Zack’s #AskAnAtheist Twitter Campaign

This past Wednesday was National Ask An Atheist Day, a campaign by the Secular Student Alliance to encourage young nonbelievers to help their peers dispel mysteries about atheists.

Though I am no longer at an educational institution, I welcomed questions and answered them on Twitter. Most of the questions I got were from friends, some of whom were complaining I wasn’t answering the questions on Facebook where they were asking them. Here are all the answers I offered. Remember, anyone’s free to ask me an atheist-related question anytime! Enjoy!

Q: What’s your back up, man, in case of the Rapture?
A: I’ll finally be able to get some reading done.

Q: Do you believe in the possibility of intelligent energy forces that cannot be seen or detected?
A: No. If they’re so intelligent, they should learn how to communicate.

Q: Why ask #askanatheist questions when the bible has all the answers? I’m just sayin’
A: Someone who thinks the bible has all the answers would have capitalized the b.

A: Because I’m motivated by Satan, who I definitely believe in, and worship.

Q: If God doesn’t exist, in fact if a loving God doesn’t exist, then why did she invent beer?
A: I believe your pronouns are wrong, John. The Flying Spaghetti Monster’s heave has active beer volcanoes all over.

Q: Were you stung by the scorpion of atheism before or after you were bitten by the serpent of homosexuality?
A: I was the frog who carried the scorpion across the river, the serpent ate my remains, and I was reincarnated as Zack.

Q: When choosing a virgin for your ritual human sacrifices to Satan, does having had oral sex rule that person out?
A: Satan uses the strictest definition of virginity to encourage people to sin more. Oral is totally fair game.

Q: Do you think we’ll ever get to a place where superstition and big brother in the sky don’t rule the populace?
A: Sure, just go to Europe. Their governments even have institutionalized religion and they don’t care. #Paradise

Q: Why do you want to force working class people to labor on Xmas, probably making those little Darwinfish bumperstickers too?
A: All our bumperstickers are homemade, and unless Christmas is on the Sabbath, there’s no excuse not to be working.

Q: Do atheists celebrate Easter?
A: Yes! On Easter Sunday, we sing prettier songs in the shower than we normally sing.

Q: Do you hate Peeps and chocolate bunnies?
A: I’m not particularly fond of peeps, but I like my bunnies dark and hollow, just like most religious dogma.

Q: So are you telling me (the Christian) to stop asking questions?
A: Umm… nope!

Q: Why do atheists always want to shut down debate?!
A: I’ll confess, our use of critical thinking, reasoning, logic, and facts does seem to inhibit further debate.

Q: If I follow you around the internet like this, do I get a coupon for a $500 Walmart gift certificate?
A: I don’t believe in Walmart.

Loving Gods Cause Natural Disasters, So Keep Praying!

[Updated: God, I love Poe’s Law.]

Okay, I confess.

I’m the one who caused the earthquake in Japan. All the radiation from the nuclear power plant explosions and possible meltdowns? That’ll be my fault too.

I’m very, very evil. All we atheists are. I’m going to go be evil right now… by taking a shower. That’s right: an atheist cleansing in water. And that water is going to go back out into the world, and anyone who comes in contact with it is going to absorb my atheism and be tainted by my evil. (And thanks to homeopathy, the more my atheist cooties get diluted, the more potent they’ll become.)

You know what, tamtampamela? Keep on praying. In fact, spend every waking hour just cloistered away in prayer. I think the more time you spend praying and not communicating with any real people or having any real interaction the world, the better off we’ll all be. And you just keep on being joyful about people dying by God’s wrath like a good Christian should be.

“athiest can go to hell”

As I’ve tried to raise discussion today about the inclusion of nonbelievers in the LGBT movement, this comment appeared on an old post:

athiest can go to hell

Matthew Laws, whose email address includes the word “skinhead,” offered these five words of brilliance, and I’m going to leave the comment up, but offer this reply.

I am amazed that in just five words, Matthew Laws was able to communicate a spelling error, a grammatical error, and a message that is factually inaccurate.

First of all, it’s atheist, not athiest. The “EE” comes before the “ist.”

Second of all, it ought to be plural; otherwise, specify which one atheist you think can go to hell.

