Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Three young Muslims shot by atheist in what may have been hate attack

So I've been reading about an attack by an atheist against Muslims in North Carolina. Police are not yet releasing a motive for the shootings, in which three young people -- all Muslims -- were killed.

Links to the shooter's atheism are being noted by the media, and barring some personal grudge against the victims, it seems that religious hatred might well have been the cause here.

[Craig Stephen] Hicks, the alleged shooter, frequently shared links about atheism on what appears to be his Facebook page. One such post reads: “People say nothing can solve the Middle East problem, not mediation, not arms, not financial aid. I say there is something. Atheism.”

 The victims have been identified as

...Deah Barakat, 23, and Yusor Mohammad, 21, and Mohammad’s sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha...
 Whatever the motive, such violence is barbaric and should be condemned absolutely. If anti-theism was in actuality the deciding factor here, the case is perhaps even more tragic-- killing over God, or the lack of gods, is probably the most senseless reason for killing humankind has ever invented. Whether it is done by a religious person, or whether it is done by an atheist it is an absurd and obscene waste of human life.

My thoughts are with the families of the victims during this horrible time.

Update: details are still sparse, but police comments indicate that the shooting motive might have been an ongoing parking dispute...this doesn't mean that religion was not a factor, or even the primary  factor. More details to come as we learn more. It goes without saying, regardless of what the shooter's motivation, this is a horrible crime, and a senseless tragedy.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Jon Stewart leaving The Daily Show

Sad news, Daily Show fans...Jon Stewart is leaving the show. From Time:

Stewart announced his coming departure during the taping of Tuesday night’s show, and Comedy Central president Michele Ganeless confirmed it in a statement. It wasn’t immediately clear what Stewart’s next move will be, nor was it clear who would replace him or whether the show will continue.

There's not really much to say, except that this sucks, and I wish Stewart tons of luck whatever he does next. He's a brilliant comedian, and his fake news gig does a far better job than many of the real ones. Particularly the hacks from Bullshit Mountain, but others as well. 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Sunday Message for Christians who Believe in Public Prayer

Dear Conservative Christian,

Thank you for joining me a second week in a row, friend, for this special Sunday message. Last week we covered Matthew 25, and the moocher nation. Today, at the kindly suggestion of DailyKos user zenbassoon, we shall return to Matthew. This time, we'll open our Bibles to chapter 6.

The topic is the hypocrisy inherent to open displays of religiosity -- and, dear conservative reader, I must give you fair warning: you may be a little alarmed by what your dear Lord and Savior has to say on the matter.

1 Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.

2 Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

3 But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:

4 That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.

5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.

8 Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.

Alright, I trust you've had sufficient opportunity to pick yourself up off the floor after that shock? Good. So, let's dive into the substance of this piece. What is Jesus saying?

Well, in a nutshell, that insisting on praying in public is hypocritical showmanship. Boasting about how charitable you are is too. The prayer rallies, the public prayers before meetings, the national days of prayer...all this religiosity in the public square, that conservatives insist must happen for the sake of our nation, is actually hypocritical and runs contrary to the will of God. People who do that do not actually garner God's good will. I mean, at least if you take the word of the radical speaking in Matthew 6 as truth (who was that guy again?).

The right way to pray is to do it in private, in seclusion, without audiences (and cameras and publicity). I know, that's can you show off just how much the Bible means to you, if you're forced to act like you believe it?! Still, according to the Bible, it's the people who pray in secret who can look forward to rewards from heaven; the hypocrites who have to show off as they pray are out of luck.

And that, beloved, is our Sunday message. Check back next week for another – and thanks to all who offered suggestions!

Have a wonderful day,
This humble atheist

ICYMI: Frozen is bad news for boys, Jim Parsons (of Big Bang Theory) is going to hell, and threatening to use the One Ring will get you suspended in Texas

So I've had the chance to cover some really interesting stories at Friendly Atheist this past week. And a few of them had a tie-in to things near and dear to my heart: nerdy stuff. And cartoons, which, I have to admit somewhat abashedly, I still watch.

