Saturday, April 28, 2007

Author to Prove God's Existence

Ray Comfort, the best-selling author of "God Doesn't Believe in Atheists", and Kirk Cameron of Growing Pains fame, have challenged the makers of The Blasphemy Challenge to a debate on ABC
in which they plan to prove, scientifically and without the use of faith, the existence of God. Kirk Cameron puts evolution in his cross hairs, "Evolution is unscientific. In reality, it is a blind faith that's preached with religious zeal as the gospel truth. I'm embarrassed to admit that I was once a naïve believer in the theory. The issue of intelligent design is extremely relevant at the moment. Atheism has become very popular in universities--where it's taught that we evolved from animals and that there are no moral absolutes. So we shouldn't be surprised when there are school shootings." This should be fun. The debate airs on Saturday, May 5th.

Read the original article on ChristianNewsWire. (Thanks, Wendy!)

Update: The debate went ahead as scheduled, and you can see it on the ABC website. If you've followed these sorts of things in the past, you will have heard all the arguments before. Needless to say, God was not proven 100% and irrefutably, and it's a pity that such a high-profile forum featured the arguments of Christians who don't even accept evolution.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Psychics Fail to See Complete Shutdown

From CBS3 in Philadelphia: A sweeping raid by Licenses and Inspections led to misfortune for Philadelphia fortune tellers as all psychic businesses were shut down due to a decades old city law.

The seers, including five fortune tellers, were unable to foresee the issuance of cease operation and stop work orders from L&I Wednesday. Psychic Monica was stunned to see the notice that her license was revoked, essentially shutting down her business. "Unfortunately I wasn’t able to predict this," said Psychic Monica.

Read the rest of the article here. (Thanks, Wendy!)

Update (2/27/08): Another article about the same event on MSNBC.

Portraits of Mass Consumption

Take a look at some of these startling and sobering images by Chris Jordan. They help to visualize some of the mind-boggling statistics of just how much stuff we use each day: soda cans, plastic bags, cell phones, vehicles. The list goes on and on.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Awkward Bible Passages Part III

"When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. When the LORD your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the LORD your God gives you from your enemies. This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby.

"However, in the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the LORD your God has commanded you. Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the LORD your God.

"When you lay siege to a city for a long time, fighting against it to capture it, do not destroy its trees by putting an ax to them, because you can eat their fruit. Do not cut them down. Are the trees of the field people, that you should besiege them? However, you may cut down trees that you know are not fruit trees and use them to build siege works until the city at war with you falls."
- Deuteronomy 20:10-20 (NIV)

For the third installment of Awkward Bible Passages (that's right, the titles use Roman numerals - you did not miss 99 installments), we find the Lord of Hosts (literally, Lord of Armies) commanding things that are better described as immoral and despicable, rather than merely awkward. There is no justifying these words, so let's just look at the laundry list of atrocities. Nations that are far away from Israel get the special treatment of a "peace" option. This means that all their people will become slaves of the Israelites (wait, I thought the moral of the Exodus story was that slavery is bad). If they refuse, the men are murdered, and the women/children/livestock are taken as plunder. I'm going to go on a limb and say that this also encouraged rape - even if they married the foreign women, taking a wife by force after murdering her husband is not consensual in my book.

The nearby nations - six entire tribes/cities are named - don't even get the option of slavery. God commands the Israelites to completely obliterate them, leaving nothing alive that breathes (including women, children and livestock). Fruit-bearing trees are valued above human life, as they can be of use in feeding the Israelites.

The words of a loving God to his chosen people? You decide. Either God did not inspire the Bible, or he is not good at all.

When Parents Attack

Yikes! This is an extremely frightening video clip of a Catholic mother's response when her son admits he no longer believes in God. I don't know if this is real or not, but it's certainly not comfortable to watch. Warning, there is some harsh language here. Notice how the man sitting nearby (I assume he's the dad) avoids getting involved. This makes me all the more thankful that my own parents were far more understanding and gracious when I told them I no longer believe in the supernatural. As a parent myself, I realize the importance of communicating to my son that my love for him will never be affected by his beliefs, whatever they may be. When he's old enough, that is - he's only five now. (Thanks, Sherri!)