Lastly, it wouldn’t matter which atheist, because atheists can’t go to hell. We just can’t. You have to believe in hell to get there.

I will not go to hell. You can’t make me go to hell. You can’t convince me I’ll go to hell. You can never prove to others that I went to hell.

There is no hell. (And boy is my life a whole lot more pleasant with that knowledge.)

So, this comment seems a grand way to demonstrate how little people know about atheists. Thanks, Matthew Laws. You’re a testament to skinheads everywhere.

Creating an Atheist-Inclusive Creating Change and LGBT Movement

[It might be helpful to read some previous posts that set the context for this one. Last year, I wrote about how religious I felt Creating Change to be. In November, I built upon that post, arguing that nonbelievers have become a marginalized community within the LGBT movement. And then, before attending this year’s Creating Change, I noted how prevalent religious themes would again be and the fact that the atheist caucus I’d proposed would be the only space that affirmed nonbelievers.]

The opening plenary of Creating Change 2011 bridged the main conference with its subconference, Practice Spirit, Do Justice. Entitled “Hard work for our common good,” the panel featured four religious leaders with prepared statements: Bishop Yvette Flunder (City of Refuge/UCC), Rev. Elder Nancy Wilson (MCC), Rabbi Joshua Lesser, and Faisal Alam, a Muslim leader.

And while I was prepared for many faith-centric messages, I was not prepared for how erased and marginalized I would feel on the very first day of the conference. Most of the 25 who joined the atheist caucus the following evening expressed similar concerns, as did many CC veterans who could not attend but followed along on Twitter.

As an obvious start, the opening panel did not feature a Humanist, Unitarian, or nonbeliever who could speak for the experiences of those who do not identify with faith. Arguably, plenty of other worldviews also went unrepresented as well. But the language that was used, particularly by Rev. Wilson and Bishop Flunder, not so subtly erased nonbelievers from the LGBT community and movement. And while atheists and agnostics were acknowledged a time or two, we were not represented nor affirmed by the supposedly interfaith panel. Continue reading “Creating an Atheist-Inclusive Creating Change and LGBT Movement” »

Religion Alive and Well at Creating Change 2011

After last year’s Creating Change conference in Dallas, I wrote about how many celebrations of religion there were yet there was nothing that so much as recognized atheists might have even been in attendance. Since then, I’ve had numerous conversations with folks in the movement about the phenomenon, and the consensus has been that this embrace of religion is new, and a swinging of the pendulum away from what used to be a very toxic environment for any discussion of religion to an environment eager to reconcile with religion.

With the Creating Change conference as our case study, it seems that the pendulum has not reached its highest point; in fact, this year’s conference unabashedly embraces faith with a whole subconference called Practice Spirit, Do Justice.

The conference’s Spiritual Needs Subcommittee offers a Spiritual Diversity Ethics Statement (p. 20 of the Program Book), suggesting the following principles:

What we can affirm and agree on is:

» The inherent worth of every person; that every person is worthy of respect, support, caring, and invitation.

» The intention to work towards a culture free of discrimination and oppression based on any identity.

» The ethic that everyone is welcome to participate in this conference without the need to become like us in order to be acceptable.

» That the way we behave towards one another is the truest expression of [what] we believe.

I agree with all these principles. Still, the preponderance of religion-focused and faith-centric sessions seems to communicate an expectation that communing with faith is an essential part of LGBT work, which I inherently disagree with. I expect that there will be several occasions this year, as with last, when I will be in a situation when a religious practice is taking place around me.

And while I certainly understand that dealing with religion is an important part of LGBT work, this integration of being religious continues to trouble me. Here’s a look at all of the different sessions related to faith. (See the Program Book in my previous post to see full descriptions.)

First, there are a number of spiritual gatherings (p.25), which I actually appreciate as part of an inclusive conference, including Muslim Friday Prayer, Shabbat Celebration, and a Sunday morning interfaith gathering. The Calling of the Names continues to be part of a plenary session, but as long as it is not dominated by rhetoric like “lifting them up,” I think a group remembrance can be very meaningful for people of any worldview.

