Aggregating Skeptical Thought

Don’t be a Dick

I need to rant and since none of my family knows about this blog (except the wife, who will yell at me for posting this) I feel safe in ranting about them. This is specifically about a family member who has become religious and recently joined the Catholic Church.  We’ll call him Dick (seems appropriate).

1) We (and most of my wife’s family) recently attended Dick’s confirmation in the Catholic Church. It was 3 freakin’ hours long but we were there to support him so that’s not my issue. My issue is that at the end of the service (which did I mention was in hour 3 @ 10:00 at night) they were doing communion. Dick’s brother, a practicing Protestant, went forward to take Communion and was BLOCKED from attending communion by Dick, because he wasn’t a Catholic and therefore unable to take communion*.

He was BLOCKED from taking part in a ritual affirming the divinity of Jesus and therefore in some small part BLOCKED from his own god, simply because he was “Them” and not an “Us”. What kind of arrogant, assbaggery is involved in Dick’s thought process. He later justified it by saying he stopped his brother because of how much “reverence the Church has for communion”. Oh, that makes sense… WTF? What does that even fucking mean?

Needless to say Dick’s brother was pissed but he blew if off and chose not to make a scene during Dick’s special day (all 3 freakin’ hours of it, not sure if I mentioned that).

2) Second, another Dick story. Since I’m venting I might as well let it all out. My wife was speaking with Dick on the phone about their father. Somehow in the conversation Dick thought my wife was talking about me (little ole’ heathen Skeptigator) being depressed, instead of their father. Dick proceeds to tell my wife that he can understand why I would be depressed since I don’t believe in God and therefore don’t have any reason for living my life. He actually said that, wait, let me bold that, ok done. Again my question stands, what kind of arrogant, assbaggery is involved in Dick’s thought process?

You know, Dick, if YOU don’t have a reason to live your life without an imaginary dictator in the sky, fine. But don’t tell ME I don’t have a reason for living my life, OK?….Dick. I have a gorgeous loving wife, and 2 of the most beautiful children on the planet (that’s an actual established fact).

You can pin a lot of this arrogance and Dick-ish behavior on Dick but let’s be honest. #1 is built-in to many religions, not the least of which is the Catholic church. So in all honesty Dick was being intellectually honest in his blocking of his brother’s access to their supposedly shared god. #2 is way too common among the masses. I’ve seen this exact statement made in other places but never thought it was more than hyperbole. How naive am I? Oh and to the religious who read this, most of you don’t comment but I do get emails. Before you tell me that this is not “True Christianity” or Dick isn’t living a Christ-like life, at least, read Matthew 15:22-28. I know the apologetics and I don’t buy it for a second, a dog is dog, the translation is correct, even if you take dog = pet approach it’s still an insult showing Jesus preference was to the Jews (or again just the disciples, depending on apologetic).

 * I understand that there are rules for allowing non-Catholics to take communion, some kind of blessing or something, either way, it’s not the point.

ETA: Credit for the updated title goes to hoverFrog.

Filed under: Atheism, Religion, ,

Lamb, The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal

Ok, I swear I will stop with all of the religious posts. I get on a kick sometimes and can’t stop. I swear this this the last one.

Instead of reading something weighty like Dawkins or Hitchens, I decided to take something a little more light-hearted. I chose to finish by religion-binge with Christopher Moore’s hilarious book Lamb: The gospel according to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal.

Surprisingly my first impression of this book is that it is not nearly as sacreligious as it could have been. In fact, unless you consider someone telling a fictional tale of Jesus’ missing years (from birth to about 30) as sacreligious in and of itself, then I would dare say that Christopher keeps the Jesus of Christianity intact.

Let me start by giving a brief synapsis of the book. Levi bar Alpheas (aka Biff) is risen from the dead by an angel into modern times and ordered to write a new Gospel of Jesus (Joshua’s) life. Biff has a unique perspective since he was Joshua’s best friend and was by Joshua’s side from 5 years old until his death on the cross. Biff tells his story filling in a number of the “blanks” left in the Gospels since most of the disciples/apostles that wrote the Gospels and beyond only knew Jesus from the time he started his ministry at age 30.