Stark Contrasts

Most of you have probably heard about this already, but hopefully it bears repeating. It has long been understood that, for a politician, denying the existence of God is career suicide. An oft-quoted Gallup poll in 1999 revealed that, when asked whether they would vote for an otherwise qualified candidate who happened to be an "X", Americans responded thusly: African American (95%), Catholic (94%), Woman (92%), Jew (92%), Homosexual (59%), Atheist (49%). Granted, all these numbers were up from 1978 levels, but being an atheist was still the surest way to lose support. [source]

In October 2006, the Secular Coalition for America initiated a contest offering $1,000 to anyone who could identify the highest-ranking U.S. elected official who holds no belief in God. The result was the public identification (with his permission, naturally) of Pete Stark, a Democratic U.S. Representative of San Francisco's East Bay, as a non-theistic Unitarian Universalist. A well-respected politician who, at the age of 75, has held his current position since 1973, Pete Stark made a statement that, "Like our nation's founders, I strongly support the separation of church and state. I look forward to working with the Secular Coalition to stop the promotion of narrow religious beliefs in science, marriage contracts, the military and the provision of social services."

The roughly 8-10% of the U.S. population that doesn't believe in God was delighted to find that at least 1 of the 535 members in the House and Senate (0.187%) openly shares their views. Of course, others looked less kindly upon this development. The Christian Seniors Association declared it "A sad first in the history of Congress," and issued a press release urging other members of the House of Representatives to state their belief in God at the conclusion of speeches on unrelated matters. Well, you can't please 'em all.

Read more from the San Francisco Chronicle.
Pete Stark's Congressional site.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Roy Zimmerman Teaches Creation Science 101

Roy Zimmerman is one of my favorite singers; an irreverent political satirist / folk guitarist in the spirit of Tom Lehrer. If you've never heard him before, join the 589,880 others who have seen his excellent comedic distillation of the Creationist movement: "Creation Science 101." I was there when he performed it (at the 2006 Skeptics Society Conference "The Environmental Wars").

If you like that, check out some other favorites of mine: "Defenders of Marriage," "Jerry Falwell's God," and the new gem, "Ted Haggard is Completely Heterosexual." Still not satisfied? Find more of his videos on YouTube, or visit his website to purchase CDs.

There's One Place Like Home

A newly-discovered extrasolar planet, dubbed Gliese 581 C, orbits a red-dwarf star 20.5 light years away from us and one-third the mass of our own sun. So far, it is the best candidate for a planet like our own potentially capable of harboring life. This is the smallest planet of the three known to exist in that solar system, yet it still weighs in at five times the mass of Earth. And even though Gliese 581 C is 15 times closer to its sun than we are to ours, that star is a lot dimmer, placing the planet within a "Goldilocks zone," or habitable zone, meaning its temperature ranges are anomalous to Earth's (32-104 degrees Fahrenheit). Computer models also predict that Gliese 581 C is either rocky or perhaps covered in liquid water. We'd have a better idea if the planet's orbit passed between its sun and our instruments. Of all the extrasolar planets found so far, this is the smallest one yet. As planets don't emit light, they must be detected by their subtle effects on a distant star's light or wobble to its rotation.

Read more on MSNBC or The New York Times

Why Do Atheists Let Bad Things Happen?

If you have grown weary of rational thinking, the antidote can be found in a blog entry by Dinesh D'Souza titled, "Where Is Atheism When Bad Things Happen?" In it, D'Souza points to the recent and horrific shooting at Virginia Tech (in which 32 individuals died), and wonders why atheists have been so poorly represented in public ceremonies commemorating the tragedy. Because Richard Dawkins hasn't been flown in to give a talk to the grieving families (in typical form for believers lacking arguments, D'Souza attacks the eminent British zoologist, in this particular case with a straw man representation of Dawkins' moral foundations), society needs something more than what science has to offer. Of course, this is in no way an argument for the truth claims of religion (though I wonder if D'Souza even realizes this), let alone a specific religion. But it is interesting that D'Souza attempts to foist religion's problem of theodicy (why does a good God allow evil things to happen, especially to innocent people?) upon atheists.