So, in reverse order, there was Fox and Friends' Steve Doocy discussing with the head of the conservative Christian women's group Concerned Women for America, Penny Nance, the hidden danger to boys of seeing a cartoon in which the main character man is not perfect. If you're in the mood for head-scratching comedy, I recommend watching the whole segment -- there's more gems in there than I could cover in one article. From the story:
After Doocy wondered what “message” these clips sent to boys, Nance revealed what she saw as the challenge this presents to good mothers.
… the question for us as moms when we bring our daughters to see Frozen or whatever the movie is, we often have our little boys sitting there, and is this message helpful? We want them to know they’re essential, we want to raise heroes, we want to raise real men that will stick in their families and be great dads and be great providers and great husbands.
There's more at Friendly Atheist, in case you need to know why watching Frozen will make your sons grow up to leave their future wives and kids, and be cowards. You know what they say about being forewarned!

My second fun story was the one about the Young Conservatives writer who is very, very concerned about Jim Parsons. You see, Jim is going to hell. And Young Conservatives' Michael Cantrell has the scoop on why The Big Bang Theory star has booked a permanent stay on the toasty shores of the Lake of Fire: because Parsons is playing God in a Broadway version of The Last Testament.

Since God will not be mocked, and the role mocks God...well, you know: Parson's destined for an eternal time-out at Satan's barbeque (which, supposedly, is worse than family barbeques -- your first clue that the hell claim is a load of nonsense).

Cantrell has a brilliant solution, though: Parsons should convert and repent. Again, more at the article. Suffice it to say, I'm sure Jim Parsons is quaking in his boots right now.

And, finally, there was the story of the Texas elementary student who was suspended for, of all things, threatening to unleash the power of the One Ring on a classmate, by making him disappear. Which was deemed a "terroristic threat sufficient to warrant suspension.

As someone who takes Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit pretty seriously (see: my blog title), I have to say...this seems like kind of, a tiny bit of, an overreaction... 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Sunday message to those Christians who scream about our "moocher" nation

Dear Conservative Christian:

That's right, you. You, with the Facebook page full of the Obama-is-the-Devil and God-is-love messages. You, who are simultaneously incensed over the idea of women having the option of abortion, and the government checking to make sure the people who buy guns aren't convicted killers. You, who simultaneously throws a conniption fit if someone suggests maybe cutting military spending by a little, while throwing fits about all the money we're wasting on feeding school children. You, who thinks Gateway Pundit and Fox are news sources, and the Bible is a scientific text. That's right, I'm talking to you.

You like the Bible a lot. You use it all the time. Chances are, you've used it to suggest that gay people shouldn't be allowed to get married. You probably think the Bible is the ultimate argument against abortion. There's a pretty good chance that you think God led white Christians to what would become the United States of America to establish a nation in his honor...and that the Bible predicted it would happen. So let's talk Bible.

Today's message comes from the book of Matthew, chapter 25. The portion of interest to us today discusses Jesus' prophesied return, how God will separate the sheep and goats, how he will choose the righteous from the unrighteous. The criteria is pretty interesting -- so, dear readers, let us open our Bibles to Matthew 25, starting at verse 31.

31 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:

32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:

33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:

42 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:

43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.

44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?

45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.

46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
(emphasis added)
Now, this is certainly a passage of scripture that is often ignored by your political party, so I understand, dear conservative reader, if you are unfamiliar with the text. I encourage you, however, to read it. Mull it over. Think about it. Because, if you believe the God proposition presented in the Bible, this is a pretty clear charge: take care of your fellow man, go to heaven. Let your fellow man languish in hunger, ill health, etc., and there's, well, pretty much fire and brimstone to look forward to.

And if you're about to say "oh, but that doesn't mean the government -- that means private charity!" ... or any equally inane fallback...don't. Charity and churches aren't and historically have never adequately handled the problem. If you're actively opposing efforts to feed or clothe the poor, provide healthcare to those without it, comfort to the strangers in your midsts, etc., according to the Bible, ye did it to God as well.

And while I am a mere atheist, who doesn't actually believe that your God exists, I'm actually very much in accord with the sentiment of caring for those who need help. And you're not. Which is to say, that I -- an atheist -- and every person out there who is opposed to starving the poor, depriving people of healthcare, etc., are more closely aligned to your God than you. And, really, when you and your party are shrillest voices proclaiming the supremacy of Christ, it should worry you when you are the least like him; it should worry you when liberal atheists have more in common with your religion's idea of Christ than you do.

And that, beloved, is Sunday's message. (Check back next Sunday for a new message).
In reason and love,

A humble atheist

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Does the GOP have ANYONE considering a run who isn't a fraud, a lunatic, a bully, a narcissist, or utterly devoid of compassion?

