All kidding aside, let's not forget the fact that most people who champion abstinence leave themselves open to a whirlwind of questions.  For example, did you abstain?  How did you manage to abstain, exactly?  How long is long enough?  Is twenty years okay?  Thirty years?  Why is it society's business when a person decides to have consensual sex with another person?  And finally, what date or age is it okay to give sex a go, assuming both parties are consenting?  (Here's a hint: we all know perfectly well what date you're talking about - and I've covered that topic here.)

Every man who has a daughter recognizes what you're attempting to do, Mr. Horner.  You are attempting to assert your power as a father over your daughter and thus, control your daughter's decisions, her body, and her life.  You're putting girls on a leash to be passed from male to male, rather than empowering them with the education and the self confidence they need to be able to make the right decision for themselves.  Besides, when are we, as a society, going to get past the medieval, dogmatic view that our young girls cannot handle reality?

And finally Mr. Horner, I'd like to ask you one question.  Don't you think it's odd that in your entire article, you never once mention boys?

Friday, December 23, 2011

Texas Courthouse Christian Display Redux

It seems that the officials in Athens, Texas are not the only ones who don't understand the proper use of government land.  The Van Zandt County Courthouse in Canton, Texas has very similar religious displays to those described in the Dallas Morning News.  (Thanks to user podiumman2002 of the Metroplex Atheist discussion group for the pics.)

Here we are again, the same bogus nativity scene with milky white European figures on display.  They can't even get the ethnicity of the characters correct.  And picture two:

Granted, the officials of Van Zandt County might just be able get away with this second display, since they might be able to convince a judge that "God" is inclusive of other faiths.  The first one?  Absolutely not.

As one other user of the discussion group suggested, it might be a hoot if someone were to knock out that "B" in the lights.  Not that we're condoning vandalizing a display...

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Merry Solstice, Right Here in Dallas

While thumbing through the remnants of the Sunday edition of the Dallas Morning News, I came across an article entitled, "Ornamental Christmas" written by Michael E. Young.  I dismissed the article during my first pass through the Metro section simply because I assumed it was yet another writer pandering to the religious majority.  Boy, was I mistaken.

Young's article presented a thoughtful and respectful perspective of how (and why) we non-Christians have reason to celebrate during this time of year.  You read that correctly.  The Dallas Morning News printed an article on the front page of the Metro section that informs its readers of the perspective of people without a belief in god.

That Michael Young is my kind of reporter.

He even interviewed Terry McDonald, the President of the Metroplex Atheists.  (My people!)  In the interview, McDonald mentions something about his family that I can relate to.  You see, my family celebrates much the same way that Mr. McDonald does:
"[My] holiday of choice is actually the winter solstice.  The oldest celebration in human history, celebrated for nearly 10,000 years."
Our family has recently adopted the same practice, as we wish each other a, "Merry Solstice!" rather than continue with a tradition that we simply don't believe.  Sure, we decorate a tree and we put up some lights in and about the house.  But like Terry McDonald, our tree doesn't contain any religious ornaments and our home doesn't contain any decorations with religious significance.  You see, we have adopted the holiday tradition of decorating our home with trinkets and collectibles that have meaning to us.

I mean, isn't that what makes sharing holiday traditions fun in the first place?

This article really meant a lot to me, and I would like to extend my personal gratitude to both the editors of the Dallas Morning News and to Michael Young for publishing it.  You gave me some comfort today; comfort that there are enough rational people in DFW where a high volume newspaper chooses to cover the perspective of an atheist.  I knew there was a reason why I pay to receive this newspaper.

I'm starting to get a bit optimistic as I get older.  It seems that as the years pass, there just might be a little bit of hope in the South for people of reason...

Monday, December 19, 2011

Evil Atheists Cause Christian Rally for Creepy Dolls

I just read a story in the Dallas Morning News that in Athens, Texas, a rally was held on Saturday in front of the East Texas courthouse in support of a nativity scene that has been placed on the government lawn.  I've seen estimates anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 people in attendance.  That's right, Athens had that many people show up to support... a set of creepy miniature dolls..

Haven't we seen this before?

If you're unfamiliar with the newest saga, here's some background information.  A couple of weeks ago, Henderson County officials received a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation that reminded them that the nativity scene currently on display on the courthouse lawn is unconstitutional; they also requested that the religious scene be removed from government land.  The courthouse officials, as well as most of the people in Athens, disagreed.  Henderson County officials went even further by mentioning that they did not pay for the nativity scene, nor did they use government employees to assemble it.  You would think these county officials have skillfully found themselves a slimy little loophole into which they can slither their religion.

(Just a side note: The FFRF also requested that the courthouse add one of their banners to the lawn, but that issue wasn't addressed by the newspaper.)

Then, the "offended" Christians of Texas assembled outside the courthouse as a gesture of support for the dolls... erm... I meant nativity scene.  And as I said before, at the height of the rally there were several thousand pissed off baby Jesus freaks claiming an ongoing holy war against their religion.

Public opinion, however, is absolutely not the issue here.  People should remember their history, because popularity is never a good means by which society should form its rules and laws.  Segregation was extremely popular during the racial equality movement.  Treating women like objects and baby makers was popular before the the feminist movement.  Slavery was very popular before the Emancipation Proclamation.

Thus, assembling a rally of like-minded people does not automatically make a nativity scene acceptable in our society.  (The argumentum ad populum fallacy.)

We know perfectly well that Christians are the predominant religion here in Texas.  So what if you get a crowd of them to show up in one spot for a rally?  That doesn't make it right.

Seriously, if you lump all the main Christians groups together, according to the 2007 survey by the Pew Center on Religion, that adds up to 82% of the Texas population.  Of course a rally like that is going to be popular!

And don't think for a minute that the local pastors didn't recognize a perfect opportunity to exploit a local issue to get some face time in the mainstream media.  Holy war my arse...

Look, advertising Christianity on the lawn of a courthouse that serves all of the people of Athens, Texas will more than likely scare the hell out of anyone approaching that government building who are not affiliated with Christianity.  It's wrong, and it's unconstitutional.

But Henderson County Judge Richard Sanders sees it differently.  He says:
"Residents haven't complained.  I just don't understand it, to be honest with you.  I'm just confused about it."
Well, Judge Sanders, in years past, residents didn't complain when lynch mobs hung black men from the trees of Texas courthouses either.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

"The Real Deal" Responds...

I've had a few requests over the past few days from people who have been following this story for me to publish any responses I get from, "The Real Deal of Saline County".

Here's what I have thus far.  On December 9th, I received my one and only response from the Director of "The Real Deal", Ms. Janet Dixon.  It's not much, but her response is as follows:

 Dear Mr. Mathys,

Thank you for your interest in our program.  My name is Janet Dixon and I'm the director for The Real Deal.  I apologize for the delayed response.  As you may know, the program is a week-long workshop for 8th grade students in Saline County.  The schools notify the parents by letter of the upcoming program and parents have the opportunity to "opt out" of their child's participation.

Here are resources that we use.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is the leading federal agency for protecting the health and safety of people by providing credible information to enhance health decisions. Visit their site for research data on STDs and other health topics.
The Medical Institute for Sexual Health informs, educates, and provides solutions to medical professionals, educators, government officials, parents and the media about problems associated with sexually transmitted disease and nonmarital pregnancy.

AR Department of Health, Health Statistics Branch, Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS) National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, Counting It Up, June 2011 "Teen Pregnancy in Arkansas", The Ark Department of Health, Center for Health Advancement, Family Health Branch, LR (09/11

Janet Dixon, APN, MPH

I didn't think much about her email since there's not much of anything in it.  There was so little in the email, that I was forced to send yet another email re-requesting the data (see below).  But now that I look at her response more carefully, I realize that these folks feel so secure in their position that they are not taking me seriously.  You see that last line item in her list of "citations"?  Ms. Dixon didn't even bother to copy/paste it correctly - cutting off the portion I would need to request the document from the Arkansas Department of Health.  Damn, I really wish I had noticed that before I sent my response.  Oh well...