A proper and qualified response has already been written by a professor at the school, "An Atheist at Virginia Tech", and I recommend that you read it. I'd like to add a few thoughts of my own:

The reason believers flood into churches after disasters like school shootings, September 11th, or the 2004 tsunami, is that they want to be reminded why God is good. The reason they need to be reminded is that God does not seem particularly real or good at such times. God is a lot easier to believe in when everything is going well (or when we are able to ignore misery elsewhere in the world), but when grief comes rushing into our lives, believers fight to hold onto their notion of God all the more. The ministers tell them that we live in a world of physical laws, and that these laws cannot be abrogated all the time (God is only credited for intervening when particularly good things happen or when disaster is avoided). But surely an omnipotent God could have foiled the killer's plan in the first place, or turned Cho Seung-Hui's life around before he became homicidal, or enabled someone on campus to stop the act, or even cause the bullets to miss or the guns to jam. If any of these things had happened to prevent the violence (sometimes murder plots are foiled), God would have been given ample praise. There are even some ministers who, in the aftermath of tragic events, play the blame game and try to figure out who sinned, as the terrible event must be punishment from that same loving God. That is another way to reconcile a "good" God with reality, but a particularly unsavory one in my estimation.

Atheists do not waste time with these imaginary problems. Nor do we answer senseless brutality like that committed by Cho Seung-Hui with senseless explanations and speculation. Instead, we focus on real ways to comfort and explain. We comfort the grieving in whatever way we can, with long hugs, letters of consolation, and expressions of sympathy. We try to explain by looking for clues in the psychology and environment of the killer, and construct ways to prevent such horrible loss in the future. We remember how fragile life is, and we are reminded to cherish the ones we love who are still living. We commemorate the dead, share stories about why we loved them, and do what we can to carry on their legacies. We don't try to make sense of their loss, because it was a senseless act that caused it.

At the same time, we realize that the other 90% of the population does believe in a God, and we do not interrupt their prayers or sermons. There is a time for discussion and debate, and another person's period of intense personal grief is not that time. (Thanks to Wendy for the links.)

Monday, April 23, 2007

The God Disillusion

From the New York Times... I just read a review of the book Easter Everywhere, the memoir of a woman whose father was an on-again, off-again Lutheran minister. He had serious doubts, and out of his own uncertainty would never give his daughter a straight answer when she tried to get his input on difficult theological questions. He'd give her some candy, or change the subject. As a result, she spent years trying to resolve the problems herself. It is sad to see the sort of confusion we artificially pile on when we assume theology is a proper explanation, and yet can't make heads or tails of how it really explains the world. It seems to force adherents to block out contrary evidence and cling to fundamentalism, or embrace a wishy-washy faith that doesn't even care to ask tough questions and challenge assumptions. I can't tell you how many Christians I've heard say, "I don't really care how the world was created." What? You don't?! Why ever not? Are you made of wood?

This is one of the reasons that I care enough to keep talking with believers and writing blogs and whatnot. It's less a matter of who's right and wrong; rather, who has given up the desire to fight and struggle for understanding.

The God Disillusion (Thanks to Scott for the link)

Deep Astronomy

Need a dose of perspective? Looking for a sense of awe? See this video about the Hubble's deep field photography.

The Hubble Deep Field (Thanks, Wendy!)

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Respect the Believer, Question the Belief

I think some readers have gotten the false impression, primarily from my participation in The Blasphemy Challenge, that I am somehow hostile to persons of faith. I should make it clear that many of my best friends, and people I look up to in many ways, are believers. Three years ago I too was a believer, and I don't think I was much less moral or intelligent then. There is little correlation, and certainly no causation, to be drawn between an individual's belief set and her capacity for kindness or intelligence.

Christians have long faced a PR problem when taking a stance against what they see as sin in the lives of others: how to show proper disdain for actions they consider sinful while still showing care and love to the individuals they wish to help find happiness. Stated otherwise, how to be in the world and not of it. From this perceived conflict came the phrase, "Love the sinner, hate the sin."

As non-believers of conscience, we face a similar problem: how to take a stand against unnecessary superstition while not demeaning the people who feel they need it. To accomplish this, I wish to promote a parallel attitude and aphorism: "Respect the believer, question the belief."

If we are to engage in open discussion and really work toward truth, we have to get past the barriers that make us afraid to question assumptions and ideologies. In accepting The Blasphemy Challenge, I took a stand not against people of faith, but the tactic of fear and the corrosive notion of blasphemy. No belief worth having should be so fragile and indefensible that it need be defended by proclaiming as blasphemer, heretic or fundamentalist anyone who offers dissent.

