17 October 2007

Ben Stein: was he born this ignorant, or does he have to put an effort into it?

OK, so I'm wandering around some Christian discussion groups, when I came across a copypasta job of an internet chain letter written by Ben Stein. Immediately my lip began to curl and a low guttural sound started emanating from my throat. The sheer idiocy! Not only of Stein but of the person who posted this with the topic title "Read This!" like it was somehow profound or insightful! I was so angry, I just HAD to respond, and I'll let you guys share in my righteous indignation. The letter is presented from start to finish, with my comments interspersed. Enjoy!

My confession:

I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish. And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejeweled trees Christmas trees. I don't feel threatened. I don't feel discriminated against. That's what they are: Christmas trees.

It doesn't bother me a bit when people say, "Merry Christmas" to me. I don't think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn't bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu . If people want a crche, it's just as fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away .

OK. No problem, right? Right.

I don't like getting pushed around for being a Jew, and I don't think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians. I think people who believe in God are sick and tired of getting pushed around, period. I have no idea where the concept came from that America is an explicitly atheist country. I can't find it in the Constitution and I don't like it being shoved down my throat.

No one is trying to create an "atheist America" in any sense, whatever that would look like. Rather, the problem is that America *is secular* and religious zealots are trying to change that. Being secular does not necessarily equate with atheism. Under the secular Constitution, the government is forbidden from sanctioning any particular religion *so that* it may ensure that no religion is prevented from being practiced freely by those who choose to do so.

Or maybe I can put it another way: where did the idea come from that we should worship Nick and Jessica and we aren't allowed to worship God as we understand Him? I guess that's a sign that I'm getting old, too. But there are a lot of us who are wondering where Nick and Jessica came from and where the America we knew went to.

I actually join Ben in lamenting the apparent obsession with vapid celebrities in the US, but who is preventing him from being allowed to "worship God as we understand him?" What kind of bullshit is that?

Billy Graham's daughter was interviewed on the Early Show and Jane Clayson asked her "How could God let something like this happen?" (regarding Katrina) Anne Graham gave an extremely profound and insightful response. She said, "I believe God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for years we've been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives. And being the gentleman He is, I believe He has calmly backed out. How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if we demand He leave us alone?"

Apparently no one ever told Anne Graham that there were devastating hurricanes long before we supposedly "told God to get out." Indeed, we told God to get out the minute our Constitution was ratified.

In light of recent events...terrorists attack, school shootings, etc. I think it started when Madeleine Murray O'Hare (she was murdered, her body found recently) complained she didn't want prayer in our schools, and we said OK. Then someone said you better not read the Bible in school. The Bible says thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, and love your neighbor as yourself. And we said OK.

Shall I count the number of false correlations in this paragraph? Or shall I just laugh at Ben's implication that the Bible is the only thing that makes people act kindly toward others and prevents them from killing or stealing? Hmmm...I think I'll just laugh, if you don't mind! XD

Then Dr. Benjamin Spock said we shouldn't spank our children when they misbehave because their little personalities would be warped and we might damage their self-esteem (Dr. Spock's son committed suicide). We said an expert should know what he's talking about. And we said OK.

Now we're asking ourselves why our children have no conscience, why they don't know right from wrong, and why it doesn't bother them to kill strangers, their classmates, and themselves.

Yeah, it's all Dr. Spock's fault. It couldn't possibly be indifferent parenting or poverty or any other number of cultural/socio-economic ills, could it?

Probably, if we think about it long and hard enough, we can figure it out. I think it has a great deal to do with "WE REAP WHAT WE SOW."

Am I supposed to be impressed by this common trope?

Funny how simple it is for people to trash God and then wonder why the world's going to hell.

There is no hell, and the world isn't actually all that bad if you really think about it. This is not to say that there aren't problems, but Stein here seems to think that everything was all hunky-dory before we "told god to get out." There will *always* be problems, and two hands working accomplishes more than a million clasped in prayer! So quit your idle bitching Ben!

Funny how we believe what the newspapers say, but question what the Bible says.

This is truly idiotic. I read newspapers with the same critical eye that I do with the Bible, as do most people.

Funny how you can send 'jokes' through e-mail and they spread like wildfire but when you start sending messages regarding the Lord, people think twice about sharing.

