Sunday, August 31, 2008

Ridiculous atheist challenge

Make no mistake about it, I love the internet crazies. It's quite a gas to check out FSTDT and see the latest fundamentalist carnival of stupidity on the interwebs (Rapture Ready is perfect for lulz) or whichever odd news story the media dredges up (like praying for cheaper gas or praying for it to rain on Obama's speech). There's something cathartic in seeing people fail so badly. It really puts things in perspective: most of us, no matter how foolish we think we are, will simply never do anything that idiotic.

So imagine my surprise when I found such characteristic hysterics and idiocy in an almost perfect form: an incredibly disingenuous Atheist Challenge over at *snickers* Atheism is Dead. I half-expected it to be self-deleted in embarrassment, but apparently the author is quite serious. My condolences.

So here's the setup:

Atheists, since we have "possession of the truth" (apparently, my certificate of omniscience got lost in the mail) are supposed to prove, using "only empirical experimental data, replicated by separate disinterested scientific teams, unfalsified yet falsifiable, peer reviewed and published in a major scientific journal" the following claims:

(btw, I have a drinking game for this: take a shot if it's not a claim that atheists actually make. Take two shots if it's a claim that no reasonable person actually makes. If you make it to the comments section without passing out, take a shot for every time they redefine disbelief in gods or declare victory in exposing atheist irrationality)
1. Prove there is no God.

2. Prove Materialism is true.

3. Prove Monism is true.

4. Prove abiogenesis actually happened.

5. Prove macroevolution actually happened.

6. Prove Parsimony is a Law of Nature.

7. Prove Universal Uniformitarianism exists in all cases.

8. Prove wisdom does not exist.

9. Prove humans are perfectible.

10.Prove universal happiness is a moral imperative.

11.Prove information is identical to the media scaffold upon which it resides.

12.Prove the Multiverse exists.
Okay, #1, ye olde shifting burden of proof, the infamous "Oh yeah? Prove there isn't a God!" with delusions of pwnage. It's absurd enough on its own, but combined with the aforementioned peer-reviewed and published in a major scientific journal demands, the retort reaches new heights of fail. The author seems to be seriously asking for an issue of Nature in which God is pronounced dead, and try as I might, I can't find the November 1859 issue.

Presumably, the author doesn't believe in djinn in the same way I don't believe in gods. Well, crank up Scirus and get me a scientific disproof of djinn, then.

#4&5 give it a nice creationist flair, a great move that hearkens back to the legendary master of rationality, Kent Hovind. Confusing atheism and evolution (and apparently understanding neither on even a basic level), the perfect way to be taken seriously.

#8&9 give it that touch of WTF that's absolutely essential to spectacular fail. Perfectible? Who the heck said atheism relied on human beings being perfect?

And the rest are either red herrings or things that I doubt any human being would seriously deny (like the wisdom one). So, either I missed Dawkins's lecture where he railed against the existence of wisdom or the author's post is deeply misguided.

And you know what the best thing is about this pseudointellectual wasteland? All the "questions" were answered pretty well in the comments section by Vigilante, a self-described Christian. D'oh!

Also, another atheist already sunk his teeth into this one and did an excellent job answering the challenge before I could get a hold of it. But I can't help myself in joining in, seeing as there was already plenty of blood in the water.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A deconversion story

Yes, I am an atheist. I'm proud to say it.

When I finally realized I didn't believe in any gods at all, it was such a relief, I felt like a great burden had been lifted. I still feel a sense of freedom from being an atheist, that now I finally get to figure it all out for myself and reach my own conclusions, rather than to be bound to the conclusions of the religious tradition I had grown up in. But I'm also sort of glad that I had some experience with the religious world, because it's easier to understand where they're coming from.

Here's my deconversion story:

From a young age, I was indoctrinated to believe in Christianity; specifically, the tenets of the United Methodist Church. One side of the family is mostly Protestant (Baptist and Methodist), while the other is mostly Catholic, but my parents decided that the children would be raised Methodist. I was carted off to church nearly every Sunday for much of my childhood, and aside from a short evangelical phase, I never got into it very much (although I loved the beauty of some of the hymns). I believed in God and Jesus for no more complex reason than that was what I was taught and that's what was expected of me - it didn't occur to me to do otherwise.

In my teenage years, I started having some doubts. Nothing earthshaking yet, but little things like wondering why Hindus believe one thing and why Christians believe another. Although I was pious in church, my day-to-day life was quite secular - I would pray but I wouldn't count on it to change anything.