On the other hand, I have sympathy toward many criticisms of The Blasphemy Challenge. Its result is often to anger and to offend, and certainly this is not helpful. When broaching these subjects in person, my attitude and set of arguments vary from person to person and time to time, depending on a variety of factors. Sometimes it is good just to hear someone out, and at other times a little bit of good-natured parody is appropriate. At other times, the truth just needs be said outright, with no sugar coating. The difficulty in posting a statement online is the loss of ability to perform that customization, and those for whom the message is not tailored are left only to be offended.

To those individuals, I wish to state my intent to engage in real discussion. I don't dismiss you, and if you have arguments in favor of belief, or supporting evidence, I'd like to hear it. I can be swayed by reasoning and evidence. I proved that three years ago.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Awkward Bible Passages Part II

"From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some youths came out of the town and jeered at him. 'Go on up, you baldhead!' they said. 'Go on up, you baldhead!' He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the LORD. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths. And he went on to Mount Carmel and from there returned to Samaria."
- II Kings 2:23-25 (NIV)

In this, our second installment of Awkward Bible Passages, we find the prophet Elisha (not to be confused with Elijah, who got swept up to heaven by a whirlwind earlier in the chapter) innocently making his way to Bethel. At least 42 young people emerge from the town (must have been a really boring town) to ridicule Elisha's follicly-challenged head. This is clearly a sensitive issue for Elisha, and he calls upon the almighty to defend his pride. Yahweh sees it as fit punishment to unleash two bears upon 42 of the youths (presumably, the worst offenders). The King James version says the bears are she bears, and we know mother bears can be especially edgy, but surely they did not confuse Elijah's bald head for one of their cubs? One also wonders why the bears were able to attack 42 of the youths. If you were an incorrigible and unscrupulous youth and saw your comrades mauled by the bears, surely you'd flee for safety. The bears would have to be pretty darn fast or unrelenting to maul 21 apiece. Try to visualize this scenario; it's hard to do. Some try to defend this passage by saying the "youths" were in their twenties or thereabouts, not children. Like that somehow makes being maimed by a bear fair punishment for teasing a bald man.

Update: Come to think of it, why didn't Elisha just call upon the Lord to give him more hair? That would have still shut the youths up, without anyone getting mauled.

Biggest Conspiracy Ever

No matter what you believe... No matter what you've been told... They are here. The biggest secret in the history of our world is about to be revealed! Words you were never meant to hear... "It's clear we're dealing with a cosmic Watergate." Photos you were never meant to see... Video you never knew existed... People you were never meant to meet... "Essentially, everything you'd want to know has been covered up." Things you were never meant to know about... "We are dealing with a big, big story."

This is only a smattering of the hyperbole you'll feast upon at the website for the documentary Fastwalkers. (Thanks, Wendy!)

Early Christian Writings

Have you ever thought, "It would sure be interesting to read those alternate books that didn't make it into the Bible!"? Or have you pondered in quiet moments, "When were these books written, anyway?" Well, wait and wonder no more! The website Early Christian Writings is a wonderful and free resource with links and information on everything from The Gospel of Thomas to the Anti-Marcionite Prologues, and the writings of early church fathers such as Irenaeus, Polycarp and Origen. Witness the birth of specific concepts, such as the Trinity (Theophilus, and later, Tertullian), Satan as the snake in the Garden (Justin Martyr), or purgatory (wait, no, that was invented much later). Get a better feel for the order in which the books of the New Testament were written, and how they fit in with alternate accounts.

I particularly recommend reading The Infancy Gospel of James (how would Caravaggio have depicted the tale of Mary's fiery vagina in Chapter 20?) and The Infancy Gospel of Thomas (Jesus was quite the enfant terrible in his youth!), both written circa 140-170.

Jesus Was No Vegetarian

In its latest ploy for attention, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has been driving around in an Airstream trailer modified to house a sculptural (if not scriptural) representation of the last supper. Instead of his traditional disciples, Jesus is flanked in Dallas artist Greg Metz's art piece by the likes of Paul McCartney, lesbian singer K.D. Lang, Gandhi, Einstein, Kafka, and Leonardo da Vinci. The table before them is spread with a healthy looking assortment of plastic vegetables. On the opposite side of the trailer, visitors are confronted with horrific photos of the worse abuses in slaughter houses. Inside, they can catch a screening of the film "Meet Your Meat," narrated by Alec Baldwin.

