On that Facepalm Moment – Atheist Edition

Dave Silverman commented on Facebook on the recent stories of faith-healing parents whose children die due to the fact that faith-healing, well, doesn’t heal. In all fairness, Silverman admits that his comments will be unpopular. I’d call them stupid, but I am a pedant.

To quote Silverman directly: “We must recognize religion as brainwashing. We must recognize the (hyper) religious as mentally damaged.” Silverman also says: “They [those parents who follow faith-healing] deserve admission to a mental health institution for as long as it takes to rid them of the religious poison that was inflicted on them….”

First: religion as brainwashing. The fact that parents will ignore both experience and (what I think can fairly be called) common sense to forego standard medical care in favor of faith-healing is a peculiar behavior found in some of the religious, and it results in a sad number of needlessly dead children. Likewise, we read numerous personal accounts of people leaving religious cults and fundamentalist sects, and we can fairly label the practices of those groups as akin to brainwashing.

So, we might fault Silverman for being imprecise by calling religion, whole cloth, a form of brainwashing. However, we can grant a charitable reading. Also, as far as I understand, brainwashing isn’t a form of mental illness. Anyway, we are going to be charitable and facepalm free, for now.

Second: the religious are mentally damaged. Come again? Okay, he qualifies his comment, but he only does so parenthetically. Asides in parentheses are typically understood to be unnecessary. Also, hyper is a matter of degree, not of type. Super liberal, hip religious people can be hyper religious just like ultra fundamentalist religious people. So:

Martin Luther King Jr.? Mentally damaged.
Malala Yousafzai? Mentally damaged.
Mohandas Gandhi? Mentally damaged.
Isaac Newton? Mentally damaged.

You get the point. Facepalming has begun. Oh, and let me quote myself: “In all fairness, Silverman admits that his comments will be unpopular. I’d call them stupid, but I am a pedant.”

Perhaps we want to be very charitable and think that Silverman only means to be talking about the fundamentalist fringes. Fine.

Third: institutionalizing the religious? What the actual fuck?!?!?!?!?!

Mental health is an actual concern people have. There are real reasons to visit mental health institutions and receive actual help. Mental illness is still a heavily stigmatized thing. You know what it isn’t? A tool for cheap rhetoric. Oh, and the rhetoric is so cheap, it has to use mental illness as an insult for it to work! FOR FUCK’S SAKE!!!!!!! Did you think before you typed? At all? My face has now swallowed my palm.

For the record, no, this still doesn’t make Dave Silverman a fundamentalist.

I will say this. I do think I’ve found a new way to explain the difference between the religious and atheists:

Religious: True facepalming requires a God.


(Image via Lightstock)

Atheists: True facepalming needs humans, alone.

(Image via the Internets)

[Edit]: I follow myself, so my posts appear in my reader, and I find the presentation of this post quite funny due to the fact that it suggests a whole different context to this post. Ha! Oh well. You can’t win them all.


On Higher Powers and Self-Gratification

Ruth, at Out from Under the Umbrella [edit: or is it Gullible’s Travels? I’m confused. :)], recently posted about meaning and purpose sans a higher power. The post is a response to a conversation she was having, and her jumping off point was this quote:

“The only sensible reaction to a complete conviction that there is no higher power would be to place self-gratification above all else. What logical reason would there be for not doing so?…

…The one who utterly believes in no form of power or purpose would be mentally unbalanced not to go for self-gratification over completely purposeless self-denial. ‘Doing the right thing’ is an acknowledgement of purpose.”

This quote is, to my mind, riddled with equivocations that render it silly. Even so, it allows us to demonstrate how our lives have meaning without a higher power. Read More

On How Frank O’Hara is an Idiot

By chance (and clicking around the internet), I came across Frank O’Hara’s poem Having a Coke with You.

It starts:

Having a Coke with You

is even better than San Sebastian, Irun,…


You don’t know what you’re talking about. Nothing is better than San Sebastian. Frank O’Hara is just some shitty, artsy-fartsy, postmodern obsurantist who doesn’t recognize the objective fact that San Sebastian is the (probably scientifically proven) greatest place on Earth.

I am going to print this poem, climb to the top of Monte Urgull, and let it go. Defying the laws of physics, the sheet of paper containing the poem will drop like a stone, impaling itself on one of Txillida’s combs. There it will remain for the amusement of locals and tourists, who will laugh at Frank O’Hara’s achievement in simultaneously reaching the pinnacle of hubris and idiocy in just 11 words of poetry.

Then I read the rest of the poem. It’s pretty good.

On That Literary Moment

You’re sitting alone–all your loved ones live far away or are out of town.

There’s something mindless on the TV doing little more than breaking silence.

The bottle of beer you opened is half-finished and getting warm because you just can’t be bothered to do much of anything.

You’ve slogged through pages of a bland story about members of a sport that sparks the mildest of interests.

Then, suddenly, it comes together and the author drops this bomb:

“The greatest sculptor in the world, working in marble, cannot add a thing. If it is not there, it is not there. No man makes it, and so no man is truly creative, but by subtraction from the whole he reveals it. That is the nearest man can come to creation, and that is why the great are afraid. Only they can see all of it, and they are afraid that, in their process of subtraction, they will not reveal the all of it, and what is hidden will remain hidden forever. They are even more afraid that, in the process, they will cut too far and destroy that much of it forever. That is the way in the making of all things, including the making of a fighter.”

Bam. It hits you. This is not a novel about boxing. Well, it is. But, it is also a musing on art, creation, and the frailties of human expression. You are so much better off for the realization, but mildly irritated that you let your beer get warm. Nothing pairs epiphany quite like a cold beer.