This book is absolutely hilarious, these are just 2 examples that had me laughing out loud (I think I might have scared the guy next to me on the plane).

 This excerpt takes place when Joshua and Biff are traveling to the East in search of the three wise men so that Joshua can learn how to be the Messiah, they are about 15 years old and are just about to meet the first wise man, Balthasar,

“I’m Joshua of Nazareth, ” Joshua said, trying to be casual, but his voice broke on Nazareth. “And this is Biff, also of Nazareth. We’re looking  for Balthasar. …

“Balthasar is no more of this world.” The dark figure reached into his robe and pulled out a glowing dagger, which he held high, then plunged into his own chest. There was an explosion, a flash, and an anguished roar as if someone had killed a lion. Joshua and I turned and frantically scratched at the iron door, looking for a latch. We were both making an incoherent terrorized sound that I can only describe as the verbal version of running, sort of an extended rhythmic howl that paused only when the last of each lungful of air squeaked out of us.”

and then again, after leaving Balthasar they have just been accepted into the Buddhist monastery of Gaspar where they have been given a list of all the rules they must follow, stripped of their identity and been assigned numbers, Joshua is Monk Number 22 and Biff is Monk Number 21, they are being given their first assignments lessons,

“Monk Number Twenty-two,” Gaspar said to Joshua, “you shall begin by learning how to sit.”
“I can sit,” [Biff] said.
“And you, Number Twenty-one, will shave the yak.”
“That’s an expression, right?”
It wasnt

I don’t know how funny these passages translate when taken out of the book but I’m laughing just thinking about Biff shaving that yak. Ouch.

Anyway, I hope you get a chance to read the book, it delves into a lot of Eastern philosophies, like Buddhism and Yoga that you can find evidence of in the New Testament. This book actually makes Jesus seem a lot more human than many in Christianity ever get a sense of. He fears, he laughs, he get angry, he cusses (ok that one might bug people), he is curious about sex, he loves, he feels guilt, he’s human and in this book unlike in the real Gospels, you get the feeling that Jesus actually understands what it is like to be human, not some holier-than-thou God/Man that no one ever has the hope of ever of even coming close to. 

Filed under: Religion, Reviews, , , , , , ,

I’m not feeling so good

I continue to work my way through Disinformation’s Everything You Know About God Is Wrong. (See more Brain Food). I have come to the following Chapter/Essay, whatever, titled simply, Philadelphia Grand Jury Report: On Abusive Priests and the Cardinals Who Enabled Them. It is just that the full Grand Jury Report from the 2005 investigation into sexual abuse by Catholic priests in the Philadelphia Archdiocese. Here’s the link to the full report, while not terribly long it is something you really need to be prepared to read.

I am normally pretty passive when people talk about their personal beliefs and only draw the line when it turns into proselytizing or begins to impact me and my family (through legislation, intolerance, etc.). I even make the occasional, “watch out for the Catholic priest” jokes. But after reading the grand jury report my stomach is quite literally nauseous and those jokes don’t seem so funny anymore.

63 priests (63!!!) were shuffled over decades (50+ years in one instance) through dozens of parishes (even out of the diocese when they ran out safe places within the diocese) and were (and continue to be) exposed to hundreds of children. These were systematically covered up by the all too willing Cardinals who were clearly more interested in protecting themselves and the image of the church than these children. People were fired for exposing this, children were beaten, ridiculed and suspended for daring to speak out. This was just one archdiocese.

And even worse, this abuse was so well documented even in the parish records yet no one can be convicted because the statute of limitations ran out. Statute of Limitations?!?!?!? Like what? Do the sodomized 8 year-old boys just get over their rape after 10 years or so? A certain Father Mulholland (who was documented by the Grand Jury in a handful of cases to have victims who were subjected to being bound and tortured and the simultaneous rape of 2 boys) is still an active member of the clergy (at the time of the report), yet the “events” took place too long ago and the statute of limitations has run out. WTF?????????