The mobile unit has proved very effective thus far, but critics have pointed out that Jesus (at least, according to the gospels) was no vegetarian. Consider the following verse from Luke 24:41-43: "He asked them, 'Do you have anything here to eat?' They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence." Read the original articles:

Jesus is a Vegetarian in PETA Campaign
Was Jesus a Vegetarian?

The Antichrist May Drive A Hybrid

Wait, stop the press! I guess Jerry Falwell and Tim LaHaye were wrong. According to Cardinal Giacomo Biffi, 78, in a Lenten speech given at request of the Vatican, the Antichrist will be "a pacifist, ecologist and ecumenist." This environmentally friendly Antichrist will destroy Christianity from within by watering down its doctrines and reducing it to an ideology. But at least he'll help cut carbon emissions by 80% in 2050. Cardinal Biffi, the retired Archbishop of Bologna, cited the revelations of Vladimir Solovyov, a 19th century Russian philosopher and mystic. I guess we have to take this seriously, because when's the last time you've heard of Solovyov getting something wrong? What's that... you've never even heard of Solovyov? I think we can still safely rule out Britney Spears as the Antichrist.

Article at The Times (thanks to SA for the link)

Britney Spears is the Antichrist?

Aw, man. When I started a blog (all of two days ago), I didn't think I would ever write anything about Britney Spears. Oh well; I couldn't pass this up. Allegedly, while in rehab, she wrote the numbers 666 on her forehead, ran about screaming, "I am the Antichrist!", and even tried to hang herself with a bed sheet. Of course, there's no way she can be the Antichrist. As eminent theologians like Jerry Falwell and Tim LaHaye have informed us, the Antichrist will probably be a Jew from Romania, and possibly a clone.

Read more at (thanks to SA for the link)

Rabbi Wants to Renew Animal Sacrifice

Animal sacrifices should be renewed on the Temple Mount, a member of the radical Sanhedrin organization told Ynetnews.

In ancient Israel and Judea, the Sanhedrin served as the highest court in the land, and was made up of 71 top judges. Now, a group of fringe rabbis say they have reformed the group, although the organization has received no recognition from Israel's official religious authorities.

"In the Torah there are around 200 commandments [Ross's note: that's nearly a third of the 613 commandments in the Torah!] dealing with animal sacrifices," said Rabbi Dov Stein, of the Sanhedrin organization. "The Torah of Israel demands animal sacrifices. When the people of Israel were in the Diaspora, it couldn’t be done. But now, there is the supreme institution, the Sanhedrin, made up of experts, and it can be done. The new Sanhedrin, like the old, will educate the people of Israel on how to keep and safeguard the Torah."

Read the rest of the article here (thanks to for the link)

Non-Religious Funerals on the Rise in Britain

More than 30,000 funerals in Britain last year were nonreligious, as families turn increasingly to "celebration-of-life" ceremonies rather than church services, according to new figures.

The rise is being attributed to people's growing willingness to admit that they are non-believers, and to their desire to avoid "hypocrisy".

Ten years ago, a funeral without a minister of religion and reference to God was virtually unheard of but increasingly, services are presided over by a "celebrant" and involve poems instead of psalms, while mourners are often asked to wear something bright rather than black.

Read the rest of the article here (thanks to for the link)

Robert Ingersoll

Robert Green Ingersoll [1833-1899] was a popular orator of the 19th century who spoke boldly and artfully about the virtues of reason, the vices of religion, the rights of women, and the cruelties of slavery. It is amazing to hear a voice from over a century ago that still holds so much currency. It is equally amazing that so few people have heard of him. Do yourself a favor and listen to these recordings (read and produced by James Carr of Simi Valley, CA) with your feed aggregator of choice (read: iTunes).

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Awkward Bible Passages Part I

"The people of Samaria must bear their guilt,
because they have rebelled against their God.
They will fall by the sword;
their little ones will be dashed to the ground,
their pregnant women ripped open."
- Hosea 13:16 (NIV)

Welcome to my new series, Awkward Bible Passages. This will be a showcase of selections from the Bible difficult to reconcile with Christian theology, incredibly violent and hate-filled, commonly overlooked, or just plain not-fit-for-Sunday-School. Fortunately (or unfortunately), there is plenty of material ripe for the picking. It may behoove you to memorize some of these, and show them to your believing friends. They will often be accompanied by my own commentary, though some [such as the one above] speak for themselves. Note, these gruesome lines from Hosea are claimed to be the words of Yahweh spoken through his prophet.