Maybe most people are courteous and know that, while I appreciate a good joke, I'd rather not be sent something I did not solicit, and that includes prayer chain mails.

Funny how lewd, crude, vulgar and obscene articles pass freely through cyberspace, but public discussion of God is suppressed in the school and workplace.

This is a truly insidious statement. The reason that those pictures and articles can pass over the internet (and I would mention, briefly, that religious articles and pictures pass over this same internet unhindered as well) is because we have freedom of speech in this country. However, the reason we CANNOT allow Christianity or Judaism or any other religion in schools and the public square is because of a separate freedom: the freedom of religion If you promote one image of God in schools and the public square, you do so at the expense of all the others, essentially negating freedom of religion. Apparently, what Ben is saying here is that he does not like freedom of speech or freedom of religion, and that makes him a maliciously ignorant wretch.

Are you laughing?

Normally, I would be. But quite frankly, I'm too disgusted to laugh.

Funny how when you forward this message, you will not send it to many on your address list because you're not sure what they believe, or what they will think of you for sending it.

I can only hope they would be so courteous, but what I would really wish is that they would be smart enough to delete it.

Funny how we can be more worried about what other people think of us than what God thinks of us.

It's a stupid statement, but I'll comment anyway: we should, to an extent, be worried about what others think of us. It is part of the metric by which we measure our own intelligence and character.

Pass it on if you think it has merit. If not then just discard it... no one will know you did. But, if you discard this thought process, don't sit back and complain about what bad shape the world is in. My Best Regards .
Honestly and respectfully,

Ben Stein


There was nothing honest or respectful about this ridiculous rant, and I hope people who are thinking of forwarding this will stop to consider just how stupid they would make themselves to do so.

26 September 2007

No atheists in foxholes?

Well, technically they're not in foxholes, but that could just be because they're bad-ass muthas who don't need to hunker down when the shooting starts. This was posted to the AANR picture board by Army Specialist Dustin Chalker, thanks go out to him for the picture.

From left to right: SGT Mike Aguilar, SPC Christopher Carr, SPC Jeremy Hall, SPC Tony Hernandez, and SPC Dustin Chalker.

The soldier in the middle, Jeremy Hall, is currently suing the Department of Defense for violating his right to religious freedom. The story can be found here, and has been blogged about by my partner in crime Dane Andrade over at Second Enlightenment.

One unfortunate consequence of this is that, according to SPC Chalker, SPC Hall has been receiving death threats, ostensibly from some of his fellow soldiers, and has been assigned a bodyguard because of it (the person behind the camera, accord to SPC Chalker). I guess the theistic asshats making the threats never understood the concept of "brothers in arms," because this sure isn't any way to treat a fellow soldier, regardless of what religion he follows (or doesn't as the case may be).

25 September 2007

"Faith" in atheism?

I get this a lot in discussions with theists, especially Christians, and while I'm sure most readers of Second Enlightenment have had it thrown at them so many times that every mention simply elicits a *headdesk*, I think it's worth going over. The argument goes something like this:
It requires just as much faith to NOT believe in God as it does to believe in him.

There are variations on this erroneous argument, the most common of which is that atheism is, in fact, just another religion.

Yeah, and NOT playing baseball is a cherished past-time; and NOT being a lawyer is a profession; and NOT collecting stamps is a hobby.

The fact is that people of all stripes reject ridiculous things all the time, and it doesn't require any measure of "faith" to do so. It doesn't take faith to believe that 9/11 WAS NOT the result of a vast government conspiracy; or that the moon landings WERE NOT merely a Hollywood production. All it takes is a serious look at the evidence, and in the case of 9/11, there's no real evidence to suggest that the attacks were anything other than the product of, to use South Park's description, a "bunch of pissed-off Muslims."

Similarly, all it takes is a trip to places like the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago to see one of the actual command modules used in the Apollo moon missions (this one being Apollo 8, which carted Jim Lovell in his first trip around the moon, the second trip of his being the more famous Apollo 13), as well as some of the moon rocks the astronauts brought back, not to mention all the other great things the MSI has in its Henry Crown Space Center exhibit.

