Thursday 25 July 2013

Atheists in the military

About 289,000 military personnel – one fifth of our military forces – are either atheist or have no religious preference. Atheists in the military are not getting the support they need. And they have said they want the support.

The military needs atheist and humanist chaplains. Firstly, for all those service personnel who don’t belong to a church and don’t want to. Second, a soldier who wants to talk privately about mental health problems must go to a chaplain, because a mental health professional must report such conversations up the chain of command: so a nonbeliever in that situation must choose between a doctor who will expose his problem, or a Christian chaplain who doesn’t share his beliefs. Third, with LGBT couples now trying to tackle the military bureaucracy regarding benefits and fight on other issues, it would be easier for them if they didn’t have to go to a possibly-homophobic Christian military chaplain for support.

The opposition to this idea is, of course, widespread. The existing Christian chaplains don’t want competition from the atheists, and Tony Perkins and the far-right Family Research Council is among the rightwing fringe groups battling to stamp out atheism in the military, insisting, with fantastic illogic,  that any measure to play nice with the atheists is an infringement upon the religious liberty of Christians. 2800 chaplains, not one open atheist or humanist.

The House just approved an amendment affirming that all military chaplains must be approved by one of two hundred religious groups on the Pentagon’s approved list – all of them based on belief in God. The current sacrificial lamb is Jason Heap, a graduate of the divinity school at Texas Christian University, who was endorsed by the Humanist Society, and humanists want that society added to the Pentagon’s list of two hundred “approvers”. Two other humanist chaplains already serve, but only because they have endorsements from Christian groups, and they are anonymous for fear of losing their jobs; a chaplain who tried to openly switch from Pentecostal to Wiccan was fired. Heap doesn’t want to pretend to be a Christian – he wants out of the closet.

The VA has been dragged into all this stuff too. Non-Christians have succeeded in winning rules changes for headstones in cemeteries. If you’re a pagan and die in battle, you can actually have a headstone with the Mjolnir, the Hammer of Thor on it. The approved headstone for an atheist veteran is the atomic symbol of the three ellipses, with the A in the middle. In other words, Uncle Sam will finally treat you like a human being with full equal rights, once you’re already dead and don’t need it.

PS here’s a handy link --

Why liberals lose even when they win

When I wander in the fields and groves of the internet, listening to the liberals and conservatives, Jesus people and atheists, it becomes more and more obvious that the liberals lose battles for a good reason: they don’t know who the real enemy is.

Visit a liberal political website, and you will see the liberals totally dazzled by the Wingnut Of The Day, and whatever crazy thing they said. Ted Nugent goes off on guns, Palin goes off on Obamacare, the Westboro crazies launch another crazy protest, and every liberal in cyberspace runs after them, pointing and yelling and screaming.

Even though the clowns like Palin and the Nuge and Allen West and Ann Coulter are, by a mile, the least important people in our political life. No one takes them seriously, people!

Liberals can’t win unless they know the enemy. More specifically, they can’t win unless they know who the most dangerous enemies are. Just as, if you’re playing the Miami Heat, you better have a plan for defending that Lebron guy.

So who are our most dangerous enemies?

NUMBER ONE are the conservatives who prevent liberals from even functioning in government: the state-level legislators and governors who gerrymander House seats and suppress the minority vote, and the Congressional Republicans who block liberal legislation and nominees. No matter how many votes Democrats actually get, no matter how often they win, these conservative officials ensure that the liberals never actually get to move the country in the right direction – and then blame the liberals for the lack of progress. And liberals like Reid and Obama let them get away with it, because they lack the stomach, and the tactical ability, to fight these guys. Leading this group are guys like McConnell, and governors like Kasich and Walker.

Also in this top group are the conservatives on the Supreme Court. While you were all celebrating their DOMA ruling you missed the fact that they just allowed the South to bring back Jim Crow voting laws. Oops! Failure to focus!

NUMBER TWO, second-most dangerous, are the money boys. The new wave of fake grassroots groups run by Rove and Dick Armey, and their ultimate paymasters: Big Oil, big banks, Big Insurance, Big Pharma, Big Tobacco, and of course their lobbyists.

NUMBER THREE are the propagandists. And within this group, there are many levels. Most dangerous of all is ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, because they are selling their toxic ideas directly to toxic legislators, sometimes even writing the legislation for them. After them are the big idea-mongers: Murdoch’s Fox/Journal empire, and Rush Limbaugh who manages to get into everyone’s car radio every afternoon. Below them, less important, are the talking heads like John McCain and John Bolton, because nobody takes shows like Meet The Press seriously anymore, because the lamentably lazy mainstream media has totally bought into the toxic notion that both parties are equally culpable for the nation’s woes. And at the bottom are the nutfudge conservative sites like Breitbart, Newsmax, Drudge, World Net Daily, the Washington Examiner, and the rightwing think tanks: the only reason to keep an eye on them, is that rightwing nutjobs are going to be quoting these whackaloons in the websites we all visit.