Be that as it may, I'm sure most of you recognize that two of the line items in her list are NOT citations, they are websites.  Surely as an accomplished nurse she understands that websites do not qualify as citations and this is absolutely not what I asked for.  The funny thing about the links she sent to me is that the Medical Institute is known to present religiously biased doctors as experts.  Are the experts at the Medical Institute providing peer reviewed scientific studies or pushing an agenda?  How can I know unless I get real citations?

Plus, I can find scores of studies on the CDC website that contradicts what "The Real Deal" website claims.  (I also noticed that the website's reference to WebMD is mysteriously absent from her email, but I'll give her the benefit of the doubt.  She may have simply forgotten to include a link to the WebMD website.)  Then there's that third item, which is oddly incomplete.

Somehow I get the impression that these people are trying to ignore me.  Hmph.

One thing that did stand out in her response is that she claims it is the school's responsibility to notify the parents.  Isn't it remarkably convenient that her program is not responsible for notifying parents?  In other words, "Don't blame us for making kids sign an abstinence pledge.  You had a chance to opt out."

The fact that she can make that statement means that she knows her program is protected by the very immaturity of the 13 year-olds that she wants to exploit.  I find that appalling.  My kid's school district (Plano ISD) requires parents to sign a waiver before each student is allowed to participate in the portion of their health classes where they learn sexual education.  In other words, the decision to have our daughter participate in sex ed. was left up to me and my wife.  Whereas, Ms. Dixon and her fellow Real Dealers get the luxury of full participation unless a set of three small miracles are completed by 8th grade kids: 1) successfully get the opt-out letter home without forgetting, losing or soiling it, 2) remember to get their parents to actually read the letter & sign it, and 3) get the letter back to their teacher by the due date.  Most parents of teenagers understand that you have a better chance of winning the lottery than have these three steps completed by a young teen who simply doesn't care about a silly letter to their parents.

What a position these Real Dealers are in!  No response from the parents?  Great!  Step up to the table and sign your abstinence card, kiddo.

Now, I'd just love to see one of these letters that the school sends home to the parents.  Does it include "The Real Deal" letterhead - with that nefarious logo - along with a full admission of what these people plan on doing?  Somehow I doubt it.  I'd bet money that it comes home on the school's letterhead, if it comes home at all.  But I'll hold my judgment for later, because as of today, I've yet to get my original request fulfilled.  Plus, it's a bit early in the exchange for me to suddenly attack them for tactics that I perceive as a devious and detestable.

So in my response, I assumed that poor Ms Dixon simply didn't understand what it was I requested.  I took the high road, and apologized for not being clear the first time.  Here's what I sent:
Dear Ms. Dixon,

Thank you very much for replying to my email.  I should apologize as it appears that I may not have been as clear as I should have been in my previous email.

On your website, you claim that your program was evaluated by using a sample of nearly 1,000 students, and that your program has been highly effective in changing the attitudes that are directly linked to early sexual activity.  You also claim that your program reduced the sexual activity rates in girls by 40% and boys by 30%.  These are the claims for which I would like the citations.  Specifically, I would like the opportunity to review the study or studies that were used to substantiate the success rates of your program.

Second, your website lists you and several other people as board members for the program:

Robert Sterling
Sarah Hoofman
Nick Calaway
Lisa Morehead

I would also appreciate it if you and your fellow board members would provide a brief account of your premarital lives in abstinence.  Personally, I believe personal statements from the board members themselves should lend your program some credibility with the schools and parents.

Another aspect of your email that puzzles me is that you list two websites that do not support your numbers.  The third website, The Medical Institute ( does not seem to be a credible scientific website free of bias.  Again, this may be my misinterpretation of your intentions, which is why I’m seeking a clarification for your supporting material.

Again, I do apologize if my first requests were a bit ambiguous.  Thank you very much for your time and I look forward to hearing from you and your fellow board members.
As you can see, my email to her was pretty tame for now.  We'll see if I have to send it again, since it's been a week now, and of course I haven't heard a peep.

If you haven't seen my original post, you can read it here to find out how all of this started.  Also, I should take a minute to thank Hemant Mehta of The Friendly Atheist and PZ Myers of Pharyngula for getting this story some exposure.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christopher Hitchens 1949 - 2011

It's very difficult to put into words how heartbreaking of a loss this is for humanity.  Christopher Hitchens died in Houston, TX this morning, finally succumbing to esophageal cancer.

The world has lost an intelligent, rebellious, and tenacious voice of reason.

And I have lost a hero.

Farewell Hitch...

Monday, December 12, 2011

Christianity is a Vanity Plate

I just read that the Texas DMV approved a "Calvary Hill" license plate with "ONE STATE UNDER GOD" as the slogan:

This plate takes vanity to a whole new level.

I'm amazed at the Christian mindset these days.  On the one hand, we have the Governor of the state, Rick Perry, making political commercials claiming that the President of the United States is waging a war on religion.  Then on the other hand you have the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles governing board voting 4 to 3 to allow an overtly Christian license plate to be purchased.

War on religion my ass.

But, since I tend to look for the funny things in life, I'll just keep telling myself, be patient.  There will come a day when I will have the opportunity to snap a picture of one of these godly plates proudly fastened directly above a set of chrome truck nuts:

Friday, December 9, 2011

Catholic League begins "Adopt an Atheist" Campaign

I found out that the Catholic League has announced a new campaign on their website called, "Adopt an Atheist." How admirable of them to sacrifice their time to reconvert the lost souls...  Since I'm one of the lost, I suppose I should ready myself for my new family.

Before I'm adopted by my local chapter, I'd like to know a few things first.  How much money do I have access to?  I'd prefer to be adopted by a wealthy, elderly person and immediately added to their will.  Second, I should disclose that personally, I abandoned the Baptist Church.  So am I already in hotter water for being a former Protestant?  This is important because I don't want to have to endure even more punishment than those who just abandoned the Catholic Church as an atheist.  Now that we have that out of the way, let's get to my questions.

What methods are they going to use to reconvert me?  This is extremely important due to recent history.  I'd rather not have to show my junk to a Priest, or have a Priest touching my junk in the name of the baby Jesus.  I've seen how some of your leaders make other people, especially young boys, show their love for the baby Jesus... and frankly, I'd rather not participate in that particular ritual.

What exactly is the motivation of this campaign?  If you're adding me to a wealthy family, fine.  If you're trying to find a means by which you can beat me into submission, then I want out.  There are no laws against punishing children, right?

Do I have to acknowledge transubstantiation?  I can't do that, no matter what Jesus said.  Yuck, that's just gross.

How much of your Bible must I unlearn?  There are some things in there that are against the law in the United States, so we're going to have to get that cleared up before I get adopted.

In all seriousness, after I read the "Adopt" campaign news release, it seemed like a pathetic and childish attack directed toward David Silverman, president of American Atheists, rather than a genuine olive branch to the Atheist community.

Is that the extent of your creativity?  Silverman suggests that religious people talk to their family members about their atheism, and the Catholic League's response is straight from an elementary school playground.  Pathetic.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Twinkle in the Eye of Atheism

During the holiday season, I tend to shelter myself from the overtly religious displays of the season by remembering that there are many people that I love dearly who truly enjoy the spirit of it all.  There are even members of my family whose entire year culminates on the 25th of December.  And to be perfectly honest, this is all fine by me because I can live with most of what I'm exposed to.  Plus, I'm not afraid to admit that I'm a simple man... when my family members are enjoying themselves, I'm enjoying myself.