But I'm not here to talk about nutjob conspiracy theories, we're talking about why faith is not required for atheism. I suppose the main reason why atheism does not require faith is because it is, essentially, a null position. This is different from an outright negative position. Instead, it is an acknowledgment that the existence of any god or gods is infinitely improbable, and is not worth serious consideration without proper evidence or logic to back it up. Thus, because the Christian, Islamic, Jewish, Hindu, Zoroastrian, and all other theistic gods share the same infinite improbability as such mythical ideas as unicorns, dragons, goblins, faeries, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, and the idea that Elvis is still alive (though, admittedly, it makes for a damn funny movie), they are consequently just as easy to reject. If atheism were a positive assertion (like theism), and did not have any reasonable arguments or evidence in its favour (also like theism), then yes, it would require a leap of faith (again, like theism) to accept it in whole or in part.

Simply because something is possible does not mean that anyone should give it serious consideration without adequate reason to do so. This is why the Flying Spaghetti Monster is such a poignant example: it has just as much probability for being true as Yahweh. It takes the same amount of "faith" to dismiss the FSM as it does to dimiss Yahweh, which is to say, none at all. Richard Dawkins summed it up nicely in his most recent book The God Delusion. On a scale of 1 to 7, where 1 is certitude that God exists and 7 is certitude that God does not exist, Dawkins rates himself a 6: "I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there." This is not faith, but rather HONEST COMMON SENSE! Insert the word "faeries" or "dragons" or "unicorns" in the place of "God" and this fact becomes clear. It's simple common sense NOT to believe in any of those things, because there is no good reason to do so; and admitting the fact that the thing in question can't be definitively said to NOT exist is not a case for faith, it is merely being intellectually honest. Any theist who claims otherwise is doomed to end up in the philosophical cul-du-sac of solipsism, usually without realizing that it is equally detrimental to their own beliefs as well as those they're attacking. Solipsism is, in a word, useless, worthless, irrelevant, or whatever other synonym you prefer.

Additionally, I think theists who claim that faith is required for atheism devalue their own faith, since it's definitely easier NOT to accept the improbable than to believe in it without reason (and that's speaking as a former believer). But as is usually the case, theists are so intent at winning an argument at any cost that they fail to realize just how ridiculous they've become in the process.

But then, that's the real tragedy of religious belief, isn't it?

13 August 2007

"We stand for our right to be ignorant bigots."

The Chicago Tribune published an article in today's edition on the new anti-hate crime law currently in consideration before the U.S. Congress. The new law would make it easier for federal law enforcement to prosecute hate crimes and extend hate crime protections beyond race, ethnicity, and religion "to include violent attacks against victims based on their gender identity or sexual orientation."

Anti-hate law shifts to debate on gays

Obviously, there is opposition in conservative and religious circles to extending protection to gays, lesbians, and transgendered people. Their latest argument is that the law would infringe on the free speech rights of religious leaders to speak out against homosexuality. They fear that if they go on another hellfire and brimstone sermon about gays and a parishioner acts on their exhortations and bible-thumping by committing a crime against gays, they would be liable under the new law.

Nevermind that there is no such provision in the law, but they really, REALLY don't want any infringement on their right to preach intolerance. Here's what Bishop Harry Jackson had to say:
"What I'm talking about is my right to preach what I believe," said Bishop Harry Jackson, pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Md., who joined three dozen black pastors to buy a full-page ad in USA Today denouncing the proposed federal hate crimes law. "We preach love and acceptance, but I don't believe the Bible condones gay lifestyles. Yet the way these laws would be invoked would be that whoever is a commander or director of this kind of action can be brought up on the same charges as the actual perpetrator of a crime."

While you're picking up your jaw off the floor, let me just repeat what the good bishop said about himself and others who preach against gays and lesbians:

"We preach love and acceptance, but I don't believe the Bible condones gay lifestyles. Yet the way these laws would be invoked would be that whoever is a commander or director of this kind of action can be brought up on the same charges as the actual perpetrator of a crime."

"Commander?" "Director?" What the fuck are they preaching at Hope Christian Church that they're "commanding" and "directing" against gays? Is this a misquote? Did he mistake himself? Surely he didn't mean that he actively "directs" and "commands" his parishioners on how to act toward gays (at best, with indifference; at worst...well)?