"Most people are bothered by those passages of Scripture they do not understand, but the passages that bother me are those I do understand." – Mark Twain

I'll do my best to keep things in context, and references are linked to's website for quick reference. Unless otherwise noted, all citations are from the New International Version (NIV), © Zondervan.

Science and Faith Explained

Win $50,000!

Now that you've finished your taxes, wouldn't an extra $50,000 just hit the spot? Well, here's your chance! All you have to do to qualify is demonstrate paranormal or supernatural powers. And what might those be, you ask?

Here's a few abilities that have historically been claimed, but no one has ever demonstrated under observable conditions: levitation, mind reading, telepathic communication, telekinesis, remote viewing, dowsing, faith healing, foretelling the future, or talking to the dead (and getting them to talk back).

There's many more! If you know someone who says they can do any of the above, and you're tired of saying, "that's nice," or "good for you," you can say "prove it," and direct them to The Independent Investigations Group website. IIG West is located in Hollywood, CA, and will help the applicant design a mutually agreed upon testing protocol. If you pass their test and win the $50,000, you can apply for James Randi's $1,000,000 challenge. Think of all the money you or your laws-of-physics-defying friend can rake in! Don't need the money? Donate it to your favorite charity!

Many people have the idea that "someone out there" really has the ability to do these things. Well, we'd like to find them. Spread the word.

The Blasphemy Challenge

My response to The Blasphemy Challenge. If you haven't heard of this yet, it's a public campaign from the Rational Response Squad encouraging non-believers to openly deny the existence of the Holy Spirit. In Mark 3:29 and Luke 12:10, Jesus warns that, "Anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven." Doing just that on the world wide web, I hope to make it clear that Jesus' warning is one false dilemma I won't be losing sleep over. It's too late to secure a DVD copy of "The God Who Wasn't There" for the mere cost of your immortal imaginary soul, but it's never too late make a statement and a stand for reason.

The Atheist Blogroll

In my never-ending quest to mimic the Anonymous Coward, I have not only created a new blog on Blogger, but have added the Atheist Blogroll to my blog as well. Bear witness to its beautiful scrolling powers! Thanks to Mojoey for the valuable service.

Beware the Mormon Jesus!

I stumbled across this humorous video on IFILM - it's an animated exposé, made by Christians in the 1970s, deriding the false theology (is that redundant?) of Mormonism:

What Mormon Theology is Really All About

I never saw this film in my youth, but I may as well have. In my protestant (Assemblies of God) church, we were taught that Mormonism is a cult. My aunt is a Mormon (I'm told she was converted after an attractive Elder proselytized to her), and she raised her children in the LDS Church. I remember talking to my cousin, when we were about 9, and found that he didn't even know who Adam and Eve were. I figured that Mormon churches had a tactic of hiding the crazy stuff until the children were older and already self-identified as Mormons. I pitied my cousin's brainwashing, and tried to warn him about spirit babies, the new worlds that Mormon couples would inherit in the after life, Jesus going to the American continent, and the multiple levels of heaven and hell. I see that didn't have much effect: years later he was overseas performing the requisite missionary training.

A friend of mine, who shall remain nameless, has within the last year abandoned the Mormon belief of his upbringing. He still remains active in the church and has not informed his family, or other members of the church, of his apostasy. I have been disabused of the notion that young Mormons don't learn their theology, as he is very knowledgeable of Mormon belief and practice and is now my answer man for questions about Mormonism. I guess my cousin just wasn't paying close enough attention in Sunday School.

Updated Update! If you've seen the video (it's a clip from the film "The God Makers" (Thanks, A.C.)), please read the comment posted on this blog by An Anonymous Coward to get the full story of how well (and poorly) it represents Mormon theology.

Filipinos Crucify Themselves

Why, in God's name, would someone do this to himself? Wait, I guess one would only do such a thing in God's name. These men are whipped, tied to a cross, wear a crown of thorns, and have nails pounded through their hands. At least they're sterilizing the nails and aiming so as not to do permanent damage. But still.