I am content during the holiday season these days because I have walked on this planet long enough to find a balance with those that I don't necessarily agree with.  Granted, it took several years for me to do so.  Not to mention I'm one of the lucky few that had help finding my balance.  Those of you that know me understand who it is I'm referring to: my lovely wife, Monica.

However, there are some people that I follow online who are still struggling with this time of year.  I have read several blog posts in recent days where people are dealing with their first (or second or third) year without a Christ in Christmas.  I finish reading their posts and I find myself feeling a bit depressed; as if I've traveled back in time many, many years ago to a younger me.  I can still remember the feeling I had the first year of my atheism.  There is this sense of loss, abandonment, anger...  You want to talk to someone but you're still not strong enough to do it.

I also remember feeling alone, exposed.  I just knew everyone could tell that I no longer believed, as if I suddenly had ATHEIST written in blood across my forehead.  I even remember sitting with the family of a former girlfriend at church as I quietly bowed my head just in case one of them was watching me.

This all sounds very silly to me now.  How could I have been that gutless?  That submissive?  That... young?  It's almost too hard for me to trust my own memory, remembering the young man I was so many years ago.

But taking this walk down memory lane has done something I never expected.  It has given me a new twinkle in my atheist eye.  The words of others have made me realize that I was not alone.  That even today, I share a common struggle with so many other people.  Granted, my struggle has come and gone; and the generation behind me has to deal with the religious lunatics that my generation has created.  But I can hope!  I can hope that more and more young people will begin to discover life without the need for god.

And so, I would like to offer some well-deserved thanks to the younger generation of atheists.  The last few months have been one of the few times in my life where the simple act of reading has given me such inspiration for the future.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Fetus is Officially More Important Than a Woman

The Catholic Church has made it abundantly clear that no matter the circumstance, a fetus means more to them than a functioning individual.

According to a story by Barry Peterson of CBS News, back in November 2009, Bishop Thomas Olmstead of Phoenix started a battle between the Catholic church and the oldest hospital in the city, St Joseph's.

It all started when doctors admitted a 27-year-old woman into the hospital for severe pulmonary hypertension.  The patient was also 11 weeks into a pregnancy.  Additionally, the pregnancy exacerbated her condition, which in turn caused her heart to fail to the point where her life was in danger.  With a patient in critical need of a life saving procedure, realistically the doctors had but one choice.  However, in our society, the caustic reasoning of minds immersed in religious dogma made others consider the unthinkable.

Peterson explains:
"Modern medicine presented two equally grim options: Terminate the pregnancy and save the mother, or lose both mother and child."
Equally as grim?!?!!  Not a chance.  Seriously, how can people think this way, much less write something as silly as that?  In one hand you have a living, breathing human, and in the other there is a parasite with the potential to be a living, breathing human.  Given these choices, one is never equivalent to the other.  Period.  Anyway, back to the story...

The doctors decided to consult the hospital's ethics review board (which for reasons beyond my rationale, included Sister Margaret Mary McBride) with the two choices they had at hand.  Logically, the choice was clear and the ethics board granted the doctors permission to terminate the pregnancy.  Great!  My faith in mankind had been restored.  Or so I thought.

Once Bishop Olmstead got wind of the abortion, he came to the audacious conclusion that the physicians and the board:
"... had not addressed in an adequate manner the scandal caused by the abortion."
That's right.  With a background in priesthood, not medicine, the Bishop decided in hindsight that the doctors didn't make the correct decision - having never looked at a chart himself.  In Bishop Olmstead's untrained eyes:
"The child was not, nor was the uterus - infected, or there was nothing wrong with that. So, what was directly intended was to kill the unborn child."
What?  Does he honestly believe that the minute the patient received her diagnosis, the mad-sciency physicians set out to kill that fetus?  It's mind boggling.

After reaching his sick, twisted conclusion, Bishop Olmstead decided he should swing his religious dick around the city of Phoenix by declaring:
"St. Joseph's Hospital is no longer Catholic."

And of course, Olmstead promptly excommunicated Sister McBride.  So much for my faith in humanity.

First of all, there is no rational reason that a medical ethics committee should include a nun.  Unless of course, the nun is a physician.  Second, my hats off to Sister McBride for making the obvious choice in this situation given how controversial this medical procedure has become within the Catholic church.  (They even have bumper stickers.)

In the roughly two years since the incident, Sister McBride's excommunication has been lifted.  And even in the face of such flagrant misogyny, she continues to stay with the Catholic church.  I don't know whether to be proud of her resolve or utterly depressed at her mental subjugation.

Hopefully, it's obvious to most people that the Catholic Church doesn't value a woman's life beyond her ability to give birth, nor do they truly value life outside of the womb.  And judging by their reaction toward molested boys and their tendency to harbor pedophiles, they do not value their own moral code.

Since this is the path that religion has chosen, I think I'd rather save my children from it.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

VA Nurse Does Not Deserve the Benefit of the Doubt

I sat in my chair this morning, quietly reading the Metro section of the Dallas Morning News (Sunday edition), when suddenly I found myself completely baffled by the feature article.  It was so disgusting, I nearly spit my morning coffee while I read it.

The article told the story of Esther Garatie, an honorably discharged Marine who sought treatment for anxiety, sleeplessness and depression at the Dallas VA hospital.  This poor Marine was very near suicide, and rightfully got herself to the VA to seek treatment of her condition.  Instead, what she got from the VA nurse was outright prejudice.

Luckily, Lincy Pandithurai, the nurse who is accused of this bigotry, is currently under investigation by the VA and has been removed from patient care.  Now, since the Dallas Morning News reporter (Scott Farwell) had to present both sides without bias (hopefully), he did take time to present both sides of the issue.  Of course, Pandithurai's attorney and her husband both deny the accusations, and her husband even claims:

"Trust me, she wants to talk, but we have to check with our lawyer.  This didn't happen the way it's been described."

Well, that makes me feel better, Mr. Pandithurai.  I'm so glad to hear that it didn't happen that way.  PHEW!

All this denial coming from a couple with 1 Chronicles 17:27 etched into a concrete pillar at their home (according to the Dallas Morning News.)  In case you need to look it up, here you go:

"Now you have been pleased to bless the house of your servant, that it may continue forever before you, for it is you, O LORD, who have blessed, and it is blessed forever."

So let me get this straight, Mr Pandithurai.  By your statement (above), you're insinuating that it would be out of character for your wife to have asked Garatie if she has accepted Jesus as her personal savior, right?  You're also insinuating that your wife would never ask a patient at the VA if they were saved?  Somehow, I find this difficult to believe, Mr. Pandithurai.

Also from the article, I understand that there's a raging debate between the religious community and the LGBT community.  Are you flipping kidding me?  This woman is seeking treatment for PTSD, and an opportunistic nurse decides to take advantage of an extremely fragile individual so she can go back to her church to get some baby Jesus clout?  How absurd have you fundamentalists become?

Plus, this reminds me of those ignorant pharmacists who decide to withhold the morning after pill.  This type of behavior - from people who are supposed to help those in need - has gotten completely out of hand.  This new breed of religious healthcare professionals have simply abandoned science, medicine, and for that matter, rational thought, and replaced it with the ancient, barbaric morality of goat herders.

You people have exploitation down to an art form.  In one breath you fawn over the great men and women who put their lives on the line in a foreign country for political gain, and the next you condemn one of these heroes just because you don't like who they fall in love with.

Even Non-Issues are an Attack on Christmas

It seems that some religious people in the South are so sensitive, they're even offended when there's no reason to be.