I don't think he misspoke, because let's face it, religious bigotry and hate is a primary motivator in speeches and actions against gays and lesbians. And, again, who is showing their persecution complex ad nauseum in reaction to this law? Yup, religious leaders. James Dobson. Pat Robertson. Jerry Falwell would be, if he hadn't gone tits up (and I'm glad he did, by the way). Oh, and let's not forget our friends at the Westboro Baptist Church and the kindly pastor Fred Phelps. "Oh! Poor us! We're the overwhelming religious majority in the Western world but those mean gays keep oppressing us with their hopes for equal treatment under the law! How dare they demand recognition of our common humanity by asking for equal protection under the law?"

The persecution complex is more evident further on in the article, as Michael Marcavage, leader of the Christian conservative group Repent America, shows:
Marcavage and several followers were arrested in 2004 while staging a protest march outside a Philadelphia gay and lesbian street festival, charged with ethnic intimidation and violating Pennsylvania's hate crimes law.

Although a judge later dismissed the charges and cleared the group of any wrongdoing, Marcavage said he believes the incident foreshadows how zealous prosecutors could wield an expanded federal hate crimes law against religious leaders.

"The lawmakers in Pennsylvania said that the state hate crimes law would not apply to pastors, to people sharing their faith, but here we have an example of exactly that," Marcavage said. "People say these hate crimes laws only apply to violent acts against gays. Well, we committed no violent acts. This is how the abuse happens."

Yeah, the law is so bad he was convicted and sent to prison...wait, didn't the article say the judge dismissed the case? Huh, so I guess the law actually DOES work the way Marcavage wants it to. He was able to preach his hate and ignorance, got pinched for it, then after careful review, was found innocent. Funny how judicial review works, isn't it? But poor Michael and his ilk are afraid that they won't be able to "share their faith," as he put it (filth, I say), if the new law is passed. Oh, woe are they, that they can't exhort their fellow believers to discriminate against their fellow human beings based on the writings of bronze age sheep herders. Those poor Christians, who will help them cope with this new form of oppression?

What complete and utter rubbish. The law is needed, and it's past time for argument. It should have been enacted right after Matthew Sheppard was brutally tortured and left for dead tied to a barb wire fence in Laramie, Wyoming in 1998. But I guess it's more important that ignorant pricks like Jackson and Marcavage get to continue to preach hellfire and damnation against gays and lesbians like Matthew, who want nothing more than a simple acknowledgment of their dignity as human beings.

Fred Phelps, by the way, has a Cronkite-esqe counter of the days Matthew has "spent in Hell," which he and his vile family bring to every protest they stage...but no one has ever arrested them for having such signs (or the signs which say "God hates Fags," "Thank God for Dead Soldiers," and the like). Pies in the face, yes. Epithets hurled in their faces, of course (I personally called his daughter and son-in-law "bloody cowards" when they came to SIU). But never arrested for waving their horrible signs and shouting their equally horrible slogans. They're safe, and they will remain so.

But regardless of whether they are allowed to continue to preach ignorance and bigotry (whether it's in the extreme,like Phelps, or "moderate" like Jackson and Marcavage) they should not try to argue that they, or ANYONE for that matter, have the free speech right to "direct" or "command" others to commit any kind of crime, whether it be merely discriminatory (i.e "don't hire fags," etc.) or violent, against anyone based on their race, ethnicity, religion, or, yes, their sexual orientation/identity.

We need this law, and be damned to their bigoted sermons and lectures.

27 June 2007

A different kind of summer camp

I suppose it was only a matter of time before we would see the development of secular summer camps as a response to the growing number of religious camps for kids, some of which are nothing more than engines of indoctrination to create "faith warriors" out of kids as young as six or seven.

While I am pleased to see that kids are being encouraged to seek answers with an open mind (and to question the answers they find themselves), I can see the argument from opponents who believe that such a camp would be dangerous to kids, giving them a skewed grasp of morality and ethics, endangering their immortal souls, etc.

To those critics I would simply ask that they read the article, and in particular take a look at the photos featured in the Tribune article. Now, juxtapose those images with some taken from Becky Fischer's Kids on Fire (sponsored by Kids In Ministry International, also run by Fischer) which was featured on ABC News and in the 2006 documentary "Jesus Camp."