A foreshadowing of the GOP primary debates?
So I was running through the list of potential candidates for the GOP presidential primaries -- that is, those Republican luminaries who have already indicated that they will, or might, be throwing their hats in the ring...and I can't think of a single one who is not dishonest, insane, a joke, or utterly lacks compassion toward his or her fellow man. Here's the list I've got. Please tell me there's someone I'm missing, some shining star of rationality and humanity to lead the GOP out of the caves they've so happily inhabited these last six years. Because this is a pretty sad list.

- Sarah Palin. I'm not sure I have to say too much about this because, come on, it's Sarah Palin. When Palin first broke onto the political scene, she was an eager, albeit green, politician. My, what six years can do. Since then, Palin has devolved into a sort of Ted Cruz with a drinking problem -- irresistibly drawn to the spotlight, good at the sort of stunts that consistently keep her in the media's spotlight, highly skilled at divide-and-conquer politics, but seemingly incapable of putting forth anything meaningful or useful for the nation.

- Speaking of Ted Cruz. The Junior Senator from Texas who consistently inspires headlines like "5 craziest things Ted Cruz just said at the Values Voters Summit" and "The Eight Craziest Things Ted Cruz Said At Values Voter Summit". And, keep in mind, these were different Values Voters Summits, in different years. The senator who championed a government shutdown. And then blamed Democrats, when it didn't play as well to the public as he thought it would. Future President Cruz? No thanks!

- Scott Walker. Since I mentioned divide-and-conquer politics above, it seems a good time to mention my state's Scott Walker. I've devoted a lot of space on my blog to our governor, who ridicules public workers, attacks unions, is so in love with fetuses that he doesn't think pregnant women have a right-to-life, and has a long history of crooked politics and making favorable deals to donors. And that seems to barely scratch the surface. Suffice it to say, if you're not wealthy, Republican, male, conservatively Christian, straight, and white, you're at best not on Walker's radar -- or, worse yet, the focus of his brand of "small government". Despite assuring Wisconsinites that he would finish his second term if re-elected, as the Magic 8 ball might say, all signs point to "yes", he's running.

- Donald Trump. This one doesn't even need further explanation. Trump has a history of publicly speculating on runs, so this might be just a(nother) bluff. Pretty please?

- Ben Carson. Dr. Ben Carson, the GOP's favorite plagiarist and ISIS-fanboy, thinks God is eying him for a presidential run. On the other hand, he would probably end up one of our most quotable presidents. "It came to me just this afternoon that four score and seven years ago..." "Don't you know, we have nothing to fear but fear itself..."

- Mike Huckabee. In past lives, Huckabee has been a preacher, a politician and a right-wing television personality -- and he seems to be a walking embodiment of the worst aspects of all three. He believes we live in a "humanistic, secular, atheistic, and even antagonistic toward Christian faith" theocracy. He thinks people can just ignore Supreme Court rulings they don't like. And those are just a few of the insane comments he's made in the past week or so.

Visual approximation of Republican presidential
candidate Rick Santorum
- Rick Santorum. Speaking of religious nutjobs, there's Rick Santorum. The guy who thinks the Pope is too liberal and out of touch with the Holy Spirit on reproductive rights. The man whose obsession with gay sex earned him his own place in Urban Dictionary. If you hate birth control and gay people with a consuming passion, or really crave the rise of the sweater vest, Santorum's your guy. Otherwise, probably not so much.

- Mitt Romney. Remember Mr. 47%, who definitely, absolutely, without a doubt was not going to run again? Alas, not necessarily true. Romney might have taken the "third time's the charm" phrase a little too literally, but can we at least hope he lives by "three strikes and you're out"?

- Jeb Bush. Another Bush. Really, do I have to explain? I didn't think so.

- Chris Christie. Christie hasn't officially confirmed his intentions. But it looks like he's on track for a run. Whereas "Cruz" and "crazy" are headline companions you'll see a lot, "Christie" and "bully" are a match made in New Jersey hell. This professional has no problem berating the people he's (supposedly) serving as "idiots" and more. If you want a president who is as likely to stuff you in a locker and swipe your lunch money as listen to your opinion, Christie's your man.

- Carly Fiorina. While conservatives might love her for her opinions that war on women is "shameless, baseless propaganda", and her own shameless rehashing of Benghazi lies, at least one GOP strategists has identified her as a potential secret weapon to defeating Hillary: "The most effective way to criticize a woman is to have another woman do it."