Faith in America is holding a reception Friday evening to discuss the way people justify stigma and hostility against the LGBT community (p. 37). I continue to be nonplussed by FIA, an organization that defends and challenges faith at the same time. Members of the Episcopalian, Unitarian, and Metropolitan Community Churches are having receptions as well (p. 38).

The Practice Spirit, Do Justice subconference has its own day-long institute on Thursday to address intersectional movement building for both veterans and newbies of faith organizing and movement building (p. 43). There also several PSDJ sessions as part of the Task Force Academy for Leadership and Action (p. 51).

Here are some of the other workshops that relate to faith or that are part of the Practice Spirit, Do Justice track:

Beyond Transgender Inclusion to Transformation (p. 71)

Faith Based Models that futher Self-determination, Sovereignty and the Preservation of Sacred Sites (p. 72)

Hidden Voices: The Lives of LGBT Muslims (p. 72)

Making the Christian Case for LGBT Equality: Message Training (p. 73)

Join the Movement, Keep the Faith (p. 76)

Messology of the Black Church (p. 77)

The Pulpit of the Press: Making the Religious Case for LGBT Equality (p. 77)

(LGBTQ) Justice, (LGBTQ) Justice Shall You Pursue (p. 78)

Changing Minds of Conservative/Evangelical Christians (p. 79)

Media Savvy for Media Strategies (p. 81)

“God Hates Fags” (p. 82)

Race and Power: An Examination of Intersectionality (p. 84)

Working with Asian & Pacific Islander (A&PI) Congregations to Become Welcoming (p. 85)

API Caucus @ Practice Spirit, Do Justice (p. 86)

Atheist, Free Thinker, Non-Believer Caucus (p. 86)

Homo-Interior: Religious Design for Your Queer Soul (p. 88)

Telling Our Stories (p. 89)

Transgender: A Question of Faith (p. 89)

Lifting As We Climb: An Exercise (therefore you might sweat) In Rethinking How We Do What We Do So We Can Do It Better (p. 89)

Case Studies For Denominational Engagement (p. 89)

Mobilizing Pro-Equality Catholics on LGBT Issues (p. 91)

Of Faith and On-Line: Tools to Get Going (p. 91)

It’s All About The Frame (p. 94)

LGBT Synagogues and Organizations: Surfacing Our Diversity and Fitting the Mosaic Together (p. 94)

Spirit and Desire: Framing a Discussion About Our Spiritual and Erotic Lives (p. 95)

Building the Response to HIV and AIDS Across Communities (p. 97)

Humor, Hospitality, and Heliotropes as Tools for Social Change (p. 97)

Majority Minority – Case Studies in Advancing Equality among People of Color and People of Faith (p. 98)

Strategic Storytelling (p. 99)

Uganda-the Armageddon of the Culture Wars (p. 99)

Building a Statewide Interfaith Network for Equality (p. 101)

Fighting Islamophobia and Homophobia: Building Solidarity in Oppressed Communities (p. 101)

The Possibilities of Faith Work In An Aging LGBTQ Community (p. 103)

Building Bridges to Wholeness – Next Strategies for LGBT Jewish Movement Building (p. 104)

It’s All About Me: Queer Spirituality (p. 105)

Pagan and Queer (p. 106)

Queer Muslim Caucus (p. 106)

Strength for the Journey: A Reflective Workshop (p. 107)

That’s a whole lot of faith.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with any of these workshops. I’ll probably go to some of them. Still, it’s a healthy chunk of the conference dedicated to discussing (and often reinforcing) faith and spirituality. What’s important to note is that such a focus isn’t just unwelcoming of nonbelievers, it can also be contrary to the perspectives many bring to this work.

Certainly, many of these workshops are about working with people of faith or responding to people of faith, which doesn’t necessarily require being one. However, there is only one session at the whole conference that recognizes the existence of nonbelievers or those who might not have the same interest in promoting or reinforcing faith and spirituality.

And guess who’s hosting that atheist caucus Friday night?


I think this pendulum swing of our movement’s approach to religion is something worth discussing. I hope folks will come to the caucus to have that conversation, because I honestly don’t know how welcome it will be in the sessions I just listed above.