The images of children playing and interacting at the atheist Camp Quest contrast sharply with Fischer's brainwashed kids who are training to be literal "soldiers of Christ": they sing martial hymns while wearing camouflage paint, speak in jibberish (sorry, I mean they "speak in tongues"), and pray before a cardboard cutout of George W. Bush.

This nascent movement to give non-religious kids a summer camp of their own is heartening, especially given the rise of such brainwiping camps like Fischer's and Ron Luce's hypocritical "Battlecry" movement (which mixes elements of old-fashioned religious revivals and televangelist charlatanry in a rock concert-like setting). Both serve only to make unquestioning drones of children, a new generation of religious automatons ready to do the "will of God."

But the rise of atheist summer camps also betrays a darker side to the current culture over children: while it is indeed heartening to know that these kids have a place where they can be themselves and be with others like themselves, the separation of children into different camps (literally and figuratively) is hurtful. Summer camps for children should be open to all, regardless of belief or creed. Should it not be possible to have a summer camp that simply teaches kids skills and crafts in an encouraging community setting that encourages nothing more than human fellowship? Is it not possible to do that without addressing belief or non-belief? The current cultural climate is not very conducive to that at this moment, I know, which is why there is a need for camps like Camp Quest. I know that there will also continue to be Christian, Muslim, and other religious camps But I do hope that, in the future, instead of being "Christian" or "Atheist" or what have you, children will be able to go to summer camp and just be KIDS!

23 June 2007

I'm sure I need not remind anyone here about the uproar in 2005 over some Danish political cartoons that were perceived to be blasphemous depictions of the "prophet" Muhammad, so I won't bother to go through yet another telling of the sad, sordid affair. The only reason I bring this up again (regrettably so, because I'm rather tired of hearing about it myself) is to bring your attention to yet another example of the clamoring of unlettered mobs who live where the most backward of the monotheistic religions still hold considerable way.

I'm talking, of course, about Islam. And the uproar this time is over the honor of knighthood that has been bestowed upon author Salman Rushdie.

How fearful and ignorant do you have to be so that even the most mundane representations of your faith or creed's doctrines and dogmas result in violent acts of false indignation and pretended outrage? Why be afraid to let some critics make your flaws known so you can address them in a constructive way? Well, when you're dealing with the divine, it is necessary for it to be thought of as flawless so that it can keep the little people enthralled and pliable.

Only corrupt and tyrannic entities fear self-examination to the extent that it restricts others from examining it out of the fear it might have to confront itself. I hope Mr. Rushdie keeps writing, because its good for Muslims to be forced to look in the mirror a little more often.

10 June 2007

God is dead...

Happy Sunday Morning!

As funny as this classic Kids in the Hall sketch is, it's also quite poignant.

God is indeed small, and the sketch's portrayal of such a small deity is a metaphor for just how petty and parochial the God of Abraham truly is. Indeed, all deities placed at the heads of the great theistic religions, monotheistic and polytheistic alike, are credited with the creation of a vast universe but afterwards seem only concerned with that tiny corner of existence that happens to contain a certain "chosen" people.

The insignificance of God is further illustrated in the sketch by two other elements. First, the toddler-sized jacket with "GOD" embroidered on the back shows us that, were it not for the self-advertisement, we might forget that the tiny, seemingly innocuous person we're dealing with is the all-knowing, all-seeing creator of the cosmos. The second element comes at the end of the sketch, where the finality of God's insignificance is shown as the people of Earth go right on with their lives, where "it's business as usual on the streets and highways that God built."

"Yes, God did exist...he died...he was very small...mystery solved!" If only it were that simple.

08 June 2007

Things move quickly...

I started this no fewer than 4 days ago and already I've been cited over at Slate.com.

Check it out!

07 June 2007

Stem Cells Get Lost in Politics

Stem Cells are amazing things. They can be coaxed by medical researchers to assume the form of almost any tissue needed, leading to the hope that some of the most debilitating diseases could be ultimately cured. But the damned little things are so versatile that they seem to be able to conform to almost any political view as well:

The political fray has obscured quiet efforts in recent months to compare stem cells from many different sources. Experts doing the research say some cells may be best for treating certain diseases, while others are easier to grow in the lab. The upshot is likely to be an array of trade-offs that lack the clarity of the moral debate.