Later on, greater doubts seized me. The problem of evil and the existence of hell were huge issues that I could not find suitable answers for and I dared not alert anyone to my inner doubts. I agonized over why God should make a world in which terrible things happen. I worried about hell - two of my friends were Jewish and Muslim and very good people. I found it very distasteful that fellow Christians believed that others should suffer eternally for believing the wrong things. Like many other liberal Christians, I did not believe in a physical hell, but I kept in mind the concept of compelling belief with threats. Going to church was like a chore, but I did it dutifully and mechanically. In church, I was quite fond of using the Bible as a straightedge for drawing SierpiƄski triangles on the church program and I think I scared a few people by suggesting in Sunday School class that Satan's continuing existence implied that God was either unwilling or unable to defeat Satan. Afterward, I learned not to speak too freely.

But it wasn't till my college years that my nagging doubts really sprang to the forefront. Curious about the big questions of life, I leapt to philosophy and found within it an ocean of doubt - Hume, Epicurus, Sartre, Bertrand Russell, and finally, Thomas Paine. I learned a great deal, and I finally realized that there existed viable alternatives to believing in religion. It's ironic that my Old Testament class, with a Christian professor who earnestly professed that the Bible is "more than just a book", introduced me to so much righteous barbarism carried out in the name of God that I felt quite certain that the Bible could not be true revelation. But it was Thomas Paine's Age of Reason that was the straw that broke the camel's back. His passionate criticisms of Christianity were unassailable, and finally broke whatever lingering illusions I had about the Bible being the Word of God.
Lacking the Bible, but still clinging to hopes of an afterlife, I considered deism and buddhism, but rejected them for much the same reasons. Deism posits a god and a heaven, while buddhism posits a cycle of death and rebirth, yet none of these claims about the nature of reality are any more supportable than Christian claims. In the end, any belief in supernaturalism runs into the agnostic's riposte, "How do you know?" Mere faith isn't enough to justify such extraordinary claims. Thus, the only logical recourse is skepticism, disbelief in such things until they can be sufficiently demonstrated to be true (which is itself rather doubtful). Therefore, atheism.

And I've got to say, being an atheist in America (in the south, no less) is a very interesting experience. Imagine being the only one in town who doesn't believe in unicorns, it's kind of like that.

None of my friends or family are atheists as far as I can tell, and I have yet to out myself to them. And that makes for some awkward questions, like why I don't go to church much. Heh, a relative asked me what I thought about the Passion of the Christ and when I alluded to its gruesome nature she gave me a rather dirty look that made me wonder if an inquisitor would soon be arriving at my door. Breaking the news to them might take some serious explaining when it eventually happens, possibly clearing my name from charges of nihilism or baby eating, but I think it'll be okay. Besides, there are some perks to being stealthy - it's hilarious what people will say in front of me assuming that I share their views. Apparently, I am responsible for the sad state of religious freedom in public schools - people can't voluntarily pray at school without being arrested. Also, I'm implicated in the holocaust, satanism, natural disasters, and the dissolution of all morality. So, I hereby offer Christians my apologies for all these crimes (and more!) that I didn't even know I was committing.

But however frustrating it may be to hold a view so contrary to convictions of the general public
(which indeed, seems to anger and frighten some people tremendously) and tarred with a long history of mudslinging, I'm committed to truth, wherever it lies. We can't bend reality to our will; it simply is and we are obliged to learn it as best as we can and come to terms with it. I am proud to be among fellow human beings earnestly seeking answers rather than making up answers to gaps in our knowledge and dishonestly presenting it as the word of God.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

1 in 2 believe prayer can save lives

msnbc link

AKA just over half the population is deeply superstitious and believes that a spirit-being will reverse a terminal prognosis.

I understand that death is a very sensitive subject, but I think how we're raised to deal with death and dying is fundamentally misguided.

Someone's watching a family member slowly die - a medically hopeless case. They're hoping that if there's even the slightest chance of survival, their family member will survive. And they're willing to take a chance on anything that might help, including asking God to intervene. So that's what they do, they try to pray away the cancer or the heart attack or whatever is wrong. But it doesn't work - it doesn't regrow limbs or regenerate brain cells, it doesn't repair heart valves or replace T-cells. And slowly, the patient dies, perhaps kept on the verge of death a little longer with the aid of feeding tubes and ventilators.

And that's the problem, religion offers us a false hope; a way to hold our hands together and seriously believe that wishing will make it so. We spend so much time denying the inevitable and clinging to false comforts when it would be much better spent accepting reality and trying to make the best of it while we can.