I have to somehow separate the acts of these perverts from the religion itself but how can you? How can you separate the actions of the men in charge of this religion from the obvious depravation with which they are managing their “flock”. And I’m not talking about the priests who did the molesting but the Cardinals in charge of an entire archdiocese, the very men who are but a level below the Pope himself (the supposed infallible heir to Jesus authority until his return). These guys had such overwhelming evidence (including confessions by the priests themselves) that this stuff was happening for decades by the same priests.

;alkdf;aldfjkl;asdjfl;akdj fl;adkjfasdkfjaklfjkl; asdjfkl;awdfjakl;j Sorry, got a little upset. Gotta stop thinking about it.

Technorati Atheism, Catholicism

Filed under: Science, , , ,

The Ethics of Reciprocity

I know I’m not covering any new ground here, in fact, this post contains a number of links to other sites that cover this very topic. I will however tell you why I’m writing this. I have 8 and 10 year-old boys. One of the things that I am trying to do is help them establish critical thinking skills without being heavy-handed or “preachy”. IMO one of the best ways to help illustrate certain concepts (especially moral concepts) is the use of stories. Quite frankly, this is where many religions have atheists beat. They have well-known stories and more structured mechanisms (Sunday school) for illustrating many of these concepts particularly to children.

Unfortunately, where many of these Sunday school sessions (yes I’m sticking with the let’s-only-pick-on-christians tactic) is they mix more universal concepts with rather more dubious stories. For example, the story of Cain and Abel is a good example of jealousy, murder and the idea of Reciprocity (Golden Rule). It does a good job of illustrating that if you don’t treat others the way you would want to be treated there are often long-term consequences to those actions.  Unfortunately, this story is mixed in with next weeks lesson on the fall of Jericho, where genocide is the order of business. How is a child supposed to distinguish the more universal Golden Rule concept from the Chosen People/Master Race/Us-vs.-Them logic?

For obvious reasons I don’t go to the Bible very often (read: ever) to illustrate a point. The Sunday school approach is very preachy but quite frankly it’s very effective. So the question is how does an atheist/secular humanist help reinforce those more universal concepts without a canned set of stories to refer to?

I’ve been more conscious of this question of late simply because my children have returned to school and they are being exposed to a lot of different children with different understandings of their parent’s beliefs (let’s be honest I doubt many 8 year olds are developing concepts of Hell without a little parental or …umm…. churchal? input).

Here is my thought process

  1. Identify “universal” moral concepts
  2. Understand the meaning of each concept and its development historically.
  3. “Arm” yourself with a few illustrative examples of each.

One of those items that I have identified as a biggy is the Ethics of Reciprocity or more commonly known in North America as The Golden Rule. This is perhaps one of the biggest but also easiest to illustrate. It usually doesn’t require a canned example because there is usually a very immediate example, like

  • “Quit punching your brother in the face, you wouldn’t want him to do that to you. Would you?”
  • “I wouldn’t put shaving cream in your brothers shoes, you wouldn’t want him to do that to you. Would you?”
  • “Do NOT spray your mother with the hose. She will smack the living…” Oh wait that’s something different.

Did I mention I have 8 and 10 year old boys? Anyway, in my search for clever ways to drill this point home I have stumbled across some resources that I thought would be helpful on this topic.

First, Dale McGowan wrote/compiled a great book for non-religious parents that covers this and many other topics. It’s title, Parenting Beyond Belief, which I might add is a great book and I think is a great book to give to believers as well. Not only can believers benefit as parents but I belive it will help to illustrate in very concrete terms that morality can be taught/reinforced without a single reference to a god or sacred text.

Hate to use the phrase “The Golden Rule” and think the “Ethics of Reciprocity” is too snooty? Check out’s list of 21 world religions with a similar belief.

Here are some links to humanist perspectives on The Golden Rule.

In general here are some websites for parenting:

When I get there I will probably post on some other items like the Scientific Method or what I call (I doubt I just made that up) the Ethics of Universality (“What if everyone did that?”).

Filed under: Atheism, Religion, , , , ,


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