Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Baby Jesus Never Calls His Shot

When I was playing baseball in high school, I noticed a trend with the other players on the team.  Before the first pitch, many of them would huddle in the dugout for a quick prayer to thank Jesus and of course, ask the almighty to bless us as we took the field.  With the baby Jesus in our back pocket, we managed only two wins my senior year.

Now recently I've realized that I have now lived long enough to witness the evolution of this spectacle to a whole new level of absurdity.  Professional athletes in the United States spend an inordinate amount of time thanking their god for being able to throw harder, hit farther, run faster, tackle better, or for having the sickest juke on the football field, ever.  We have baseball players, football players... even NASCAR drivers all pointing to the sky to give thanks to whichever star that happens to be overhead at the time when they point their finger.  Or better yet, they pause and kneel for a moment of quiet prayer to thank their god in a stadium full of 80,000 screaming fans.

I've also noticed that lately these athletes are starting to remind me of high profile religious leaders in that, as the months go by, a select few of these athletes seem to be trying to one-up each other giving thanks to the baby Jesus.  It's like they've decided to go beyond the sporting event and take their battle to a more "spiritual" plane.

I'll give you a very recent example: Josh Hamilton claims that his god told him - that's right, TOLD him, that he was going to hit a home run in the 10th inning of game six of the World Series.  He couldn't be more serious, either.  In an interview, Josh said the following:

"He said, you haven't hit one in a while and this is the time you're going to.  But there was a period at the end of that. He didn't say, you're going to hit it and you're going to win.' ''

Now, with the whole universe to maintain, starving children in Africa, human beings suffering in agony as they take their last breath... Josh's god took the time to make sure he could walk to the plate with the confidence that he was swinging the bat for Jesus.  For at the moment Josh made contact with the baseball, the perfect wood of god would propel the baseball over the outfield wall of Busch Stadium and into the stands where a lucky believer could receive a genuine religious artifact.  Yep, god wanted Josh to deliver the unlimited power of the lord thy god using the sweet spot of an Ash bat.  And nobody in the sporting world even bothers to question Josh's egotistical display of religion, or wonders if Josh's sanity may be slipping to the point where he quite possibly needs to be seen by a psychiatrist.

No, this statement seems perfectly sane and completely appropriate to an uncomfortable majority of people in the United States.  As a matter of fact, his statement is being heralded in my area as a window into the character of the man that is Josh Hamilton.

As insane as all of this is, there's one thing that sports reporters and religious athletes are choosing to ignore.  Josh never mentioned anything about god speaking to him at his other at-bats, nor did god take the time to tell Josh that he would only go 7 of 29, with a mediocre batting average of .241 in the World Series.  It seems that the almighty speaks to these people only after they succeed, where predictions are always after the fact and god never calls his shot.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Unreasonable Education Funding in Texas

The current lawsuit against the state of Texas has all the merit of a game-changing event; assuming it succeeds.  Earlier this year, the Texas state legislature passed extensive budget cuts to public education. And as a result, smaller districts suddenly found themselves on the short end of an extremely biased pubic education system.

This system is so intrinsically flawed, that in some instances there is a difference of at least $1800 PER STUDENT between two school districts of one Texas county (Bexar County).  The most shocking by far is a difference of almost $4500 per student between two West Texas districts!

The bulk of this difference essentially boils down to the disparity between school districts with high property values and those with very low property values.  The way this state distributes the public education funds is largely based on the tax dollars collected on property values.  These public funds are not, however, combined into one state coffer and allocated evenly.  That would be too simple, and far too fair for a state as conservative and Republican as Texas.

Instead of dispensing the total value of the taxes collected on a per-student basis, our state legislators have some remarkably crazy apportioning that assures wealthy homeowners keep most of the money in the wealthier school districts that, quite honestly, don't need it.  So it doesn't take a genius to see that this makes our public education system skewed in favor of districts with wealthy homeowners.  This is wrong, and people are finally beginning to recognize it.

Dr. Henry Scott, the Superintendent of Denison ISD said, "Some of the richer districts are able to keep a good portion of their money where in our district, we're funded at a very low level."