A Fort Worth ISD attorney, by the name of Bertha Bailey Whatley, issued a memo to the staff of the school district emphasizing that the district cannot endorse any religious activity.  Her memo also included a statement that Santa Claus cannot be scheduled to visit during class time.  Both of these points make perfect sense to me, and I have absolutely no problem with either of them.  No matter what the holiday is, or who the holiday figure is for that matter, class time should not be interrupted with anything that could cause too big of a distraction for the kids.

Keep in mind that Whatley's memo is merely a reminder to the staff of the Fort Worth ISD.  Her memo did not mark a change of policy for the school district, nor was it meant to ban jolly old St. Nick from the school.  It was merely written as a response to a few Fort Worth ISD staffers who had planned to have Kris Kringle visit during class.

But like clockwork, the screams of, "War on Christmas!" began in earnest.  As swiftly as people were to condemn the memo, one would think that there are people waiting for just about anything to whine about.  At least that's the way it appears to me.

For example, Hiram Sasser, the attorney for the Liberty Institute (yes, the Liberty Institute that is still fighting over the stupid Plano candy-cane issue) was quoted as saying,
"Santa Claus is a universal thing that is allowed in schools.  There’s always been a discussion about religious items, but Santa Claus is always accepted. That’s what surprised me about the memo."
Surprised?  About what, exactly?  You're surprised that a memo had to be issued to the employees of the Fort Worth ISD to remind them that they need to, you know, TEACH during work hours?

All this uproar over a "reminder" memo is the kind of thing that keeps a person like me scratching my head.  How can anyone be upset that teachers needed to be reminded that class time is for instruction, not holiday events?  And besides, which is it going to be for these guys?  First we get bombarded with, "Keep Christ in Christmas!"  Now you're complaining that you want Santa included with the baby Jesus, too?  Make up your collective minds!

I'll tell you what I would like for the holiday.  I'd like for Christians to stop whining and start making a difference.  Get up off your knees and volunteer.  Stop praying and start paying.  Take those tithes and buy some food, some coats and some shoes for those in need.  With the number of offended Christians reaching into the absurd, you guys have officially become a clichĂ©.

With all the perennial distractions that the religious community sets their calendar by, it's no wonder our students continue to fall behind the rest of the industrialized world.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

My Daughter and her Music

There's just nothing that tops watching your daughter perform in a piano recital.  Here's my darling girl, making me and my wife get misty...

The first piece is "Snowfall" by Faber.  The second is "Rondo for the Lost Coin" by Beethoven.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

SHOCKER: Racism is Alive and Well in Kentucky

I realize my title is a bit sensationalist and probably way over the top, but this story out of Kentucky really pissed me off when I read it.

Stella Harville brought her fiancĂ©, Ticha Chikuni from Zimbabwe, to her church so that he could sing while she played the piano.  Stella is white, and Ticha - you might have guessed - is black.  This happy couple (just look at that picture!) had the opportunity to perform the song, I Surrender All before the church congregation.

As I'm sure you can imagine, this is a very tender moment for these two.  And hats off to both Stella and Ticha for having the courage to present themselves to this congregation knowing full well there will be those who might disagree.  Imagine how they must have felt, walking up to the front of the church counting on each other for support as they readied themselves for the performance.  I mean, wow...  That had to be tough.  And even though I no longer accept the existence of god, I can certainly understand how this young woman wanted so much to show her community how happy, and lucky she was to have met Ticha.

But the racist  members of congregation saw things a bit differently.

The Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church in Pike County, Kentucky immediately took a vote amongst their whopping 40 member congregation.  The vote proposed three decrees: that the church publically oppose interracial marriage, that parties of such marriages will not be received as members, and that the parties will no longer be used in worship services.  Nine racists voted to adopt the proposal and six voted against it.  Six.

While it's true that only 9 out of the remaining 34 members voted for this utter nonsense, the depressing point to all of this is that by remaining silent, 25 members of this church allowed a foolish and racist minority to determine church policy.

There's nothing like the father of the bride to put things into perspective.  I'll quote Dean Harville, Stella's father:

"It sure ain't Christian. It ain't nothing but the old devil working."

Sadly, Mr. Harville, human beings don't need the devil.  There are those in our society that are perfectly capable of being racist pigs without the need for supernatural intervention.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

March 2012, I'll Be Flapping My Wings to Bethesda

I just finished purchasing my ticket to the American Atheist National Convention scheduled for March 25th and 26th, 2012.  This convention marks my very first plunge into the atheist movement, and I have to say that I've never been more excited in my life!

I'm not actually sure how most of these conventions operate, but if I'm lucky, I'll get a chance to meet a few of the bloggers that I follow.  In other words, someone should probably warn PZ Myers,

Hopefully by then, I should also have completed moving my blog into the new website, Atheism United, created by Brian Sapient of the Rational Response Squad.  (I want to meet him, too...)  The premise behind the website reminds me of the good bloggers at Freethought Blogs, but I think Brian is looking to build a much larger community of atheists and freethinkers.  I feel very fortunate and appreciative that the founders of AU allowed me to join in their vision.

If AU is indeed up and running by March, I'll make it a point to use it to cover the convention for anyone following my blog.  Being a part of the AU team should also give us all an excuse to sit down at a local bar and have a drink or two.  I'd love to get to know as many of my fellow bloggers as I can.

One last item on my wish list: I'm figuratively keeping my fingers crossed that I'll actually get to meet some of the people that have changed my life.  I'm looking at you, Mr. Richard Dawkins...

I'll see you guys in March!!!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

"The Real Deal" in Saline County, AR, Deals in Religion

This Thanksgiving weekend, my brother and sister-in-law discovered something interesting under my 14 year-old nephew's bed.  I know what everyone (especially the men out there) is thinking... and no, it wasn't that.  It was something far worse.

It seems that in Saline County, Arkansas, an abstinence only program called, "The REAL Deal" is operating under the same loophole I discussed in a previous blog post.  According to my nephew, they never overtly mention their religion, nor do they spend their time preaching the gospel to the students.  But what they are doing is floating themselves in the murky boundary between public funding and the establishment clause.  And they do this without ever asking the parents to sign a consent form.

Here's what Dr. Google found: According to their website, they are affiliated with another company called Abstinence By Choice, which is registered in Little Rock, Arkansas.  This program, and "The Real Deal" copycat, targets 7th, 8th and 9th grade students in public and private schools across the state.

If you can stomach it and look over their website, you'll note that they are really, really good at making unsubstantiated claims.  (Just like my reverent sparring partner, Scott Cheatham.)  For example, on their home page they claim:
"A recent evaluation, involving a sample of nearly 1,000 students, shows that the program has been highly effective in changing the attitudes that are directly linked to early sexual activity. 
When compared with similar students who had not been exposed to the program, the Abstinence by Choice program reduced the sexual activity rates as follows: 
  • Girls by approximately 40 percent (from 10.2 percent to 5.9 percent) 
  • Boys by approximately 30 percent (from 22.8 percent to 15.8 percent)
THE REAL DEAL, will be using the same curriculum as Abstinence by Choice. We have been given permission to copy any material they have used in the past and feel this is the best way to continue teaching abstinence in all of Saline County."
I can find no citation of a study anywhere on their website, nor can I find anything that would suggest where these people got their numbers, other than pulling them out of their collective backsides, of course.  Further, this NCHS Data Brief from the CDC lists the state of Arkansas as having the third highest teen birth rate after New Mexico and Texas, with Oklahoma a close fourth.  So to put it mildly, the clinical studies for abstinence actually working are definitely lacking.  As a matter of fact, I can't find one abstinence only study online without having some kind of religious bias.

I suppose now is as good a time as any to reveal what it was that centered my attention on this program.  Here's a picture what my brother and my sister-in-law found:
The card my nephew was forced to sign, and expires on his wedding night.
I don't know how stupid these people think we are, but that my friends, is a bona fide, oh-fficial, Baby-Jesus-certified cross shrouded (pardon the pun) in the arrows of a makeshift street-sign.  You'll note that I've added a three letter commentary and a couple of arrows of my own, just in case you can't see it.  Which I really doubt...