I'm reminded of a quote from Epicurus:

Accustom yourself to believing that death is nothing to us, for good and evil imply the capacity for sensation, and death is the privation of all sentience; therefore a correct understanding that death is nothing to us makes the mortality of life enjoyable, not by adding to life a limitless time, but by taking away the yearning after immortality. For life has no terrors for him who has thoroughly understood that there are no terrors for him in ceasing to live. Foolish, therefore, is the man who says that he fears death, not because it will pain when it comes, but because it pains in the prospect. Whatever causes no annoyance when it is present, causes only a groundless pain in the expectation. Death, therefore, the most awful of evils, is nothing to us, seeing that, when we are, death is not come, and, when death is come, we are not. It is nothing, then, either to the living or to the dead, for with the living it is not and the dead exist no longer.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Richard Dawkins on Darwin

Here's my review of the program:

Part 1

I thought Dawkins did an excellent job explaining both the significance of evolution and the life of Darwin.

Evolution is a remarkable theory because it explains the tremendous variety of life on Earth as a step-by-step process of accumulated genetic change. From this relatively simple process, you get every species that has ever existed on Earth. It can't be overstated how amazing a discovery that was.

But, I do have one eensey weensey gripe: he could have been a little more diplomatic about evolution and atheism. There was this aggressive "evolution disproves your God" streak throughout - he says, "this book [Origin of Species] made it possible no longer to feel the necessity of believing in anything supernatural". This was particularly jarring during his talks with the students. Granted, of course, the students defense of their religious beliefs were absolutely abysmal (and thankfully, later said they were more interested learning about evolution).

But rather than get in people's faces about religion, it would be more productive simply to describe how evolution works and how well-supported it is, and then describe the religious objections to evolution and how one's beliefs don't change the reality of an evolving world. Instead of getting dragged into theological debate, the focus should be on the scientific facts. People are fairly astute and will figure out on their own that there isn't much future for beliefs that oppose facts.

Personally, I don't espouse much of a connection between atheism and evolution, since I was never indoctrinated against it in my theistic youth as a United Methodist. So, in my opinion, evolution is about as innately god-discrediting as atomism or heliocentrism. (I note that interestingly enough, all 3 of them angered religious authorities) While it does set the stage for theists who believe in creationism to for a nasty brush with reality, theists who accept evolution remain unaffected. It doesn't remove "the necessity of believing in anything supernatural" for them.

Part 2

He talks about the "dark side" of evolution - the fact that nature is a disturbing, violent place and that the process of evolution in nature involves a great deal of danger and inevitably, death. And the implications of evolution for us humans - why we exhibit altruism and the realization that humans are apes in the taxonomic sense (our connection to the animal world that's routinely denied in favor of a preferred "special" status).

His talk with the reverend was hilarious, quickly dispatching creationist-style talking points: "why are chimps still around?" and "what's the goal of evolution?". I liked Dawkins' retort that there is no real goal to evolution. It's ironic that religious people try either to denounce evolution as evil or try to deify it as some Victorian ladder of progress when in actually, our shifting genes are no more purposeful than our shifting continental plates. And thinking about it, our genetic code (filled with such undesirables as pseudogenes and ERVs) is a pretty silly place to go looking for teleology in the first place.

He then discusses social darwinism and eugenics - evolution used to justify cutthroat business practices and racism. A very good part on sexual selection, altruism, and his selfish gene idea, which prompted some discussion from a friend of mine.

He wondered why individuals of many species, including our own, sometimes adopt the young of other species even though it does nothing for our own selfish genes. For example, when people see an abandoned deer fawn that's unlikely to survive in the wild, they're likely to take it in and feed it as if it were one of our own. My guess is that it's a byproduct of our paternal instincts towards our young; we're liable to treat the young of other species as if they were our own on occasion.

My friend grimaced at that explanation and insisted that it was unsatisfactory because we can obviously tell that a deer fawn is not a human baby.

I replied that we have some survival instincts which are definitely rooted in evolution, like fear of spiders and snakes. When we see a large snake nearby, we instinctively recoil in fear. But we equally fear rubber snakes and harmless animals that look like snakes. I think a similar thing happens with our love of young animals (and incidentally, ones that are more related to us are more likely to be adopted - adopted animals tend to be almost exclusively mammals; it seems that few people are very sympathetic towards young worms or insects). We "know" that the object of our altruism isn't our own species, but our instincts (and the genes behind them) don't seem to care.