This group also includes single-issue propagandists, and again some are more important than others. The most dangerous is likely to be True The Vote, because their efforts to suppress liberal voting are a direct threat to democracy itself. After them are the churches who can whip up millions of anti-gay and anti-woman votes, and to a lesser extent their allies like the Family Research Council. And of course the NRA which still has impressive muscle, and then Grover Norquist who no longer controls Congressmen the way he used to, and people like scandal-hunters Judicial Watch, who seemed to have lost heart when they realized that the Obama administration is the most honest presidential team in the last century.

NUMBER FOUR, the least important, the pathetic attention-junkie circus clowns. The Westboro Baptist Church, Sarah Palin, Allen West, Louis Gohmert, Ted Nugent, Anne Coulter, Glenn Beck. Nobody with an IQ above room temperature takes them seriously. However, they are dangerous because they distract you liberals from what the more dangerous conservatives are up to. While the bunch of you are ejaculating alarums over the latest racist screed from some maniac like Louis Gohmert or Nugent or Steve King, the real damage is going on in the background – McConnell blocking a good nominee for the NLRB, Rick Perry signing a Voter ID law, the banking lobby watering down a financial regulation bill, ALEC writing a new anti-abortion law.

So stop focusing on the easy targets, the carnival clowns, and focus on the guys who are actually destroying democracy, taking away our right to vote, gerrymandering Congress so that even when we win we lose, preventing the president from passing laws or even cleaning up Republican messes, and trashing the Constitution.

Focus! Focus! Focus! Attack the enemy that is most dangerous, not the one that attracts everybody’s attention! IT’S CALLED A DIVERSION.

Wednesday 24 July 2013

Well, at least the Bible is great literature!

Sometimes, when you talk to some of the saner Christians and they admit that the Bible can’t be taken seriously or read literally, they gamely counter with the notion that “but still, you can’t deny that the Bible is one of the great works of literature!”

Why not? What’s so great about it?

First of all let’s remember that the Bible doesn’t work as history or science: the creation story, the Garden of Eden, the flood, Abraham the would-be child killer, the enslavement of the Israelites and the escape across Sinai where they received God’s commandments, Joshua’s genocide in the Holy Land, God punishing the Israelites when they disobeyed the Torah, Jesus rising from the grave and flying off into outer space….are all lies. Never happened.

The Bible doesn’t work as a moral guide:  God approves genocide, ethnic cleansing, killing your children and/or selling them into slavery, subjugating women, killing gays, and the absurdly widespread use of the death penalty. God’s followers commit murder, bigamy, adultery, incest, rape, theft, fraud. And the Song of Songs is pure porn.

The Bible doesn’t help in the quest for wisdom: it says specifically that the path to wisdom is…obedience. The lesson it teaches is that even if you obey God’s absurdly arbitrary and capricious laws, he is still going to screw you over and kill for fun. The few worthwhile bits of wisdom in the Sermon on the Mount are the bits that today’s Christians do their level best to ignore, all that hippie commie stuff about loving your neighbor, meekness, tolerance, forgiveness, caring for the poor and the sick. The hell with that!

It doesn’t work as fable: many of the little lessons it teaches are about God’s whimsical cruelty. Occasionally they teach a neat lesson about David taking on Goliath or the good Samaritan, but those are few and very far between.

It doesn’t work as prophecy: the Old Testament promises over and over that God will watch over the chosen people, and time and again they are invaded, slaughtered, scattered to the four winds. A key message in the New Testament was that everybody needed to get ready because God was going to establish his kingdom on earth within a man’s lifetime...two thousand years ago. Tick tock, tick tock.

It has few good characters, because most of them are just people waiting for God to punish them, like hogs in a slaughter pen. And few of them are sympathetic, because as a group they are not very nice people: David arranging for a romantic rival to be killed, a number of “Bible heroes” handing over their female relatives to be raped or killed, Jacob deceiving his father and brother, the endless whining of Jeremiah. And of course the most unpleasant character in all fiction, Jehovah.

It’s not even well-written: it’s repetitive, it has plot holes and logical leaps, and it is often boring. Jeremiah and Isaiah should not be read while operating machinery. It’s so badly written that artists as varied as Dante, Milton and Andrew Lloyd Webber have pulled out their Bibles and tried to rewrite the stories so that they’re actually, you know, good.  And invariably the only way to make the Bible good is to turn the whole story on its head: in Jesus Christ Superstar the most interesting character in Judas, and in Milton the most fascinating character is Satan.