Even if these deluded people believe that a significant number of teens, in the heat of a mutually consenting moment of heavy petting will suddenly put an end to it because they remember that they signed a 3" x 6" contract with the good people at, "The Real Deal", there's still the matter of valid data.  I mean, if we're going to address a real problem, then we have to be honest with ourselves and provide real data.  And from everything I could find, teen pregnancy has been on the rise in Arkansas over the past 6 years.

Okay, so here's my favorite part of this silly thing.  Now, I'm talking to my nephew, or anyone else that signed one of these things: All of these empty promises have an expiration date!  That's right!  After your wedding night, you can disrespect yourself (and others) by drinking, doing illegal drugs, watching all the porn you want, and have all the sex you want (even outside of marriage!)  Why?  Two words: EXPIRATION DATE!!!  **NOTE: this paragraph was intended to be read with sarcasm.**

Honestly, do sensible people even read these things?

P.S.  This is just the beginning.  I have sent an email to the board members via their "Contact Us" page asking them for a copy of their statistical studies, and for each of the board members to share their abstinence-only testimony so that I may validate the purity of their credentials.  I suggest more Saline County parents do the same.

***UPDATE: I finally received a response from "The Real Deal of Saline County".  Read on...

Friday, November 25, 2011

In a Fit of Political Rage, Fundies Forget a Basic Tenet

I applaud the fact that President Obama failed to mention any god in his weekly address.  I still think he fell back to the standard religio-speak by using "blessing" too much, but I'll cut the man some slack... this time.  We atheists have an uphill battle, and at this point I'm willing to accept some baby steps from the current set of politicians.

What bothers me this Friday after Thanksgiving is not the President's speech, it's the backlash from the fundies that he didn't mention god.  Seriously?  The man went through a litany of thanks to people who actually exist, and are currently making a difference in other people's lives.  If there wasn't enough evidence that religious people in this country have completely lost their minds, there's plenty of it in the video's comments.

Plus, even if he had mentioned god, don't you people think he's a Muslim anyway?  Wouldn't that then mean he would've been thanking Allah rather than Yahweh?

Thank you, Mr. President, for taking the time to thank those who should be inspirational to us all, as they struggle every day of the year to help those in need.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Giving Thanks Seems Unsatisfying

Lately I've seen several video interviews in which atheists are asked to explain what it is that they are thankful for.  The last one I watched was a video made by the Fellowship of Freethought Dallas, which was very well done and included many recognizable faces within the community of atheist activists.

As I watched the video, I began to realize that something bothered me about the whole, "What are you thankful for?" question.  And then it came to me; doesn't being thankful presuppose an entity to be thankful to?  As an atheist, I simply cannot answer that question when it is phrased like that.

Since I am very uncomfortable with any assumption of a higher being to which I should give thanks, I then began to think more about how I could answer this without the acknowledgment of a supernatural being.  I mean, giving thanks this way just feels to me like it's another ambiguously spiritual concept leftover from my moderately religious upbringing.

Unfortunately for me, I had to figure this out relatively quickly.  It is the time of year when this question becomes very popular amongst my family members, including my mother and my grandmother.  So in order to maintain my own sanity and also keep the Thanksgiving holiday pleasant, I had to find a suitable answer.

Thus, I decided today that I will approach this question by changing the direction of the question itself:  I am not thankful, I am fortunate.

I am fortunate to have grown up with the family I did.  We've lived through some rough years, but no matter what, my parents - and especially my brother - were always there for me when I needed them most.  I think a simple show of gratitude takes away from what they've done for me, but it's the best I can offer.  Thanks for everything Mom, Dad and Billy.

I am fortunate that my parents insisted I keep up with my classwork so that I would have the opportunity to be successful in college.  For that, I thank my parents again.

I am fortunate to have met my beloved wife, Monica.  She has given me a strength and resiliance I never thought I had.  I could spend hours thanking her and it still wouldn't be enough.  You're better than I deserve, and I thank you for loving me...

I am fortunate that my family is healthy and we have not had to manage a debilitating illness.  I suppose I should thank my ancestors for the strong set of genes passed to me.

I am fortunate to have the kids that I do.  Both of them never cease to amaze me with their courage, their curiosity, and their individuality.  Like most parents, the two of them have me convinced I have the best kids on the planet.  Thanks, kiddos!

I am very fortunate to have all of you to define what kind of man I have become.  Thank you, all.

The Diction of Christian

Last night I watched a news story on the Dallas CBS 11 News by Carol Cavazos titled, "Don't Assume Everyone can Speak 'Christianese'".  All in all, her story was fairly trivial, and really didn't include anything too surprising.  I went to bed thinking that this was basically a fluff piece to pander to the religious apologists and I had just wasted several minutes of my life watching it.  But after sleeping on it, I decided this morning that I only have myself to blame because I suppose I expected far too much from this kind of local news segment.  So I'll cut Carol some slack, she only had a few minutes in a 30 minute newscast.

However, I think what disappointed me the most was the lack of academic perspective on the subject.  Is it too much to ask to include someone besides an evangelical Christian?  Cavazos even included a, "worship leader" from the Dallas House of Prayer named Jerrod Morgan.  After watching this guy, it appears that one doesn't need much in the way of religious credentials to get your 15 minutes of fame in Dallas.  But I suppose having good old Jerrod deliver his testimony - by playing his guitar to the camera - gave him enough Holy-Man Cred to be included in Cavazos' story.

Anyway, after a bit of research, I found a similar piece that CNN published to their website in July, 2011 titled, "Do You Speak Christian?".  This CNN article is far more professional and does give the reader a broader perspective.  And I'd recommend the CNN article over the CBS 11 article if you're looking for more substance.  This article covers far more topics, such as: how modern Christians connect using these terms, the many misconceptions found in "christianese", as well as how politicians are using these religious expressions to get themselves elected.

Now, I get it that groups of people like to have a particular lingo used to separate themselves from everyone else.  It makes everyone in the group feel special, or feel like an insider, or feel like one of the "chosen".  But from a secular perspective, the phrases in this insider Christian lingo are either barbaric, cannibalistic, or outright disgusting:
"Washed in the blood..."
"The blood of the Lamb..."
"Eat of His body, drink of His blood..."
"Salvation through the blood of the Lamb..."
It's images like these that should be offensive to any civilized person living in a First World country.  What is it with these people and blood?  You want me to eat and drink what?  And why would any sane person want their every day conversations, or dialogues with colleagues for that matter, to contain this kind of imagery?  I believe that questions like these give an indication why most people, including many religious leaders, are starting to recognize that very issue, and have begun to distance themselves from this kind of Christian slang.

From the article:
"Don Closson, of Plano based Probe Ministries, has an explanation. Closson researches the Bible as it relates to current culture.
'We've seen a purge from academia. We've seen a purge from the media to a great extent, unless it’s making fun of it,' Closson said."
In two sentences, Don manages to bring up a valid point and then whine about being mistreated.  Typical.  I will agree with Don that as our society progressed, this kind of rhetoric faded simply because we've moved beyond barbaric religious practices.  I will also agree that using Christianese in your sermons or in casual conversation makes you an easy target for ridicule.  The days of pastors delivering a weekly speech that's filled with blind assertions are fading fast, simply because people are using the internet to check if a person is telling the truth.  Secularists refer to that as fact-checking.  And I say, get used to it!

So, if you really want a good giggle this morning, take a few minutes and scroll down to the bottom of the CBS DFW article and read the comments.  After I read some of them, I'd say there are three certainties to life: death, taxes, and Christians being offended.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Okay Fundies, Is Science Really That Hard?