- Rick Perry. I've only got three things to say about Perry: he's a typical anti-woman, anti-education, anti-science, pro-monied interests Republican; he is a man made for the internet age; and...that is...I can't, the third...oops!

- Marco Rubio. Jon Stewart knows that Rubio is a thirsty man, but it seems he's also hungry -- power hungry, at least. The biggest problem with Rubio seems to be his do-anything-for-power attitude. When it's cool to be dumb in the party, Rubio feigns ignorance of science -- although he often struggles to bring himself to outright denial. His positions on immigration are constantly seeming to evolve. He's the kind of candidate who says whatever sounds good at the moment. And then walks it back or re-frames to the next audience.

- Rand Paul. Another prominent Republican who seems to have his eyes on the presidency, Paul is more savvy at appealing to general audiences than many of his colleagues. He, for instance, tries to frame himself in interviews as more-or-less moderate on issues like abortion...while attacking abortion rights and supporting legislation that is anything but. Still, every once in awhile, the inner Republican breaks when he suggested the other day that "over half" of disability claimants are essentially fraudsters. Or how the solution, or a primary part of it, to poverty and violence in poor communities is a spiritual one.

- Bobby Jindal. The biology major who somehow just can't bring himself to have an opinion on evolutionary science...although he wants his kids to learn it. Who can't make up his mind about common core. Who wants to cut education funding so much in Louisiana that even some Republicans are in opposition, saying it'll set the state "back generations". Why? Because (like Scott Walker, in WI, and Chris Christie in NJ) his masterful governing is leaving the state with massive budget shortfalls. Republomics are amazing, aren't they?

- Steve King. While King has been doing a lot to raise speculation, he says he's not running. But he's not ruling a run out, either. King is perhaps most famous for his defense of dog fighting. Which started out crazy, and got even worse, resulting in a follow up rant in which he declared that he thought dog fighting should be legal, since it was legal for a man to rape a child and force her to get an abortion. Which is not only totally wrong, but, well, just a little batshit crazy. Which, really, is a pretty accurate general description of King.

- Allen West. West is another one of the folks God has his eyes on. According to him. West is a friendly guy, whose only downsides are that he likes torturing prisoners. And hates atheists. And Muslims. And women. And...well, you get the point.

This is, I think, a comprehensive list of Republican presidential hopefuls at the moment. I repeat, please tell me I've overlooked someone brilliant and thoughtful, or at least not a selfish, greedy, egotistical, malicious or insane person, because this is just...scary. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Ted Cruz encourages GOP to "lighten up", "crack a joke"

In a stunning show of ingratitude to the party that promoted him to the national scene, Ted Cruz criticized the GOP for lacking a sense of humor. Or at least for failing to display it more often.

The junior Senator from the State of Texas was at a South Carolina Tea Party Coalition Convention this past Sunday, and he seemed -- amid jokes and "an apparent Russian accent" -- to be making a case for the viability of a Cruz presidential run. Which is either a display of extraordinary self-delusion, or his best punchline of the event.

During his talk, Cruz had little good to say about nominating moderate Republicans -- the "mushy middle", as he termed them. Which, it should be noted, still means anti-women, anti-immigrant, anti-gay, anti-science and anti-poor; moderate, in the Republican lexicon, has come to mean something just left of Absolute Batshit Crazy -- the spot on the scale that is, it seems, science-denying, government-closing Senator Cruz's goal. But the most interesting comments came when he made his case for why humorless politicians don't make good presidential candidates.
“Would it kill Republicans to crack a joke?” he said. “I actually think for some Republicans it might. You know, lighten up a little. … So many Republicans run a Soviet-style campaign.”  
He proceeded to demonstrate, in a mock Russian accent: “‘This is a Politburo! You do that! You do that! You do that!’ And a lot of young people are like, ‘Forget that!’” 
 Of course, if the uptight politician he had in mind was former (and, possibly, future?) GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, Cruz' advice is perhaps more dangerous than anything. The issue with Romney's jokes weren't that there were too few of them, but that they were delivered in awkward fashion, and, well, weren't funny.

But if Cruz thinks Romney's lack of humor gives him an advantage, he should reconsider. It may be true that robots don't tell great jokes, but it's certainly true that jokes don't make great presidential candidates...