Is religion a good thing?
How do critical dialogues on religion impact efforts for LGBT equality?
What challenges do we face when we come out as atheists?
How can we best utilize the support of LGBT allies who are nonbelievers?
What responsibility does the LGBT community have to be allies to the atheist community?

These are some of the important questions I’m hoping to address this week. Perhaps I should be optimistic that so many other folks are as enthusiastic to discuss religion as I am.

That Time The Pope Actually Wanted to Talk to Me

P: Greetings, young Zachary.

Z: Ummm…. hi?

P: Yes, it’s me, Pope Benedict.

Z: I can see that. Don’t you ever get to wear jeans or sweats? That must suck. Anyways, hello. What can I do for you?

P: Well, I’m still kind of waiting for you to kneel and kiss my ring. You are Catholic right?

Z: Oh, yeah, not so much. I know I’m still on your records and all, but those are probably about 25 years out of date.

P: I know you call yourself an atheist, but I’m still the Pope, and you’re still Catholic, so down you go.

Z: Not likely.

P: Well that’s not a very good way to get things started.

Z: What are you even talking about?

P: We wise sages of The Vatican have initiated a new dialogue with you so-called nonbelievers!

Z: That’s interesting. So you’re paying for me to come to The Vatican to tell you what’s up?

P: Actually, it will be in Paris.

Z: Oh, that’s nice. I guess it wouldn’t be the most welcoming setting to invite atheists into the heart of all the Church’s opulent wealth.

P: Yeah, we thought universities would be better settings. And the Cathedral of Notre Dame.

Z: *sigh* Ah, of course.

P: And we’re not paying. In fact, we’re not even inviting. We like the idea of talking to atheists, and we like people knowing that we like the idea of talking to atheists, but we actually haven’t found anyone we want to have this dialogue with.

Z: Umm… well, I’ll pretend I believe you at this point and that it’s actually going to happen and be meaningful. Tell me more.

P: It’s going to be a series of seminars on the theme of “Religion, Light, and Common Reason.”

Z: Oh neat! The only thing I love more than physics lessons is discussions about how everything we’ve learned about our universe—much of which has become common knowledge—it all points to how unnecessary religion is. Sounds interesting!

P: Actually, we are thinking of it more as a “‘courtyard of the gentiles’ where men can in some way hook on to God, without knowing Him and before having gained access to His mystery.”

Z: Wait, so my lady friends aren’t event invited? I know the atheist community hasn’t been the best at creating visibility for our female members, but I still know plenty who would be just as eager to dialogue as these men you’re referring to.

P: They can come, I suppose, but we never have any real expectations about women’s ability to connect with God, which is why we just disregard them most of the time.

Z: Yeah, about this connect with God thing. That’s what you expect from this charade?

P: Of course. You atheists are lost in the dark. You cannot truly know God because you’ve stopped looking for Him. We just want you (at least the men) to have at least a little bit of God’s influence in your life. It’s because we care.

Z: So where does the dialogue come in?

P: What do you mean? We’re having all of these seminars just for you.

Z: Are you going to listen to us at all?

P: And at the end of it all, there will be a big party for youth, and then we’ll pray and meditate inside the Cathedral of Notre Dame.

Z: That’s a no.

P: We’ve got to turn back the tide of Western secularism!

Z: This is like inviting vegetarians to a slaughterhouse.

P: Aren’t you excited? You should feel so honored that we’re sinking so low as to reach out to you!

Z: Yeah. I’m thrilled. What are your actual goals? How will you know if this is a success?

P: Well, obviously, we’ll convince you you’re wrong. At the very least you’ll shut up, and at the best you’ll join our new evangelical efforts!

Z: So let me get this all straight. You want to hold a dialogue with atheists, but you don’t really want to hear from the atheists. You want to bring us to Church locations, teach us Church teachings, and have us pray with you. It’s on your terms, it uses your rhetoric, and you have made no suggestion that the Church is open to growing or cooperating more with secularism.

P: You’ve got it exactly! Doesn’t it sound great?

Z: You going to apologize for anything while we’re there?

P: Like what?

Z: Well, I’ve got a pretty long list, but since this is about dialogue with atheists… how about taking back what you said in September about us atheists being Nazis who exclude virtue from public life?