I kid you not, no sooner than I published my last blog post did I come into contact with a coworker - I'll call him, "The Fundie" - that made me lose even more faith in my fellow man.  Picture me - and if you don't know what I look like, just wing it - minding my own beeswax in the break room, whilst trying to pour myself a cup o' morning joe.  The Fundie walks through the door with another unfortunate coworker.  I'll call her, "Bob."  The ensuing conversation went down something like this:

The Fundie strolls over to me at the coffee maker, with Bob in tow: "Hey, maybe you'll be able to answer this question."

Me: <sigh> "What is it?"

The Fundie: "I just asked Bob this and she couldn't answer it.  If Evolution is true, why are there still apes?"

I turn and look at them, bewildered.  I say, "Look, Fundie.  It's too early for me to..."

The Fundie, who is definitely rubbing some sass on at this point, interrupts so he can finish his thought: "You don't know either, do you?  How can there still be apes if we evolved from them?  You'd think scientists would be able to find... SOMETHING."

Me: "Look Fundie, I could try to explain common descent to you, and why your question is complete nonsense.  But it is too early in the morning for me to get into this with you.  But I will try to help you by asking you one question - if most Americans came from Europe, why are there still Europeans?"

Of course, Bob had already excused herself before I delivered my dagger.  Crap.

Please note that only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.  Oh, and before I forget, I'd like to take a minute and give a shout-out to my e-homies at Reddit for giving me that quick out.  Thanks guys, these quick barbs come in handy!

Now, could someone explain something to me?  Is science really this hard?  Is it honestly too big of a stretch for a person's mind to grasp the basic process of the Theory of Evolution?  Is it really easier for a person to believe in a magic-man-creator-being, or a talking snake, or a man living inside of a fish, or virgin births???

Or is it something more fundamental?  Is it just more comfortable for people to hang on to childish fantasies?  Is it easier for people to believe that an all-powerful presence is guiding their lives, rather than take the responsibility for their lives and rely on themselves to get by?

Even if science is too hard for some people to understand, surely everyone will get this: just because some people can't understand science, does not mean that all science is wrong.  And furthermore, a lack of knowledge certainly does not leave room to squeeze in the latest incarnation of god.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Comforting Ignorance of Myth

In most situations, I am an optimist when it comes to the potential of the people I come into contact with on a daily basis.  Most of these people are knowledgeable, to a degree, of everyday conversational topics.  Other than the great people I follow via books or the internet (bloggers, newspaper columnists, authors, etc.) I rarely, if ever, come into contact with real experts in a given field.  This is not a knock on any of my friends or colleagues, because I count myself in that statement.

However, I'm beginning to think that I may have taken the optimism I have for my fellow man for granted.  Over the past few years of my life, I have noticed a disturbing lack of common scientific knowledge among people in my generation as well as the generation behind me.  Yes, there are still scientific experts that I idolize; there are still motivated youngsters that keep me enthusiastic; and there are still tenacious fighters trying desperately to keep science education as a top priority.  What's depressing me lately though is this: there just don't seem to be as many of these people as I remember when I was 20 years younger.

In my recent conversations with those in my social circles, I find that an uncomfortable number of adults - let's say ages 21 to 40 - have no idea why the Northern Hemisphere is cold in the Winter and warm in the Summer.  They could not explain what causes the tides.  They could not give a reasonable explanation for why things float on water.  Nor could they tell you how a rainbow is formed or for that matter, when the conditions are right to go looking for a rainbow.  (That last example is true considering that most adults will tell you that rainbows come after rainfall; they just can't explain WHEN it's a good bet to look for one.)

I find all of this a bit disconcerting considering the direction that the religious seem to be trying to impose on our society.  Religious activists have essentially declared war on modern science.  Am I being overdramatic?  Then I'll give you an example.  There is a concerted effort in the state of Texas to exclude basic evolutionary biology from public school science classes.  Why?  It's simple really, these people see science as a threat.  Even if you discount the talking snake part as a myth, a fundamental understanding of modern biology ultimately removes the need for an activist god.  It also completely disproves the biblical creation story, which in turn negates the myth of the fall of man.  No fall of man... no need to nail a human being to a cross for a blood sacrifice.  Get it?

Besides that, ignorance is a necessity for controlling the masses.  I don't believe that many will argue against the point that an uninformed, uneducated people are far easier to control than a society that knows what their rights are and when their rights are being trampled.

Now, before I conclude, I should take a moment to admit that I have recognized something about myself lately as well.  The older I get, the more I worry about the education of the generations behind me.  In particular, I worry about the generation of my children.  (In other words, this is most likely what spawned this post.)  Because the older I get, the more I believe that as a society, we are failing in our responsibility to our children to educate them in basic math and science.  And I firmly believe that the cause of our lack of math and science education lies in the sudden embrace of Iron Age beliefs.

So, I consider my generation and the one behind me somewhat "lost" in this comforting ignorance of myth.  It doesn't matter how intelligent I consider each of them to be, they are lost in their absolute acceptance of modern religion.  (I live in the deep South, I should expect it, right?)  Also, their religion has become something of a pathetic, puerile security blanket for them.  On a weekly basis, I hear these people gushing to one another about their respective anecdotal religious experiences - right outside my cubicle at work.  I also hear about how praying causes a sense of peace to wash over them, or about a guiding hand that has given their life direction, or about a medical miracle that saved one of their loved ones.

Then I hear how science is not the only way to gain knowledge, how we weren't there millions of years ago so we cannot know for certain, and how the entire universe was created for man.  Thus, they've convinced themselves that since there are gaps in our current scientific understanding, there must be room to squeeze in a god.

It's because of all of this, that I can no longer sit back and watch a select few ruin another generation.  I refuse to become accustomed to people that argue against vaccinations as if they are just as versed in immunological sciences as professionals.  I will not allow people to mistakenly boast that there are "gaping holes" in the fossil record.  And I will certainly push back when my children are fed inaccurate, factually unsupported and overtly religious concepts at their school.  We, as a generation, cannot afford to allow the embracing of ignorance to continue.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Recognize the Holy-Man Cred

In a previous blog post I mentioned that I had been in a very short internet conversation with a pastor by the name of Scott Cheatham.  The reason I know he’s a pastor is simple: a minister named Brian Kirk had written the initial Hell House blog post, and Scott made it a point to mention in one of his first comments that he was a pastor.  Scott also did a little name-dropping by mentioning yet another pastor who he claims is a founding father of Hell Houses.  You know, for holy-man cred.

Anyway, it didn’t take much Googling to figure out exactly who this guy was.  Scott Cheatham is the Lead Pastor at Rangeview Church in Thornton, CO.  “Oh, groovy,” I thought to myself, “I’d like to hear what the leaders of small churches think of this kind of thing.”

Okay, before I begin my retelling, I want to explain what I’m going to with my post.  I’ve decided that I’ll focus myself on just one topic, since both Scott and I seemed to spiral our comments into tangential topics.  Also, I’ll do my best to keep this blog entry from being brutally long.  (Sorry, no TL; DR – you lazy bums.)  Later on, when I feel like focusing my attention and blog space on any of the other topics that Scott and I covered, I’ll make sure to include this one for reference.  But here I plan on just hitting the highlights and then at the end I’ll provide links to the entire conversation.  Anyway, on with the show…

Scott begins with a fairly bold first statement:
“Everyone is entitled to their opinions but I believe one of the problems we as pastors are facing is the fear of talking about hell for fear of being labeled as fundamentalist whackos when Jesus spent more time discussing the topic than he did anything else.”
See the, “we as pastors,” shout out?  That’s right bitches… respect his authority.  He’s a PASTOR.  But that’s not the issue here; it’s that bit about Jesus spending more time discussing the “hell” topic than anything else.