Part 3

Finally, the good stuff - the crusade against evolution in all its nutty glory. I love the expression on his face while patiently dealing with the idiots (vigorous blinking is definitely his tell).

Then it goes through his deconversion story, which I thought was rather strange, since my own experience was so totally different, dealing with poorly supported claims of knowledge of the supernatural (i.e. "because the Bible says so") rather than the argument of design.

Nutbag #1 - the "you can't see evolution" guy (who presumably spends the rest of his time arguing with weathermen that seasonal changes don't happen because no one witnesses the exact instant that summer turns into autumn). Dawkins at least gave him a handshake and parted amicably, which was far more diplomatic than I would have been in his place.

The part where he reads out his barely literate hate-mails (including the cuss words) was absolutely priceless.

Nutbag #2 - "teach the controversy" lady. Such a viper. She pleads for evidence, but she's already ruled ahead of time that there isn't any; so nothing's ever going to convince her - all while arguing that Dawkins is the closed minded one. What a waste.

Nutbag #3 - the chemistry teacher who uses his position to spread creationist material to the kiddies. Claims that "scientists weren't there" and that God's Word trumps all.

Darkins talks about the various imperfections inherent in our species - blind spot, appendix, wisdom teeth, etc. My personal favorite in that vein is our vestigial nictating membrane, that little pink fold in the corner of our eyes. Sure, it doesn't actually harm us in any way, but it's such an obvious leftover from a previous age that it's impossible to claim that man was created from scratch. It's like having a portable cd-player powered by a car adapter sitting on top of the disused tape deck - you can tell it's jury-rigged like crazy.

Dawkins asked the salient question of how we should deal with conflicts of religion and science in schools. My opinion (and sadly, it's probably the minority view) is for educators to unabashedly teach the facts and if students can't handle that due to religious brainwashing, well that's too bad - one shouldn't shy away from teaching knowledge or whitewash it simply because some people don't like it. That's their problem, not the teacher's.

In his discussion with the teachers about this issue, the teachers shy away from overtly challenging creationist views (which is understandable given the fury of zealous parents), but at least they support making the scientific case for evolution. Dawkins caught one of them in an interesting slip of the tongue. He said that evolution is "one way of interpreting" and that "we believe it because we're scientists" unintentionally reinforcing creationist ideas that creationism and evolution are only a matter of opinion and that scientists believe evolution on faith.

Deny - Attack - Absorb: a excellent summary of religious strategies in dealing with conflicts with science.

Finally, Dawkins summaries the epiphanies of evolution: that all life on Earth is related and that we are evolved to survive. In my view, it also means that the earliest life has ceaselessly spread from something you could hold in a thimble to covering the entire Earth; from a few simple cells to an unimaginable variety of forms. Life itself is an unbroken chain of chemical reactions constantly occurring for billions of years. That's ridiculously cool.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Attack of the Flat Earth

BBC news

Personally, I don't see how anyone could seriously buy this stuff and still have the mental capacities for such daunting mental tasks as respiration. It's so ridiculous that even creationists generally won't touch it.

I'm inclined to believe that it's a prank, a mockery of those who deny basic facts about the earth in deference to their ideologies, if it wasn't so seemingly-seriously argued for on the internet. Curse you, Poe's Law!

The BBC article is a treasure trove of recorded stupidity: people convinced that there's a global conspiracy against their view, and accusations of "discrimination" against them merely because belief in a flat earth is nowdays synonymous with denialism. But one part in particular caught my eye:

Now, I'm no scientist, but I think there may be a problem with thinking that the entire world is a circle, with the north pole in the middle and an impossibly large Antarctica forming the outer edge. Actually, make that two problems.

First, where the heck is the edge of the Earth?

In the middle of Antarctica?

Anybody see the edge?

And secondly, what the heck is on the other side?

You'd think someone would have noticed our satellites encountering the strange problem of seeing the totality of Earth at one moment, then seeing only a sliver of it, then seeing some sort of bizarro Earth on the other side. Something like that would explode a few heads at NASA.

And it's interesting to note just how similar all this flat earth rhetoric is to creationism: heliocentrism is some ideology cooked up by scientists one day which everybody apparently just takes on faith, all evidence contradicting them was fabricated by some shadowy worldwide conspiracy with apparently nothing better to do with their time than play pranks on us Americans, and Joe Smoe apparently figured out the true facts of the cosmos while the world's top scientists were out to lunch. Yeah, right.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Religion in Spore draws criticism from some atheists

According to the Will Wright (who identifies himself as an atheist in the interview).