So, a lawsuit seems to be the only recourse for smaller school districts, even if it's a substantial risk for them since they have very little money to fund it.  But, the lawsuit does appear to be picking up more and more momentum, because school districts everywhere in Texas are recognizing the opportunity to right an obvious wrong.

This story deserves more media attention, before state legislators are able to find another excuse to keep their wealthy homeowners from sharing the wealth.

Friday, October 21, 2011

God House

In the spirit of Halloween, the members of the Trinity Church of Cedar Hill are up to their bloody, dislocated eyeballs with their 21st year of hosting Hell House.  If you haven't heard about the Southern Baptist twist on haunted houses, well you're in for a treat.  Just click and watch the high quality, professional, studio level preview on their website.  Seriously, that preview is very, very good.  If you're in the mood to stand in line and pay $10 bucks, then go see it.  (Isn't $10 bucks such a miniscule amount to ask when we're talking about your immortal soul?)

What you should notice first is the rating on this year's Hell House - the first of its kind.  This is also good, since anyone in their right mind would agree that these scenes are not for children.  Now don't make the mistake of assuming that since they have the rating, they enforce at the gate.  This is simply not the case.

Why would it be?  Because to these people, you can't save a child if you don't scare the "hell" out of him or her.  And boy are these people creative when it comes to scaring little children!  But, as much as I hate that these people let underage children into what I consider to be a situation that is well beyond their maturity level, I'll let the Metroplex Atheists fight them (which they are.)

No, this is about a fresh twist on these popular "Hell" houses.  My twist.

I say, let's start a, "God House" instead.  In God House, we'll start off with scenes of dehydrated, emaciated children begging for a sip of water or a tiny morsel of bread.  Then we can show bloody female and male circumcisions being performed - on newborns or on teens, doesn't matter.  Maybe move on to a staunchly religious man or woman coughing up blood in a hospital bed while they lay dying of cancer - and a Bible right there on their little night stand for effect.

We could even have scenes from the Bible!  Modernized scenes, mind you, so the audience can relate.

Have a group of kids getting mauled by two bears for calling a bald guy, "Chrome dome!"... guts and brains everywhere!  Show some soldiers following the will of god by slicing women and children open with their bayonets.  More guts!  Then have a group of Westboro Baptists stoning a man and woman for adultery, with little pieces of skull and brains in and about the audience.  Or maybe have Pat Robertson placing his son - kicking and screaming - on an altar to be sacrificed!  And the best one yet, assuming we could pull it off with current fire codes, a scene with some Southern Baptists throwing atheists into a pit of fire to watch them burn - biblical punishment for disbelief!

The list is endless!  We could run this for years on end...

At God House, we won't restrict ourselves to just focusing on the cliché of a few sinner's destinies.  Honestly, that's already been done more times than I can count.  BORING!

At God House, we won't need gunfire, razor blades, pipe bombs, or power cords to hang ourselves...  And we certainly don't need some shallow satanic character with a synthesized voice.  No sir!  Because who needs all those pitiful human weapons or uninspired characterizations when we're talking about the power of the Big Guy?  I mean, he can make people do anything in HIS name, right?

It's time we moved on from the amateurish crap that Lucifer seems to conjure up for people.  It's time we represent true professionalism this Halloween.  The Christian God is the one that's shown - over and over - that he is the true authority on making people suffer.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Gaming the Loopholes

Here in North Texas, it's bad enough that we're constantly inundated with religion, but this time it really creeps me out.  At least until another religious nut finds a more creative way to lie for Jesus.

Here we have Ricky Franklin chatting up his ministry on Youtube.  Fine, no big deal.  And normally I wouldn't give this guy a second thought because I've heard his nonsense too many times before.  But this guy is listed here as the 2nd VP/Programs for the Byron Nelson High School Parent Student Association.  Which means he has means to get himself and his group between the teens at BNHS and their parents.  And get this, he's found himself a clever little loophole.  Here's how he does it.

Out of one side of his mouth, he says things like this (from the Youtube video):

"Youth Alive, for especially (sic) our youth ministry, is our evangelism arm.  That's where we pour the majority of our energy and evangelism is into our campuses."