So as any good reader with a couple of science degrees would do, I asked Scott – a pastor if you recall – for a citation of this assertion.  I did this by first quoting him – pastors love that – and then giving him the universal sign: "** [citation needed]."

The younger, internet savvy generation should certainly recognize this sign, but even old fogies like me know what that means.  Scott knew, too; because this is when he started to get irritated with me.  He asks:
“Have you went [sic] to one of the original hell houses? Based on your assumptions here, I would say no....

Jesus discussed ‘hell’, ‘hades’, and the ‘lake of fire’ well over 1000+ places in scripture so it must have been pretty important wouldn't you think?”
Well, what do you know?  In asking Scott for a reference for his claim, he answers with another assertion.  It’s sad, really.  I was looking forward to vetting the first unsubstantiated claim and now I have two.  Crap!

(Just as a side note, Scott either forgot or purposely left out one vague expression from the Bible that’s often used by religious types as a euphemism for hell: “Gnashing of teeth.”  I've slipped into this digression in hopes that this helps Scott with any future unsubstantiated claims he may make, because it simply does nothing to help me with vetting his assertions.  It’s just an FYI, Scott…)

I point out my dilemma to Scott by explaining to him that his rebuttal contains yet another unsubstantiated claim, for which I’ll also need a citation.  This one is even more specific than the first with, “… well over 1000+ places in scripture.”  Again, I didn’t ask him if it was important, I asked him for a citation.  And here’s where Scott starts to get really sassy.  He typed:
“You seek specific citation but a simple search in any bible will turn up the references I mention. Go online and search the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts and count them yourself. There...Now I've broken it down to its simplest form. If you put as much work into this as you did in your vain attempt to belittle me you should easily have your answer. Any further response in this arena would expose your baseless temerity and any rational person can dismiss it. Years ago, I did the research. I could quote others but why? The best knowledge is that which you have worked for yourself.”
Is it me or do you also get the impression that maybe I struck a nerve?  It's a good thing that we no longer live when the Bible was written, or I'd be put to death.

Not only did I just get told to do his research for him, but I also got lectured about my work ethic, my vanity and how he shouldn’t expose my baseless temerity.  I don't know about the rest of you, but I'd like to keep my temerity right where it is.  So I'll quote a great ass, “You cut me deep, Scott.  You cut me very deep just now.”  (Shrek, 2001.)

All kidding aside, did anyone notice that?  Scott still doesn’t provide any specific reference material I can use to research his claim.  Sure, he says I can go do a simple Bible search and count them myself.  But in the world according to Scott, I am to take him at his word because he has done the research and I simply haven't done the work myself.  How quaint.

Well, I know he's wrong because I've heard this regurgitated claim from several people before, all of which were summarily refuted.  But I did some looking anyway, and what I found vastly contradicted his claim.  Here, for instance; or this discussion that I found with a few quick trips to Google.  It was just that easy.

Forget the fact that Scott dismisses me like it's beneath him to have to justify himself when it comes to the Bible.  Also forget the fact that he immediately resorts to an ad hominem attack when I ask for a citation of the second assertion.  What offends me the most is Scott's assumption that I just couldn't know the Bible as well as he does simply because... well just because!  Is it because I pressed him to provide some evidence of his claims?  Come on!  He's a pastor, it's in his book, and he's done the research... Right?  Quite honestly, I would have thought this would be the moment he's been waiting for his entire professional career: the chance to prove a naysayer that he knows his stuff.

Our discussion then managed to bleed into another online network, Twitter.  (You may have heard about it.)  Scott hit me with about five tweets a couple of days ago telling me that he’s not returning to the other thread and that I shouldn’t have called him disrespectful because, in essence, I started it.  Now, I should admit that I was really brutal to the guy when I tweeted:
“Cracking my knuckles getting ready to respond to another fear mongering Pastor: @ScottCheatham. This should be fun.”
Did I call his ass out with THAT tweet or what?!?  I can hear it now, “That was harsh, bro!”  Seriously.  Don’t laugh.

He sends me this:
"Not going back to the thread Larry but you first called me a 'fear mongering' pastor and now call me 'disrespectful'?"
Oops, Scott just made a very serious mistake.  He told me he wasn't going back to the thread, yet I know that he DID go back to the comment thread and read my final post.  I know this because that's where I said I was, "... offended by his lack of respect."

Be that as it may, it doesn't take a genius to see that Scott Cheatham is a fear mongering (this is a tactic, and is not an insult) pastor.  I mean, he even used his book to justify it by providing a verse from Matthew, even though there are far better examples than this one:
"Don't be afraid of people. They can kill the body, but they cannot kill the soul. The only one you should fear is God, the one who can send the body and the soul to be destroyed in hell. (Matthew 10:28)"
And finally, we've come to the quote I've been waiting my entire blog post to share. After I told Scott that I wasn't insulting him, just calling him out regarding his tactics, he tweeted:
"Yes...I teach the whole of scripture. Not just select passages. It's not fear-mongering if it's part of the Bible."
WOW!  Why didn't I think of that?  Teaching people to fear god is not fear mongering for the baby Jesus because it's in the Bible.  That's right kids, if it's okay in the Bible, it's okay for Scott!  (Oh sure, I could ask him if stoning an adulterer isn't murder since it's in the Bible, but that would be too easy...  Okay, I'll admit it.  I did tweet it.  Sue me.)

If you’re wondering why I’m doing all of this, it’s simple: just in case someone looks this guy’s name up on Google, and just happens to stumble upon my blog, they’ll get a glimpse into the kind of egos our society is dealing with.  And I realize that not too many people will even care about my interaction with this pastor from Thornton, CO.  But I do.  And quite honestly this kind of isolationism is how guys like Scott Cheatham are able to seize and maintain power over people that simple don’t know any better.

So that’s it.  The entire discussion thread can be found here, in the comments area at the bottom of the blog post.  I’ve also pasted the twitter feed for Scott’s replies below:
"My last mention @ScottCheatham, all babies are born atheists until the adults around them convince them they were born broken and worthless."

"@larrymathys Not going back to the thread Larry but you first called me a "fear mongering" pastor and now call me "disrespectful"?"

"@scottcheatham That's too bad. "Fear mongering" is not an insult, by the way. It's a tactic. You even quote Bible verses mentioning fear."

"@larrymathys Besides that you started your debate by posting a tweet about "cracking your knuckles" to go after me. #disrespect"

"@larrymathys Yes...I teach the whole of scripture. Not just select passages. It's not fear-mongering if it's part of the Bible."

"@scottcheatham That's incredible! Claiming the Bible isn't fear mongering because the Bible says so is flawed, circular logic."

"@larrymathys In your world perhaps. But not in mine."

"@scottcheatham You book cannot excuse itself. Taking pride in teaching people they are worthless is sadistic and wrong. Bible or no Bible."

"@larrymathys You are spewing tautological nonsense. Discussion done. I have a job to do. Take care and may God open your eyes."

"@scottcheatham Wow. You sure make a habit of assuming too much. My eyes were opened when I took the time to read your book. Take care."

Hogs Joe Adams With Rage Comic

Normally I wouldn't post an animated GIF like this on my blog, but I was in the stands that evening to watch the Hogs win over Tennessee 49 - 7.  And I'll admit it, after seeing the GIF, I just couldn't help myself.

Most probably don't know Joe Adams, but if you keep up with the NFL at all, it's likely you will soon.  So I'll set this play up for you: Tennesse had punted the ball and by the time Joe caught it, Tennessee had fairly good punt coverage with plenty of men there to make the tackle.  Or so it seemed...

So Joe starts doing his thing, and while everyone in the stands was screaming at him for running backwards, I told everyone to let the man work.  And if you watch the GIF, you should see why I never fuss at Joe anymore.