"You can't say one cell type is better than another," said Dr. Anthony Atala, director of Wake Forest's Institute for Regenerative Medicine, who is leading one stem cell comparison study. "Each cell has its own properties. We won't know what the properties are unless they're studied and we find out which cells do best for certain applications."
This reminds me of a paper I wrote on the controversy surrounding Hannah Arendt's book Eichmann in Jerusalem. Commenting herself on the madness of the controversy, the great twentieth century sociologist and philosopher said that there are certain groups with "down-to-Earth interests...whose excitement is entirely concerned with factual matters and who therefore try to distort the facts." Too true.

The Tribune article also included a nice little graphic showing the different lines of stem cell research being pursued today. Have a look.

06 June 2007

Hammerhead Jesus?

And yea, unto you a savior shall be born of a virgin, and he will eat you...

Unnatural "Pipe Fittings"

Apparently, we are to believe that homosexuality is a "choice" and can be "cured," so says the White House's nominee for Surgeon General.

From the article:
Sixteen years ago, [Dr. James Holsinger] wrote a paper for the church in which he likened the reproductive organs to male and female "pipe fittings" and argued that homosexuality is therefore biologically unnatural.

"When the complementarity of the sexes is breached, injuries and diseases may occur," Holsinger wrote, citing studies showing higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases among gay men and the risk of injury from anal sex.
Is anyone surprised to hear this kind of drivel from a Bush nominee? I'm not. Oh, and that whole thing about homosexuality being unnatural, here's a great little tidbit about homo dolphins!

"Relative" Speaking on Morals

There is a double-standard that is inherent in any theist’s accusations against non-theists regarding the idea of “moral relativism.” I need not go too much into the argument itself, because it is particularly old hat. It argues in favor of the universality of religion-based morals, and is repeated ad nauseum by proponents of religious belief who, at most, read the Cliff notes for Plato’s Euthyphro and suddenly think themselves experts on moral philosophy.

Basically, the argument runs thusly: If you do not have God telling you what is morally right or wrong, and instead rely on society’s best efforts to enforce moral behavior, the relative difference from culture to culture and society to society creates an environment where potentially everything is permissible, to the extent that even the moral precepts against murder, theft, and child abuse (which are seemingly innate to every normal human being) can be sanctioned in some form or another.

But theists who foolishly put forward this trope walk blithely into the trap that illustrates the painfully obvious double-standard inherent in the argument. To be specific, religion is the best example of moral relativism that is ever to be found in the history of civilized culture. It is a fact that every religion legislates for its adherents what it declares to be “universal morality.” It is also a fact that every religion claims special exceptions to the very same universal, unbreakable moral code that everyone is supposed to follow.

Let me repeat: ALL of the major theistic religions claim exclusive declaratory rights to impose universal morality upon the whole of humankind while at the same time claiming special exceptions to or exemptions from truly universal adherence to its own supposedly universal morality.

I’ll go even further by stating unequivocally that it is religion, and not reasonable non-theistic beliefs, that have repeatedly justified exceptions to those innate human moral precepts I mentioned before. Namely, do not kill, do not steal, and do not hurt children.

Judaism, Islam, and Christianity all have committed atrocious acts of murder and genocide on each other as well as their own people so as to make even the paranoid-schizophrenic bloodlust of Ivan the Terrible seem positively benign. All have institutionalized torture in the past (as well as in contemporary times) in order to enforce each’s particular interpretation of the “Will of God.”

And all, too, have killed in the name of God’s will.