P: Nazism was not very Christian behavior—

Z: You were a member of the Hitler youth.

P: Don’t interrupt me! I’m still the Pope, you know.

Z: And I’m still unimpressed. So that’s a no to the apology then?

P: I can’t apologize. I’m infallible, and the truth is the truth.

Z: The truth is the truth, eh? Then what you’re saying is you’re holding a public dialogue with Nazis. And you’re inviting me to these seminars because I’m one of the Nazis?

P: No… no… that’s not… we want atheists to like us.

Z: Do you like atheists?

P: Not really.

Z: Are you even willing to say that you’d be willing to hear what atheists have to say?

P: It’s a pretty big step for us to say we’re even willing to talk to you.

Z: I’m flattered.

P: So you’ll come? You’ll give us a chance to convince the world we’re not archaically stodgy?

Z: You paying?

P: Sorry, times are tight.

Z: Yeah, wouldn’t want the Vatican going broke on atheists. Good luck with that.

P: Awwww, please! I promise I won’t call you a Nazi again!

Z: Too late.


(Look, everybody! I made fun of the Pope without referring to his complicity in covering up all the Church’s pedophilia!)


The Chronicle Review Highlights Trite Anti-Atheist Memes

I continue to have concerns about higher education’s ability to talk about religion. From the embrace of “spirituality” by student affairs to the accreditation of creation-teaching religious schools, the home of our sharpest minds and supposedly most forward-thinking thinkers still seems to have a very conservative and backwards approach to our oldest philosophical questions. It’s like it’s still 1940 and everybody’s afraid they’ll be the next Bertrand Russell—start saying things that are critical (taboo) and you’ll be the next to be unhired.

The featured editorial in yesterday’s The Chronicle of Higher Education doesn’t offer much to be optimistic about. The author, Stephen T. Asma, is a philosophy professor at Columbia College Chicago, and you know his article is going to be a farce just from its title: “The New Athe­ists’ Nar­row Worldview.” I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that he didn’t write the title, but he should complain; an ad hominem attack like “narrow” (an intellectual’s synonym for “stupid”) doesn’t do much to set up the credibility of an argument.

Sure enough, Asma’s argument doesn’t have much credibility to preserve and his title is only the beginning of his ad hominem. In fact, his piece covers all the memetic bases when it comes to baseless critiques of atheism. He smears atheists with Marx’s endorsement, then hammers home the stereotype of amorality with Khmer Rouge and Red Guard, stopping just short of Nazism, but not before the damage is done. Ironically, his trite attempt to paint atheism as amoral is supposed to be a critique of Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape, a book about how we can be moral without religion.

Asma’s campaign is as ill-supported as the attack ads he opens with, suggesting that the animism of the Eastern religions keeps the poor, starving people of third-world nations happy, so it’s not a bad thing. Talk about putting the chicken before the egg. Just because animism is lacking in the orthodoxy department, that doesn’t mean it’s any less effective at pacifying the oppressed. And while many of Buddhism’s teachings certainly can be understood and appreciated without any supernatural presuppositions, serving whiskey to the phii/neak ta spirits isn’t helping anybody. As one commenter pointed out, it’s Santa Claus’s cookies for adults.

What is most disappointing is his glib suggestion that as long as someone can derive something good from religion, then all religion should be “cherished and preserved.” In other words, don’t invite Stephen Asma to your next AA or NA meeting:

But I’d advance a much more rad­i­cal ar­gu­ment as well. Not only should the more rational and therapeutic elements be distilled from the opi­ate of re­li­gion. But the wacky, su­per­sti­tious, cloud-cuck­oo-land forms of re­li­gion, too, should be cherished and preserved, for those forms of religion some­times do great good for our emo­tion­al lives, even when they com­pro­mise our more-rational lives.

In case you weren’t sure whether Asma was really suggesting that opiates—constructed delusions—are a good thing, he makes it quite clear later in the piece: he is.