It was one of the best punt returns I've seen in a very long time, but to alter it with rage faces nearly made me spit my coffee (look out for Great Scott! as Joe gets free):

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Atheism United Needs Help!

I've joined a new website called Atheism United and I just read that they are in desperate need of a new web server.  The people behind the Rational Response Squad were gracious enough to allow me the opportunity to join their new team as a blogger, and I'm excited to be a part of an up-and-coming atheist web community.  So much so that I thought there's no better time than the present to start begging for money!

I realize this is a rough year for many people and we're right at the beginning of the holiday season.  But if you have a few extra bucks to give to a really good cause, follow the link to the ChipIn website:

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Praying for Pedophiles

Our society has become so easily distracted that we don't even recognize the absolute ignorance that was on display at the Penn State vs. Nebraska football game last Saturday.  As a matter of fact, religious clowns were downright tickled at the pretense of a wide angle view of the two-team huddle at midfield.

It's become obvious to me that most religious people have completely abandoned moral direction in lieu of displays of conformity.  I say that because while they celebrate their solidarity, none of them have stopped to wonder why a supreme being as powerful as their god could allow a child to be victimized.

Several times today I overheard my religious coworkers gushing about the baby Jesus bringing comfort to the victims - because prayer like that makes a difference.  I even heard that, "God has them in his hands."

Why is this not offensive to more people?  I stood aghast.  Now, I usually take pride in my quick wit, but I was so taken aback that the best I could come up with was, "You have to be kidding me."  I know...  I blew a perfect opportunity for an easy comeback.  CRAP!!!

Living in Texas makes scenes like this somewhat commonplace.  Most religious people in the South assume they have a friendly audience that they can exploit.  So, they make a habit of spouting off nonsensical statements and then proceed to pat each other on the back for their unwavering support.  It's such a common event that I've begun to dismiss it out of sheer fatigue.

This, however, should not be allowed to continue.  Mainly because no matter what the crime, god cannot seem to prevent a single one.  Not to mention that it doesn't take a genius to figure out that any god that asks us to pray to it after an atrocity like pedophilia, is a god that cannot be trusted with the safety of our species - much less the safety of our children!  As a matter of fact, we should be weeping that our society has yet to grow past this vacuous faith that justice will be served upon death.

Assuming Sandusky is indeed guilty, we must remember that the victims we are talking about are the very definition of innocent.  And we certainly cannot lost sight of these simple things: that prayer is an empty gesture; that these victims have already been exploited enough; that these children do not deserve to become nothing more than objects of a sick and twisted religious racket.

Thus, I'll end with one question for evangelists...  How many more children must be victimized before people begin to wonder why their supernatural god won't protect those that need it the most?

Friday, November 11, 2011

To Hitch...

One of the reasons why I love reddit is the vast community that it creates among complete strangers.  Then to witness the humanity that can blossom out of that community...  It's tear-jerking.

An example of this is the tribute to Hitchens, where a redditor sir_wooly_merkins spawned an idea into a very touching video:

You guys are fantastic...  Cheers.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Get Your Feet Into Those Stirrups for Jesus!

It seems that religious fundamentalists (or "fundies" as I like to call them), have made another attempt at moving the goal posts on protecting a life.  If you think I'm talking about healthcare, social programs, charity or the death penalty, you'd be wrong - because most fundies no longer care about a life once a human being has cleared the labia.  The holiest of holies is the end of the line for fundie sponsored protection of human life.  (Some even celebrate ending a life, but that's another topic.)

You see, this time they've gone all the way back to fertilization.

I'm talking about Proposal 26 - also known as the "Personhood" proposal - that was on the Mississippi ballot yesterday.  In it, the state would have considered the moment of conception as the definition of a human being.  Thus, a morula would have been recognized as a person and be granted the rights, protection and privileges of any resident of Mississippi.

Everyone understands what this really is.  The fundies need a legal way to directly challenge Roe v. Wade at the state level, plain and simple.

Anyway, if you follow me on Twitter, you'll know that I went a little, "Alec Baldwin" with the number of tweets I had while I waited for the election results.  And yes, I had a little fun with it along the way.

For example, I asked: Under Prop. 26, can a woman be charged with furnishing liquor to a minor if she has a drink before she learns she's pregnant?  Does a zygote get a social security number?  Will a vanishing twin be grounds to handcuff the surviving twin upon birth?  Will the placenta be considered private property under Article V of the Constitution?  And if so, what is just compensation for their 40 week home?  But I digress...

As I sat in my chair, wondering how so many people could actually vote for this nonsense, I watched with overwhelming relief as the results finally came in.  The level headed voters in Mississippi prevailed.  PHEW!

Regretfully, this relief didn't last long.  It seems that this is far from over.  Today I read that the fundies are going to keep trying until it does pass.  Ugh.  These guys are going to give me a coronary.

But then, I thought, maybe there is an answer here...

I wonder, will all the healthy women that voted for Proposition 26 donate their uteruses to free the frozen embryos held against their will in fertility clinics?  What a perfect idea...  This could really gain some momentum in the "personhood" movement.  Put your uterus where your mouth is!  Just think about those poor little lambs, so alone in the cold!  C'mon you women of god, get your feet into those stirrups for Jesus!!!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Internet Chew Toys

Sometimes internet chew toys are fun and can help hone my debating skills.  My current sparring partner is Scott Cheatham, a pastor from Colorado.  Our topic?  Hell houses.

I have an entire blog post covering this topic, but if you have time to kill there is another Pastor by the name of Brian Kirk who wrote a very good article discussing this topic from a different perspective than I took.  It seems that both Kirk and I agree that the direction these hell houses are taking is disturbing.  Give his article a few minutes of your time, because it really is good.

Where I get involved is in the comments section.  I have Scott trying to convince me that the exploitation of the deaths of teenagers is perfectly acceptable.  Yep, another pastor quite comfortable in pointing his finger in judgment.

I'm easy to find since he uses Disqus for his comment section.  Just scroll to the bottom and look for my name:  "Christian Haunted Houses: Scaring the "Hell" Out of Teens?"

Sunday, November 6, 2011

No Party With This TEA

Today in the Dallas Morning News, an article tried to explain how one student's TAKS test score determined the entire Sam Houston Middle School's rating.  That is, the Texas Education Agency had downgraded this school's designation from "recognized" to "acceptable".  The Irving Independent School District did what any sane administrator would do and appealed the downgraded rating.  Luckily, the TEA came to their collective senses and returned their higher rating.

On the surface, having one school lose its rating doesn't seem like that big of a deal.  It even sounds harmless, these labels assigned by the TEA: "exemplary", "recognized", "acceptable", etc.  However innocuous labels sound, they have repercussions beyond the academic year.  In my opinion, motivated teachers flock to schools that receive higher ratings.  This in turn promotes high morale between student and educator, and the momentum propels the school forward as higher ratings keep the educators focused on learning.  It's rainbows and unicorns so far.

Then there are schools that struggle with achieving even an "acceptable" rating.  (Higher ratings mean more money, remember?)  The stress levels of these educators begin to climb as the test date approaches, which gives them no choice but to focus their efforts on the test...

And thus, a "teach the test" cycle naturally follows.

The cycle is a direct result of a flawed system - a system that rewards schools that already have the support system and money in place to achieve higher scores, and punish the schools that need the most help.  Many people have already recognized this flaw and a movement has already started to find another way to educate our kids.

As important as this story is regarding the school system in general, it also shows yet another glaring flaw with the education system that the TEA desperately needs to address.  What do I mean?  Well, I'll answer that with a simple question for the TEA: if just one student can determine the rating for an entire school, don't you think that your assessment procedures are fundamentally flawed?