From the Crusades to the Inquisition, from Joshua's conquest of Canaan to David Ben-Gurion's Zion, and from Mohammed's sack of Mecca to the current (and numerous) fatwas calling for the destruction of Israel and the whole of western civilization, all of which point to the unbridled malice and wanton destruction wrought by religion’s callous disregard for any kind of universal proscription against murder, much less their own. Further, it is only by religion’s bloody hand that the innate biological proscription against murder (as well as theft and child abuse) is overcome. As physicist Steven Weinberg beautifully expressed it: “With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things; but for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

A brief digression must be made to counter the arguments of those who would point out that it is sometimes necessary to kill in order to defend one’s self and others from aggression. The most contemporary expression of this maxim is the favourite of bumper-sticker philosophers across America: “Freedom isn’t Free.” The truth of this statement remains undiluted by its clich├ęd status, and I would not try to argue against it. However, I will argue with all of my conviction that the wars of religion are nearly always aggressive in nature. That is, it is only conquest, plunder, and fresh converts to add to the ranks of the faithful (and woe unto those who resist) which are on the mind of religious leaders who sound the tocsin of war in “defense of the faith.” The “freedom” that religion seeks is always at the expense of the civil liberties enjoyed by whatever society it inhabits; a religion must have dominance in its host society in order to survive, it cannot otherwise exist. From this perspective, the ideal of “freedom of religion” becomes a sad contradiction, because every religion is inherently and explicitly opposed to the idea that individuals can believe what they wish. So much for the notion that the U.S. was founded on “Christian” ideals. Had the founding fathers allowed religion to have an official place at the table of government, the United States would never have evolved into the beacon of freedom and justice that it has become since its inception in 1776. With that being said, I will move on.

All three religions, too, have stolen in the name of God, with the Roman Catholic Church undoubtedly claiming the crown of greediest and most methodical in its acquisition of purloined and extorted riches. But Jews and Muslims, too, have stolen their own great treasures and hoarded them away. Jews have (twice) claimed land occupied by others: the original settlement of the “promised land” (found in the Torah) and the current “re-settlement” that has been taking place in the Levant since the late nineteenth century. Islam is notorious for supporting some of the most heinous examples of organized piracy and extortion in history, and the most famous of these would undoubtedly be the Sultanate of the Ottoman Turks. The Sultans charged incredible ransoms from non-Muslim merchants for the privilege of not having their wares seized and themselves enslaved, while at the same time skimming the profits of similar enterprises from lesser Muslim caliphs, most notably the Barbary princes.

I don’t wish to linger too long on examples of institutionalized child abuse by religious authority, because my own sensibilities recoil in outrage at the discussion of them (one need only read the newspaper stories about forced female circumcision or watch Amy Berg’s disturbing documentary “Deliver Us From Evil,” which focuses acutely on the Catholic Church’s nefarious conduct during the recent scandals involving pedophile priests). However, I do wish to mention that child abuse is institutionalized in religion because religious belief is, by its very nature, something that must be indoctrinated into adherents in order to ensure its own enduring existence, and there is no more susceptible and vulnerable type of person than a child. Religious authorities know this, and so focus much of their attention on the young, frightening them into submission with tales of hellfire and death in order to craft them into ciphers; willing instruments of God’s will, fanatically devoted to carrying out whatever God (or, more appropriately, “God’s” self-proclaimed representatives i.e. bishops, imams, rabbis) instructs them to do, up to and including murdering others and themselves. I am reminded of my encounter with the Phelps family of the Westboro Baptist Church in 2005, where I found it remarkable that, while they held signs that read “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” and “God Hates Fags,” two of the young boys talked on about race cars. They were no different from any other pre-adolescent boys in America, aside from their indoctrinated religious hatred. Indoctrination into religion is the ultimate form of child abuse, and its virulence is omnipresent across the spectrum of contemporary civilization.

Religious morals are relative. They are relative not only to each other, as religions vary from culture to culture, but they are also relative in the context of each religion’s different iteration of declared universal morality. Don’t kill—unless they’re heathens or heretics. The maxim “Thou shalt not steal” has the same caveat. And the supposed “care” of the young that all three religions claim as among their chief responsibilities instead has led to the ritual mutilation of the body (particularly the genitals), the institutionalization of rape, and the enslavement of the mind. Given this, it will be only the most feeble-minded and willfully ignorant of theists who continue to argue for their respective dogmatic belief system’s exclusive claim on “universal” morality.

Morality is a human construction, just like religion. But unlike religion, morality does not suffer from the application of reason and rationality. As Sam Harris has repeatedly said, no society has ever suffered or committed evil because it was “too rational.” Rather, it is the absence or breakdown of reason and rationality that is often the chief cause of conflict and misery. And in all the breadth of human imagination and experience, there is nothing more unreasonable or irrational than organized religion.