Filipino Devotees Crucify Themselves
Filipinos Crucify Themselves on Good Friday

Here's a video of this absurdity:
Filipino Man Crucified on Good Friday

I saw a more detailed video on MSN (it has been removed for some reason) about one man's reasons for having himself crucified. Apparently, his daughter had been ill, and he begged God to ensure her recovery. As a bargaining chip, he offered to suffer crucifixion if God would intervene. The medical procedures were successful (I suspect they would have been anyway) and, to his credit I suppose, he kept his promise and returns each year to be nailed to a cross. He proudly showed off his crown of thorns, and said that he constructed it of barbed wire for the sake of durability.

It is easy to see why someone would offer this sort of bargain to God. One can hardly imagine anything more grievous than watching a son or daughter suffer afflictions completely out of the parent's ability to control to prevent. In a larger sense, I think that is where prayer comes from (at least, prayer of supplication). We despair, as humans, at how little control we have over so many aspects of life. Prayer often gives us the illusion of control, or at least, a sense of appealing to someone in control. The problem is that it is only an illusion and, though it can't hurt anything to try, it may prevent us from seeking some real means of affecting the outcome. And what good is hope, if it is false hope?

There is the further problem of what happens when the prayer is not answered. What if this man had lost his daughter? Instead of merely grieving at his own inability to help her, he would feel additional guilt that he had not done enough, had lacked sufficient faith, or was in some other way inadequate. Life is hard enough as it is! Why add a layer of imaginary explanations and make things worse?

Also, I feel that gratitude is often misplaced after a "successful" prayer. In church, I constantly hear people thank God that a loved one made it through a surgery. Why not thank the doctors, and the medical technology that made recovery possible? There are so many people who have lived through strokes, heart attacks, and other afflictions who would not have made it a hundred years ago. Granted, many people are thankful to God and the medical professionals. But I think this man could do much better to raise awareness about his daughter's condition, and demonstrate his love for her, than get himself nailed to a cross.

Update: This comes from (and NewScientistTech). Question for theologians: what was God trying to say here?

Eduardo Sese of Pampanga, Philippines may have exposed more than 100 men to rabies during a self-flagellation ritual. Sese died from rabies two weeks ago, but he had previously shared a knife with a large group of people who slashed their backs before whipping themselves with bamboo in honor of Good Friday. From New Scientist:

"The government doctor in Pampanga, Maria Clara Aquino, said vaccines had been given to 103 people who could have been exposed.

"Self-flagellation is an annual tradition in Pampanga and other parts of the Philippines in which men whip themselves into a frenzy on Good Friday to atone for their sins."

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Killer Cell Phone Virus

To kick things off, here's an interesting news piece from Pakistan (and apparently Afghanistan now, too). A rumor warning cellular phone users that they could receive a virus capable of killing a human being instigated widespread panic. Mosques in a major city proclaimed "that people were being killed by a mobile virus and they should be aware of God's wrath." Of course, there is no mechanism in a cellular phone that such a virus could exploit to lethal effect. And why should God exact his wrath with cell phones, when his traditional weapons of flood, fire, lightning, earthquake, hurricane, tsunami, drought, famine, and pestilence are still readily available? Just goes to show that a modicum of skepticism goes a long way.

Can 'Virus' Text Message Kill You?
Mobile Phone Virus Scare Jumps from Pakistan to Afghanistan

Welcome to the Skeptic Review!

Hi, my name is Ross. I was raised in a Christian household and was a true believer for many years, both active and outspoken in my community. At the age of 21 (three years ago at the time of this writing), after much studying and contemplation, I came to the realization that the faith of my upbringing was unjustified. My world view now is that of a Skeptic; one who has high standards of evidence and is willing to re-evaluate first principles and previous assumptions in perpetual pursuit of truth.

Still, my interest in the world of faith goes on unabated. I attend church regularly, read the Bible closely, converse with my believing friends, and participate in active skepticism as a paranormal investigator and member of the Center for Inquiry and The Skeptics Society.

I would like to use this blog as a forum for my own thoughts, but also to post reviews, links, and news items related to skepticism, science and religion. This includes discussions of scientific discoveries, religious studies, the psychology of belief, pseudoscience, supernatural claims, philosophy, and political discourse. I hope that others who share my interests will find this blog a useful place to keep up with what's going on in the worlds of belief and disbelief.

Cognite tute!