Is an­i­mism a mere “opi­ate,” as the athe­ists ar­gue? Well, yes, but don’t underestimate opi­ates. They can be high­ly in­spi­ra­tion­al and con­sol­ing. Af­ter all, a drunk­en man is usu­al­ly a lit­tle hap­pi­er than a so­ber one. In fact, to con­tin­ue the met­a­phor, op­pos­ing re­li­gion is a lot like pro­hi­bi­tion­ists’ oppos­ing drink­—a rath­er cru­el pro­ject in my view. I’d glad­ly give my copies of Mao’s Little Red Book, and Daw­kins’s The God De­lu­sion for a six-pack of Grolsch. But if all that is too of­fen­sive, we might re­place the word “opi­ate” with “an­al­ge­sic,” and my point may be more a­gree­a­ble.

How primal. He ignores the pivotal argument of the very “new atheists” he’s critiquing that you don’t need religion to have comfort or emotional solace or meaning in life. But if religion is the drug, then the new atheism (if something 100+ years strong can be called “new”) isn’t “prohibition”; it’s MADD.

Asma’s essentialism is regressive: if it feels good, do it. After all, if you live in the third world, the delusion of other-worldly comforts might be the only good thing you have in your life. But with this condescending argument, he is treating the very symptoms of an unegalitarian world with more of the very systems of control that keep our lives so disparate. Just because we may have evolved a tendency toward belief doesn’t mean that believing is good for us, let alone that we should encourage it.

If the brunt of the piece isn’t convincing enough (it shouldn’t be), Asma mixes in some condescending pathos by trying to confirm that there really are no atheists in foxholes. After all, he’s agnostic, but he sure prayed when his son was in the emergency room. How convincing. Even though he knew it wouldn’t help heal his son, he just couldn’t help but grovel and negotiate with something or someone he’s not sure he believes in (or whatever agnostic means to him). This is the model of rationalism we’re supposed to respect?

Apparently, Mr. Asma has confused the definitions of “rational” and “virtuous.”

Re­li­gious ideas that en­cour­age de­hu­man­iza­tion, vi­o­lence, and fac­tion­al­ism should be re­formed or di­min­ished, while those that hu­man­ize, con­sole, and in­spire should be fos­tered.

What does he think the “new atheists” are trying to do? The whole point of Harris’ book is to “determine human values.” It’s in the subtitle. Asma seems to think that if a good idea is couched in religion, it’s a credit to the religion as opposed to just a credit to the idea itself.

Wheth­er it is Ca­thol­i­cism, Protestantism, Is­lam, Bud­dhism, or animism, the vir­tues can be re­tained while the vices are mod­er­at­ed. In short, the re­duc­tion of human suf­fer­ing should be the stand­ard by which we meas­ure ev­ery re­li­gion.

Irrationality is a wildcard. You can’t distinguish between the legitimacy of different ideas that are all irrational. Why are dipsomaniacal evil spirits worth any more consideration than an all-seeing god? Are unicorns worth more or less consideration than leprechauns? There is no criteria for differentiating between them, because such analysis requires conformity to the rules of the natural universe in which we live.

If the only way you’ve been taught to have meaning in life is to find it through a higher power and you haven’t fully shaken that construct, it’s what you’ll revert to in times of crisis. I don’t know what Asma has to say in his book, “Why I Am a Buddhist,” but clearly his claim to agnosticism is merely symbolic, perhaps to suggest that he’s got some expertise as a nonbeliever. (He’s no ally of mine.) If he’s praying (and then playing apologetics for it, as this entire piece seems to be), he hasn’t sufficiently dismantled the only context he’s known. He still finds meaning in life through fear of a great or tiny tyrant, and he’s attacking atheism because he cannot overcome that fear through rationality.

But Sam Har­ris’s new book may be a sub­tle turn­ing point toward a more nor­ma­tive so­cial agenda. If pub­lic pol­i­cy is even­tu­al­ly ex­pect­ed to flow from athe­ism, then its pro­po­nents need to have a more nu­anced and glob­al un­der­stand­ing of re­li­gion.

“Social agenda” isn’t a very covert form of fear-mongering, especially for atheists, the least-trusted minority in our society. And while there might be much I still don’t know about religion, I’m feeling pretty good that I have a better understanding of it than a nationally-published philosophy professor. I wish I could give higher education the credit.