Apparently, some people were upset that religion was included at all in the game. It doesn't say just what exactly those are or how religion is supposed to work in Spore, so it's anybody's guess just what the fuss is over. Given the game is rated E, it's doubtful that's it's anything particularly offensive - probably just a totem for your critters to dance around as a way of a getting a social edge on other tribes. That hardly seems like something anybody should really get worked up over.

In fact, I rather like the inclusion of religion in video games. In Civilization 4, religion is entirely benign - shoring up culture and happiness levels, and all religions give exactly the same bonuses. In Rise of Nations, you can upgrade your temple from religion to monotheism to existentialism, which I think is hilarious, since the implication is that as the society advances, it moves away from religion into something more philosophical. In Medieval 2 Total War, you see more of a darker side of religion, with crusading (or jihading) armies let loose on one's enemy, as well as priests, imams, and heretics converting populations. Heh, one of my favorite strategies after inevitably getting excommunicated was to personally lead my army's vengeance on the Papal states.

The interesting thing about religion in video games is that it's almost always religious people who are the ones who are easily offended, particularly RPGs that feature demons or warlocks. World of Warcraft is a prime example of a video game that some Christians feel uncomfortable about. I can't help but feel sorry for the zealots who become trapped by their irrational fears and miss out on a lot of popular culture as well as more moderate believers agonizing over whether or not a game is too ungodly to play.

I guess my main thrust here is not to take video games too seriously and get bent out of shape about religion being in it. After all, it's extremely common for religion to play some role in the civilization-crafting games. So, chillax, you alleged offended Spore-playing atheists and play nice or I'll sic my Spore FSM on your home planet. ^_^

Sunday, August 10, 2008

New dolphin species

Snubfin dolphins

Some people say they're ugly, but I think they're adorable. They look like a combination of beluga whale and bottlenose dolphin.

Evolution Survey

Michael Shermer is conducting an evolution survey. Let's hope that it gets good, informative responses. *fingers crossed*

I'm guessing it will since it's an online questionnaire, so internet users opt-in to the poll (rather than calling up random people) and it's open-ended rather than multiple choice (just like his How We Believe questionnaire).

Still, his bad responses (which are subject to Poe's Law) are bound to be hilarious/horrid. Hopefully though, on this one, crocoduck won't rear his ugly head.

Man sires 170+ children thanks to God's help

According to BBC news

What kills me about this article isn't the rabbit-like fecundity in a world pushing close to 7 billion people (although it's a good start), it's the constant attempts to justify the irresponsible behavior with religion.

The guy just marries whoever comes to him and chalks it up to Allah's will. And he lures them in with a phony "faith healing" gimmick.

Some of the quotes from the article are hair-rippingly awful:

As soon as I met him the headache was gone," says Sharifat Bello Abubakar, who was 25 at the time and Mr Bello Abubakar 74.

"God told me it was time to be his wife. Praise be to God I am his wife now.

Since when was a headache going away a miracle from God to marry someone? That's insane.

Meanwhile, the people in the complex don't work, so they're very poor, and it's likely that the kids beg for money in the streets. And the faith healing isn't working so great either - two of the kids died. Apparently, God is only on headache duty.

And to top it all of, he says that he talks to Mohammad personally. So, naturally, the Muslim authorities denounce his activities and consider his group a cult. Good. The sooner the kids get adequate care, the better.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Crazy People

  • Some Russian person decided to beat the traffic by driving on the wrong side of the road, backwards no less. The thrill to see who can get a ticketed or injured in an accident first apparently enticed quite a few people.
  • Crazy lady awed by the existence of rainbows - thinks chemicals in the drinking water are to blame. This one kills me every time; the meandering rant is just so breathtakingly, mind-bogglingly idiotic that it simply has to be a joke.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Evolution 101

Among popular misconceptions of scientific theories, evolution is by far the worst. It astounds me how horribly evolution is framed in popular culture and how maligned it is in public discourse. It is no doubt a result of the Christian-Republican campaign to stifle the teaching of evolution and inject religious dogma straight into the science classroom.

Firstly, among creationists it's abundantly clear that few (if any) of them even understand the scientific theory in the first place. I can't count how many times they have considered "proof" of evolution to be a cat giving birth to a dog or an individual chimpanzee spontaneously metamorphosing into a human overnight. The ignorance is baffling, but unsurprising - these people have been told that evolution is a direct threat to God, so it makes sense to manufacture such self-deceits in a misguided attempt to protect their beliefs.