Out of the other side of his mouth, he writes denials to the school district officials like this:

"The Parent Teacher Student Association of BNHS is proud to sponsor the Seven Project," and it was, as he puts it, "... part of our ongoing efforts to bring character education to the students of BNHS."

Again, out of that first, religious side of his mouth, this tweet:

"#SevenRoanoke is this Wednesday! Praying that the hearts of Byron Nelson students will be open to receive the love of Christ."

And from the "Lying for Jesus" side of his mouth:

"There have never been any religious references during the school hours and there won’t be."

What a convenient position this guy has found for himself.  On one hand, he's openly admitting that his intentions are to use the program at his church as an evangelical arm to the schools.  But when the Metroplex Atheists demand an explanation, he falls back to a lie of omission by saying that he's not doing anything wrong because he never mentions the baby Jesus.

Well, give me a freaking break.  Lying for Jesus has found a sinister and foggy new low.  I ask you, Ricky, if a guy pays for hit on his boss, he's still going to jail for murder even if he wasn't the one that pulled the trigger, right?

And just as I was writing this post, I watched something so ridiculous that I had to include it because Ricky just got one-upped by Damon Thompson.  In the video, Damon tells us the story of a woman whose DNA is transformed by the Holy Spirit after a, erm, "... genuine born again experience."  This, of course, exonerates her of the crime she committed because all things are new in Christ.

Now let's not nitpick the science here because yes, there could have been a contaminated sample, etc etc. Instead let's analyze Damon's loophole.  He posits that even if you've committed a crime, of which there is sufficient evidence to convict you, your very DNA will change such that even those silly lab geeks can't link you to the crime scene.  That's right, you have one of these genuine born again experiences, god lets you go free!

Tell me Damon, what is DNA, and what is the name of the woman in this scenario so I can contact her to confirm your story?  I mean, she's obviously been released from prison...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Notorious Airborne Version of the Cooties

Today at work, I received my free, company sponsored flu vaccine.  As innocuous as that may seem, I can look back to that one event as the point that ruined my day and once again made me lose my faith in humanity.

As I waited for my turn near where the nurses had setup shop, I overhear something that piques my interest.  Our local conspiracy theorist began speculating that these injections were nothing but "clear liquid", (not water... "clear liquid") because the pharmaceutical companies had more to gain by selling us more drugs to treat our symptoms.  After asking him if he'd completely lost his mind, because each lot of vaccine is required to pass rigorous quality control checks of which I'm sure he could request a copy, he then decided to switch gears and tell me some silly story of some no-named doctor that promised him a cure to Type 1 Diabetes 10 years ago.  I bet he did.

Now here's where it gets really weird.

I took my story to another set of co-workers, after which we had a good giggle at the expense of the conspiracy theorist.  The topic then turned to the vaccine and the thimerosal it contains, when one co-worker in our giggle-group suddenly pointed her finger to the room being used for the vaccinations and said,  "Wait.  You're telling me you guys had that?"

We answered, almost in unison, "Yeah..."

At which time she snapped, "I'm outta here!" And summarily scooted out of the room so fast that she almost left skid marks.

I couldn't help myself; I had to know why.  I approached her cubicle to ask her why she ran out of the room so fast.  This woman literally leaned away from me as if I had been infected with the notorious airborne version of the cooties (you know, because me exhaling near her is far worse than the ventilation system in our office constantly recirculating the "infected" air for the past hour).  And she was dead serious, pardon the pun.

So I asked, "Why are you leaning away from me?"

She answered, "Because you are exhaling the virus right now, and I don't want to get infected!"

Try as I did, I couldn't shake her.  The misinformation had won in her mind to the point that she was convinced that newly vaccinated people infect others with live virus within minutes of inoculation.  I even tried to put her mind at ease by mentioning polio, smallpox, etc.  No dice - and get away from her before my newly acquired cooties infects her.

So I'm forced to wonder: is basic science simply too hard for some to even understand the most fundamental of principles?  Or rather, do most of these people just enjoy the thought of the supernatural more, and thus they become very susceptible to the most outlandish of explanations?