It is badly edited. Even a novice editor would have sliced about 300 pages out of this monster. All the repetitive passages about dietary laws and idol-worshipping kings, the book of Isaiah which could be cut in half without losing anything of value, the porn in Song of Songs, the lunacy of Revelation, and a lot of sheer silliness like the miracles.

And very repetitive: Genesis has two conflicting accounts of the creation, and the Gospels have four conflicting accounts of Jesus’ life. The Books of Chronicles are a rehash of the stuff in Genesis and Kings. So at least five books of the Bible are redundant.

A perfect example of the bad editing occurs in the Book of Numbers. Balaam is a sort of repeat of the tale of Moses’ agonizing and his reluctance to carry out God’s will, so that the Israelites can attain victory and finally end their wandering in the desert. And right in the middle of the story, the author inserts…a talking donkey. Script doctor! Code Blue! It’s as though Orson Welles was working on the script of Citizen Kane, and Herman Mankiewicz, drunk as usual, shouted out “You know, Act Two kinda drags, how about we stick in a scene with Mickey Mouse and Pluto?”

If an author were to walk into a publishing house today (or, worse, Hollywood) and submit the Bible for publication, they would either reject it outright, or slice it in three and market it as a young-adult trilogy starring the Witch of Endor as a teen rebel out to save Israel from a dystopian, totalitarian future. And add vampires. Who solve crimes. Can we get Emma Stone as the Whore of Babylon?

The Bible does work as a cultural touchstone: it has been rammed down our throats for so many centuries that everyone is familiar with its stories and its slogans. Everybody knows the Pharaoh, Goliath, the Ark, Peter’s denial, the prodigal son, spare the rod and spoil the child, money is the root of all evil. Generations of bad writers have tried to tart up their bad writing by opening their works with quotes from the Bible, just like they do with Shakespeare. It confers a thin layer of borrowed panache upon the semi-literate. Hurray for the Bible! But alas, to be well-known is not to be well-written.

The book is so old and so venerated that no one has the guts to say that it’s not worth keeping in our lives anymore. It’s a 1370-page effort by ancient priests to sell lies to stupid people, in order to enslave them. It’s time for modern civilization to move on, to toss it into the bin with all those books we’re supposed to revere but are essentially unreadable: James Joyce, the “Silmarillion” sequel to the Lord of the Rings, Waiting for Godot, Catcher in the Rye, Thomas Hardy, Tom Clancy and John Grisham after they got rich and lazy.

Tweet your way to heaven!

The Vatican recently announced that if a believer follows the World Youth Day event on Twitter with “due devotion” and is contrite in repenting his sins, he can reduce the length of the punishment he will face in the afterlife. In other words, an indulgence, as they call it: do what the Pope says and you serve less time in hellfire after you die.

Not sure the Pope thought this one through. Sounds like the Common Sense Department was overruled by the Marketing Department – let’s sell Catholicism using social media and all that other cool trendy stuff! “Getting out of hell and going to heaven? There’s an app for that! It’s totes cray cray!”

As we know, organized religion is a gigantic fraud aimed a frightening stupid people with lies, so that they obey the priests and give them money and food. It has always been about generating revenue. As I’ve mentioned before, it was this greed-driven fraud which finally killed the golden goose. Five hundred years ago one greedy cleric, the Archbishop of Mainz, wanted to grab two bishoprics – church territories -- for their revenue. Another greedy cleric, the Pope, want a ton of money to build Saint Peter’s. So the Pope gave the archbishop his bishoprics if the archbishop, in return, agreed to raise the money for the Pope’s church. The archbishop hired a bunco artist named John Tetzel to raise the money, and Tetzel started the indulgence circus, complete with sales jingles to separate the suckers from their money like PT Barnum. Give Tetzel money and you won’t go to hell!

The sheer bullcrappery of this became so obvious, that a backlash was inevitable. That one effort by two priests (and one con artist, as if there’s any difference) to grab a ton of money for themselves, helped launch the Protestant Reformation. This ended the Catholic Church’s monopoly on the Christian world, and began Rome’s long decline from the summit of power. And it happened fast: Tetzel started the indulgences in 1517, and within months Martin Luther began his work attacking the Church practices. Within two years Tetzel, now a laughingstock, was on his deathbed, where he received a surprisingly generous letter from Luther himself, which intimated that the real villain in the piece was not Tetzel but the white-robed crooks who set him to work. And within a decade the Protestants had their own church in Germany.

The new Pope hasn’t learned the creed of the con artist: you can’t make the lies too obvious, or the marks get suspicious. Right now the Catholic Church has enough problems with credibility.