Even though I was triggered by Asma’s piece to write my own response, please also read through all the comments he’s received. Plenty of folks have written some very thoughtful retorts to many of Asma’s points and deserve credit for it. If these anonymous screennames are reading The Chronicle, they hopefully are in higher education themselves, an assumption which does give me hope after the miserable experience of  reading Asma’s hackneyed piece. I’d love to know who those people are; they should be the ones featured in The Chronicle.

Psst… Astrology Is Still BS!

I think I have a concussion from all the facepalming I’ve done in the past 24 hours.

I remember there was this one day in high school that was really busy and really stressful. I had a lot going on, with situations to address that were both personal and professional. At the end of the day, I noticed my good ol’ Virgo horoscope on my browser homepage. The day was over, but that little paragraph described what had happened exactly. I was in awe.

I remember another day in high school when we were on a field trip and someone on the bus had a big book about astrology. It could describe your personality based on your sign. They read Virgo for me, and so much of it was dead on. I was anal and particular and all kinds of other things that everyone born between late August and late September were supposed to be.

Guess what, folks. Astrology is complete bullshit.

There is no wiggle room on this. It’s not even a little accurate. There isn’t an ounce of truth or reliability to it. It is utter nonsense—bogus superstition (which is redundant, but worth saying to drive home the point).

1) Do you really think there are only 12 13 kinds of people? 2) Do you really think that everybody born in the same month is the same? (Let’s not even get started on those Chinese animals—trust me, there are plenty of other ’85ers who are nothing like this ox.)

Yesterday’s announcement that the signs are changing only had one impact on me. It made me feel bad for the writers of the Battlestar Galactica series, because their 12 colonies should have been 13 to include “Ophiuchon,” but that’s about it. (Maybe they can work it into the next spinoff since poor Caprica was canceled.)

I was so disappointed to see so many of my friends on Facebook upset by this matter. Really? Are folks that insecure or naïve that they are living their lives according to the stars someone who’s good at writing self-satisfying ambiguity for their favorite newspaper, magazine, or website?

Apparently, I was never a Virgo. I was a Leo. Who the frak cares? If I had been told I was a Leo when I was a kid, I would have been able to have the same kind of mystifying experiences I described above. It just would have happened on different days.

If you want some reliable feedback about your personality, take the MBTI. It’s a reliable measure based on actual social science. When I say I’m an ENTJ, it’s because I know that the identity reflects who I am, not because I am a product of the imposed identity.

Now, assuming you’ve even read this far, a lot of you are probably thinking, why is Zack so bothered by this stupid little thing? The problem is that the same mental error people make about the validity of astrology is the same mental error people make about lots of superstitions, including luck, sin, and the probability of winning the lottery. Astrology, itself, may not be harmful, but the susceptibility to it very much is.

It’s primitive thinking. And it’s dangerous. There are a lot of stupid decisions made by people who are not stupid because of this kind of thinking.

If you get meaning and purpose from star signs, I feel bad for you. I hope you take some time to reflect on how senseless this is. If you want to have a conversation about it, let me know.

Seeing how many people were upset about the big astrology announcement might have made just a little bit more cynical. At the very least, I now have a sore forehead.

Fake Steve Jobs is an Atheist, Too!

In response to The Manhattan Declaration debacle (the creation of and the elimination of an iPhone app for the document that promotes breaking the law in order to perpetuate anti-LGBT beliefs), Fake Steve Jobs has written a scathing rebuke of the whiny groups upset the app was pulled. The whole thing is brilliant. The best part… even though it’s intended as satire, pretty much everything in it is true, too. Check out this entertaining critique of Christianity and defense of LGBT rights.

Here are a few highlights:

Second, your “religion” is a myth. It’s bogus. Jesus did not die and rise from the tomb and ascend into heaven. Okay? That. Did. Not. Happen. God did not take the form of a little bird and fly down and impregnate an unwed teenage virgin girl so that she could give birth to a half-human half-divine man-god. Immaculate conception, virgin birth, raising people from the dead, walking on water, loaves and fishes — great stories, but correctly filed under “fiction.” The sad fact is, what you call “faith” is a form of mental illness. It’s amazing enough that so many of you are running around in your mental case dream world. But it’s simply unacceptable when you start trying to impose your delusions upon the rest of us. Cynical politicians may feel the need to humor you and kowtow to your demands. I, however, do not.