Now with my outspoken view of the supernatural and my knowledge of the fact that by comparison my mental capacity is mediocre at best, I'm torn when I say I'm desperately hoping it's the latter.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Choices and Conclusions

There's one common thread that I hear quite a bit from both the moderately religious people and the over-the-top, wear-the-baby-Jesus-on-my-bumper-sticker religious folks around me.  It's that some people just choose to be atheists.  You see, in their mind, there are these angry atheists who are just out to seek revenge on a childhood wasted in Sunday school.

First, I'm going to skip the "angry" part for now because it's easily addressed and I've decided to hold onto that for later.

And second, I can only speak for myself and those that I've had the pleasure of speaking to about this subject.  So here goes...

Every atheist I've ever spoken to says something along these lines: "After studying the Bible along with several other religions, I came to the conclusion that just like all the other gods before Yahweh, the god I grew up with simply doesn't exist."  If anyone thinks this was easy, they're wrong.  If anyone thinks this was a choice, they're REALLY wrong.  So let's be clear.  A choice is not the same as a conclusion.  Not even in the same ballpark.

Plus, I think when religious people convince themselves that I chose to be an atheist, they are consciously reducing me to nothing more than a spoiled child.  Because I'm just choosing to be defiant and I'm choosing not believe like everyone else.  How dare I do that to the rest of the believers?

It's as if I wasn't supposed to read their book for myself.  (Now I did choose to do that.)  Instead, I'm to sit quietly in my seat, slack-jawed, drooling, believing everything that one man tells me to believe.  I simply couldn't do that.

For me it began in church - my ex-girlfriend's church to be exact.  I would sit there quietly and flip my Bible to the cherry-picked passage that the Pastor had decided to focus his interpretive powers upon for roughly 30 to 40 minutes (because we had get back for Sunday football, don't you know.)  Sitting still for 30 to 40 minutes can be a lot to ask of a teenager, but I was with my ex-girlfriend so it was all good.

Thus, the path to my disbelief began out of boredom.  (This often happens with teenagers listening to adults trying tell them how to live their lives, right?)  I decided that I could kill time by reading the rest of the verses on the surrounding pages.  In doing so, however, I began to see that much of what was covered by that Pastor was either sugar-coated or taken completely out of context to cover up iron-age beliefs.  Beliefs which are horrific and inhuman in the modern era.

After a few months of attending church and retreating into the ritual of my boredom, I decided it was time I actually read the Bible, cover to cover.  Needless to say, reading that book really opened my eyes.  Literally.  I finally saw that book for what it truly was - a historical look into the mindset of a paranoid, violent, sadistic, misogynistic, and exceedingly primitive society desperately trying to use fear as a means of controlling the masses.

(At this point I feel like I should offer some advice for the religious parents out there who desperately want their kids to grow up to be proper Christians.  Do NOT let your kids read the Bible.  PERIOD.)

The last nail in the proverbial cross happened as a young adult as I was studying the book of John with another Pastor (who I still consider a friend, I might add).  Keep in mind that by this time I had already decided that Jesus likely didn't exist and god was a just a crutch, but I decided to give religion one more shot.  As I approached the end of my study though, I decided to take time and read the Bible again as an adult, free of predisposition.  Needless to say, I didn't make it far, because a rational adult cannot read those stories without being horrified by what's written within.  Because if an almighty god cannot get everything right the first time, where no interpretation - no translation - is necessary, then the christian god - just like Zeus, Ra, Neptune, Horus and Thor - cannot exist at all.

No, as a scientist I cannot say this with complete certainty.  Nor can I say that there aren't unicorns, or there aren't gnomes, or there isn't a purple dragon in Carl Sagan's garage.  But given the evidence, and the ever diminishing influence that god has on our world, it's the only rational conclusion I can reach.

Oh, and just in case you're thinking: "But science can't explain this..."

I give you a quote from Neil deGrasse Tyson:
"Is that how you want to play this game?  ... If that's how you want to invoke your evidence for god, then god is an ever receding pocket of scientific ignorance."