Not once do they hit on the remarkably simple real idea - that evolution is simply accumulated genetic change from one generation to another. Instead, they attack a strawman of their own devising in an attempt to justify their beliefs.

The process of evolution, pulled from an actual "creation science for kids"-type site.

[Editor's note: finally tracked down the site, it's from our good friend Harun Yahya/Adna Oktar

Straight-line evolution

Like the horribly bad starfish-->fish example, people sometimes think of evolution as a one-way ticket, with a single species "improving" up to a radically different form. The seductive thing about this misconception is that it's partially true - you can trace a current species lineage from its more humble ancestors, but that's only part of the picture. In reality, speciation involves lots of daughter species and many extinctions. It's a messy affair. And the notion of "progress" in evolution is mistaken - fitness is all about surviving in the current environment, and adaptions always have their disadvantages. Examples in nature abound - pangolins have forelimbs so well adjusted to digging that they're no longer very good for walking, leaving pangolins with a hobbling gait. Also, every once and a while, a species seems to "devolve" and go against our vaunted notions of progress - for example, cave fish that no longer have functioning eyes.


Also like the starfish example, creationists seem to think that evolution operates by species launching from their branch in the nested hierarchy to another branch - what was once an echinoderm is now a full-fledged chordate! Sorry, it doesn't work that way; species form a nested hierarchy and continue to evolve, but a mammal species is never going to become a bird species, no matter how much time elapses, their common ancestors have long ago diverged from each other, never to reunite. If they did, that would pose serious problems for the theory of evolution.

Common objections to evolution:

But it's just a theory!

That's true, it is a theory. Heliocentrism is also a theory. Scientific theories are models used to explain facts and scientific laws are mathematical relationships. There's no hierarchy of accuracy - theories don't graduate to law status, no matter how well supported they are by the evidence.

It's morally wrong

A favorite tactic amongst creationists is to throw out irrelevancies - changing the topic from whether or not evolution happens to whether or not evolution is "bad". It's an absurd ploy - no matter how distasteful the facts are, they don't stop existing merely because one doesn't like them - I can't close my eyes and make the world disappear.

It's atheistic

This is the mother lode of objections. I love it because it betrays the motivations of the speaker so well - the main gripe against evolution isn't on factual grounds at all, but on theological grounds.

Well, it's true that the theory of evolution doesn't have much to do with God. Neither does any other scientific theory. Science itself is agnostic on the subject.

But the intent of this objection is to label evolution an "atheistic science" and therefore make it anathema to all theists.

Once again, it's an irrelevant objection - evolution either happens or it doesn't, theological quandaries need not apply.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Cowboy Churches

Where prayers come with a twang

Hilarious article. Apparently, there are cowboy-themed churches in the US. Sounds gimmicky, but that's how religion stays alive in the US - many megachurches try to attract young people with modern music.

"Some evangelical Christians have questioned whether the churches only offer gimmicks and fail to provide a meaningful spiritual experience."

I'm no fan of gimmicky churches, but this is like the pot calling the kettle black. Evangelical Christianity doesn't have much out on offer besides right-wing politics, disliking gays, and an eager anticipation of the end of the world.

"Another movement, though, grew out of a Baptist outreach to ranchers in Texas that spread like a wildfire, spawned megachurches and now even sends cowboy missionaries to Africa."

Cowboy missionaries. Hilarious.

"And the sermons usually last just a few minutes so as not to make the audience restless."

Good plan. The ones I'm used to took almost two hours (subjectively several years), and I doubt that very many enjoyed the experience.

"The evangelical magazine Christianity Today asked in a blog in May: 'Clearly something is going on here, but what?' Blog moderator Derek Keefe questioned whether the movement expanded or collapsed the Christian gospel message."

In other words, the concern is whether this sort of marketing helps or hinders the survival of the meme. In the short term, it probably does, by attracting people who ordinarily wouldn't go to church. In the long run, I doubt it though. Fusing popular culture and religion - the Mc Religion approach - is thoroughly self-embarrassing and fails to counter historical trends eating away at traditional religions, like secularism and modernism. You simply can't get people to buy a product they no longer want or need, no matter how well you market it.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Religious police ban pets

Saudi capital bans pet walking, buying

Part of the ongoing effort to make the world a less free and happy place. And by a religious authority, no less.

Apparently, it's because they're scared that the irresistible pet cuteness will cause young men and women to flirt with each other. Allah forbid.

Friday, August 1, 2008

With a Ph. D in Horribleness

I laughed, I cried, I loved it. Best web movie evar.