It’s wonderful the things you can get away with using satire…

Oh, and here’s one that you even put on your own Manhattan Declaration document, which is ironic because you don’t seem to understand what it means and in fact what you’re doing is the exact opposite of what this statement intended: Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s. In other words, do not become entwined with the state. Focus on the next world, not on this one. Or, to be more blunt: Stay the hell out of politics, you boneheads. If a state or federal government wants to marry gay people, that’s their decision. Leave it alone. Go say some prayers.

Yet somehow you’ve twisted this around and interpret it to mean that you should impose your will onto others by passing laws that would force other people who do not share your beliefs to be bound by the rules of your Bible, even though (a) your Bible is fiction and (b) you’re not even interpreting the fiction correctly.

It’s bad enough that you’re hateful bigots. But to dress up your hate and bigotry as an expression of Christianity? That, my friends, is pure evil. If you want to go around hating people, fine. Go for it. It’s stupid, and pointless, but whatever. Go hate people. Just don’t go around saying Jesus told you to do it.

So, listen up. You can’t put your bullshit in my app store. I’m sorry. But I won’t let you use my store to spread your hate. I don’t want any part in the spreading of your phony religion, either. There is no God. There is no heaven. There also is no hell, which is too bad, because if hell did exist, you would surely be spending eternity there, with red-hot pokers up your butts. And nothing would make me happier.

Go read the whole thing.

Two Arguments for Faith I Don’t Get (Blair vs. Hitchens)

So, Tony Blair and Christopher Hitchens had a debate recently about whether religion is a force for good in the world.

I’ve created a playlist for all the clips below. It’s pretty good, and Hitchens is still right on his game, despite his health. I particularly appreciated Hitchens’ argument that the way to end poverty is to empower women. It’s worth a listen.

Tony Blair continued making two arguments throughout the debate that I just do not understand. I mean, I don’t think either of them actually help support his point that religion is a good thing to have.

The first was the idea that faith is good because lots of people already have faith. Since we can’t convince everyone to suddenly not have faith, we should encourage people who have faith to apply that faith in good ways.

Is this really an argument for anything? This is the same argument people make to support smoking. They say, Oh, well lots of people are smokers (i.e. addicted to smoking), so we should just let them keep smoking. Umm, no! Sorry smokers. Your habit is gross and makes me sneeze. Go outside, keep your tar clouds away, and yes, keep trying to quit!

Just because people have faith doesn’t mean faith is good! Like Tim Minchin says in his song White Wine in the Sun, “I don’t believe just because ideas are tenacious that they’re worthy.” This argument is really a concession. It doesn’t demonstrate anything at all about the difference faith makes, just that we’re stuck with it, so we ought to try to make the most of it. If anything, it sounds more like a strategy for coping with the persistence of faith.

The other argument he made a lot is that though some people use religion for bad things, some people also use religion for good things. This is not a good argument in favor of religion. It actually demonstrates how pointless religion is. If it can be used for both good and bad, then it doesn’t make a difference at all! It just is.

My argument has long been that there are no unique benefits to religion/faith. None of Mr. Blair’s arguments challenge that claim at all. Sure, some people do good things inspired by their faith, but so what? Plenty of people do good things without faith, and honestly, they’re often better things in the absence of proselytization.

If you are supporting the claim that religion is a force for good, you have to be able to demonstrate that there is something we get from faith that we could not get without it. Given that there are plenty of bad things that are unique to religion—the very suspension of critical thinking that faith requires is itself a detractor—I really don’t think Mr. Blair had much to offer. Admittedly, my expectations were not high given that his opening statement included mention of Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot, hackneyed jabs at atheism that don’t hold up (and which Hitchens didn’t even bother addressing). It’s not surprising that Mr. Hitchens successfully swayed a much larger percentage of the audience than did Mr. Blair.

The debate is not short, but throw the playlist on and listen while you’re at work. Share your own thoughts about these arguments or other things that are said in the discussion.