Now for the "angry" part.  I'll make this easy by presenting an example:
I just read that today that Richard Dawkins was shunned by the Wyndgate Country Club in Rochester Hills, Michigan.  After the owner of the country club saw Dawkins' interview on The O'Reilly Factor, the Wyndgate chose to discriminate against Dawkins (and his book tour) and break its contract.  Why?  What is it about a very influential scientist and outspoken rationalist that scares you, Wyndgate?

I hear over and over again how I'm supposed to "respect" other people's religious beliefs.  How can I possibly do that?  And how about this - why don't you earn my respect rather than simply demand it from me?

In case you missed it, discrimination makes me angry.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Victory in Little Rock?

I read today that the United Coalition of Reason has won a court battle with the Central Arkansas Transit Authority in Little Rock, Arkansas to display the "Good without god" ad on buses.  This is great news for a person like me, who considers himself a skeptic and also originates from that city and state.

What bothers me about this is the excuse that was used by the CATA.  The excuse, requiring an absurd $36,000 security deposit, was to "protect" their buses from vandalism.  (Also keep in mind that the CATA never asked this sum of any other advertisers.)  This request for a security deposit is nothing more than a means to an end: discrimination against a group of people based on a belief.  And I don't believe for a moment that the CATA asked the UCoR to pay more money just to protect themselves from vandals.  I'd be really gullible if I did, because aren't Christians above such behavior?

The CATA is quite simply using a stupidly high security deposit to try to prevent displaying a message that they don't like.  And to tell you the truth, many religious people do this.  Most of them don't even realize that they're doing it, either.  For example, many families threaten atheist members of their family to permanently disown them.  Some threaten their own kids that they'll kick them to the curb.  And *NEENER NEENER NEENER!* refuse to celebrate Christmas with them ever again!  PBTHBPBTHBPBTHB!!! :-P

(All it takes is a little research to find out where that holiday originates, but that's not the point of this post.)

But isn't everyone missing the point here?  A company is actually afraid of what the crackpot Christians will do to their property.  Seriously.

I've never quite understood what Christians are so afraid of when an atheist is nearby, or why some of them literally go mad when an atheist breaks their fragile little Jesus bubble.  You guys need to get over it and ask yourselves why you are so defensive.  But you know the answer - it's because deep down you know as well as we do, that god is a fairy tale, and Jesus never existed.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Year in Mortality

A year like this really starts to get to a person.

If losing my Granddad earlier this year wasn't bad enough, this morning I found out that a lovely woman that I graduated high school with has lost her battle with breast cancer.  Granted, we didn't hang out and I certainly didn't keep in touch with her.  But my heart goes out her husband and kids, because right now I simply cannot get myself to imagine what they must be going through.  (I played baseball with her husband on the high school team, and even though he was a year older, he never made me feel like I didn't belong.)

Okay, here I am.  I'm reaching the age where people my age are succumbing to health related issues rather than dying tragically in car accidents.  And not just anonymous people...  These people are in my group of friends, however distant they may be.  That's a little hard for me to swallow.  I've never found it easy to think of myself as being old enough to be in that age group.  Because in my mind, "Older people are the ones that are at risk!  Not me!"

Now I'm sure this is normal, since let's be honest, the human brain has a very difficult time even thinking of itself outside its body.  Give it a shot - it's really difficult to try to think about your brain being the thing that makes you, you.  But it's not just that.  I've also noticed that I have an equally hard time thinking of myself as being at risk for cancer or heart disease.

Yet, here I am...  I'm old enough to be in that age group.  I'm old enough to be heart broken thinking about a former friend, a father, a husband... going through the rest of his life without his beloved wife.  I cannot imagine what he must be thinking; how worried he must be for his kids.  And it brings me to tears to think about what she went through.  The pain she endured while the doctors fought to keep her own body from destroying itself.  And those final, precious few hours of life...  I know that she must have been thinking of nothing but her family and her kids and the millions and millions of tiny little things she will miss.

So thus far 2011, you can make like a tree, and get outta here.  You hurt me too much, and you made me think too much about the hard things in life.  I'll certainly be glad to finally put you behind me, 2011.

Assuming I make it, that is.