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?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Handouts for Jesus - Diva Style!

I haven't been this floored after reading an article in a very, very long time.  The "officials" at Crystal Cathedral sent out an email requesting that members donate food for Robert Schuller's wife, who is currently very ill with pneumonia and according to the article is, "very weak."  Let me get this out of the way first - I do feel for the poor woman.  Because at that age, any illness - much less pneumonia - can ravage your body.  I hope in time she's able to recover.  Hang in there, Arvella.

 The kicker here is not the fact that Pastor Jim Kok sent out an email requesting food.  That's one of the perks of being a part of a large community of people.  Also, I don't really have an issue with the suggested culinary guidelines that were included in the email.  If Arvella's tummy can't handle spicy food, you don't want to send over a spicy sausage potato casserole.

What makes me nauseous is this little nugget from the email:
"They are to be sent to the church in order to be transported to Arvella. The limo drivers could pick up the dinners or meet in the Tower Lobby around 4:30 p.m."

Limo drivers?  And the best excuse they can come up with for such an over-the-top request?  I give you John Charles, the spokesman for the Crystal Cathedral:
"We didn't want people going to their home because they are very private people.  That's why we asked that the food be dropped off at the tower so the limo drivers can pick them up and deliver them."

Oh, okay.  Filthy rich Pastors who live off of the backs of the poor while convincing the congregation they were born broken - needs the privacy and privilege of a limo service.  Makes perfect sense, Johnny.  Oh, and I suppose I should mention that Crystal Cathedral also recently declared bankruptcy...

Read another article I found and see how you feel.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Fresh Water Pressure

Nearly all of the state of Texas faces a looming crisis that most people living here seem to be completely oblivious. After a brutal summer of record setting temperatures and little or no rainfall, the local lakes and reservoirs have been depleted to the point where several counties in North Texas could soon be without fresh water.  I reside in one of these troubled counties.

According to the regional drought monitor, the county in which my house resides is in the D3-D4 range.  This is likely to get far worse since no significant rainfall is indicated in current long term models.  Ouch.

If this isn't disturbing enough, I frequently hear neighbors and coworkers whining about dead grass and bushes in their front yards.  Today, I even had the pleasure of listening to someone complain that his tree has dried to the point that the strong winds last night snapped his tree in half.  Now he has to pay, "... to have the stupid tree removed.  And in THIS economy," he rants, "I just don't have that kind of money to throw at a dead tree."  And yes, he blames Obama.  Not about the drought, mind you, he blames Obama for his monetary situation.  But I digress...

He doesn't have money to throw at a dead tree?  You poor baby!  I know I'm being an ass, but this is the same guy that serves as the chairman for his homeowners association's lawn compliance.  (Yes, they have those.)  And he boasts about how he's serving everyone in his neighborhood by keeping property values high.

I hate to beat a dead horse here, but give me a !#$@ing break...  He doesn't have money to throw at a dead tree?  Just wait for our water bills to skyrocket as the water companies frantically build the infrastructure to keep the faucets going.  And who cares about a tree, or bushes, or a green lawn, or golf courses when we're talking about fresh water for human beings??!?

That's right. Everything, including assholes, are bigger in Texas.  Well, except the supply of fresh water.