On Hoping I Get to See Loki Before It Is Too Late

How did I miss this? Ragnarok will happen on Saturday!

What is Ragnarok? It is only the event that will pit the Norse gods against the denizens of the underworld. The resolution will involve the entire world becoming flooded.

So, get your swimsuits and water wings ready, the biggest fight ever is about to begin.

As a resident of the DC metropolitan area, I now provide Bethesda-based Periphery’s song, Ragnarok:

What? You thought I’d link to Wagner? Not a chance. May the Valkyries ever fly to double base.

On Keeping Your Story Straight

Yes, A Few Grown Men, again. This time, we’re talking respect.

Rick Johnson fears he’s “just a curmudgeonly old guy now” because “it seems…that people are just not as respectful as they used to be.” As Mr. Johnson sees it, “…young people are less respectful than my generation was.”

Here’s why:

Point 1: “Much of our culture believes that you do not have any obligation to respect someone unless or until they respect you first.”


“They [the youth] seem to have a perverted concept of what constitutes respect. Many young men today believe they should be respected before they will offer respect.”

Point 2: “It is a twisted vision of biblical respect. First Peter 2:17 says, “Show proper respect to everyone.” It doesn’t say show proper respect if and only if they respect you in the way you think you deserve to be respected. It says to respect everyone because everyone was created in the image of God.”

Point 3: “…true respect is earned, not bestowed.”

So, like the youth of today (and unlike the Bible), Rick Johnson’s generation thinks that respect is earned, not given.

How about this: please respect your reader by making sure you have a coherent point before needlessly bashing young people.

Other Thoughts:

* Okay, I’m gonna stop. This is becoming a form of procrastination.

* I find the “what’s wrong with young people” lament lame and tired. What’s wrong with young people, today? You. You raised them.

*If you read the rest of the post, Johnson’s point actually seems to be about youth not granting a tacit respect for authority (as Johnson says his generation gave to authority). I’ll fully admit that I don’t give blanket respect to authority. I get this from my mother. In school, during recess, she wanted to play ball with the boys. Authority figures forbid this because she was a girl. As a result, she developed (and instilled in me) a contingent respect for authority. Even authority needs to earn respect, lest we not care about institutionalized prejudice.


On Correcting the President

President Obama spoke about religious freedom during his speech at the recently held National Prayer Breakfast. The Center for Inquiry made a nice image out of one of his quotes:

“We believe in the inherent dignity of every human being, a dignity that no earthly power can take away. Central to that dignity is freedom of religion, the right of every person to practice their faith how they choose, to change their faith if they choose or to practice no faith at all, and to do this free of persecution and fear.”

It is a nice, Humanistic expression. However, I have one small quibble with President Obama. If human dignity is inherent, NO power (earthly or otherwise) can take away that dignity. Only the complete eradication of humans can eliminate human dignity.

If President Obama needs to equivocate on the meaning of words to pander to a crowd upset by the notion that atheists are humans, perhaps he should have breakfast with a different crowd.

Other Notes:

Go listen to the speech. It’s good.


On Beating a Horse When It’s an Easy Target (or Some Other Mixed Metaphor)

Every once in a while, for a laugh, I have to visit the A Few Grown Men page at Patheos. I’ve gone there before, a couple times, and I’ll acknowledge they can be an easy target. But come on:

“Here are three small things you can do any time of year to make men feel at home:

1. Don’t load a man’s hands when he enters the sanctuary.

Have you ever noticed how women pick things up and carry them around? Men usually don’t. This is because men are hunters – women are gatherers. Women love to scoop things up but men want their hands free in case they need to defend themselves or kill a wild animal.

Church #1 didn’t understand this principle. The moment I entered the church I was met by greeters with cookies and cider.”

Apparently, I’m an unusual man because I will happily choose the place that hands out free cookies and cider. In the unlikely event that a wild animal should jump out at me with my hands full of delicious sundries, I would toss the cider into the beasts eyes, kick it while it is off-balance due to sudden blindness, take a bite of my cookie, and then use my obviously superior fighting skills to intimidate the beast into leaving.

Wait, let me check my crotch…..yup, manhood intact.


Oh, and yes, I have noticed a veritable plague of women standing around, unable to do anything, because they’ve swooped everything up into their hands. It’s hurting the economy, ladies, so stop it.

On Misusing the Stigma of Fundamentalism

American Atheists has received a good amount of attention for their recent string of billboards. They caused a stir with their ‘Who needs Christ at Christmas? Nobody.’ billboard.  More recently, they’ve ruffled feathers because of a billboard they ran outside the stadium during the Super Bowl.

This latest billboard has prompted responses from John Shore and Benjamin Corey (two bloggers in the Progressive-Christian portal at Patheos). Both, in short, are unimpressed with the billboard. Shore calls it “obnoxious” as well as “cheap, easy, and childish.” Corey derides it for maintaining the cycle of antagonism with conservative Christian voices.

I’m not here to comment on the merits of the billboards. First, Dave Silverman can speak for his organization, himself. Second, let’s face it, how often do I focus on the main issue at hand instead of some minor detail? Rarely.

Why All the Fundamentalism?

The issue I have with Shore’s and Corey’s posts is that they call the actions of American Atheists a form of atheist ‘fundamentalism’. Both connect the tone and actions to the combativeness of conservative, Christian fundamentalists. However, in so doing, both seem to completely abuse the meaning of the word “fundamentalism”. As a result, they harm their critiques.

Shore titles his post: “Atheist fundamentalists fighting fire with fire.” He writes, “[American Atheists] are—or certainly seem to be, anyway—the fundamentalists of atheism.” Corey is stronger in his calling American Atheists’s actions a form of fundamentalism. Of the billboard, he writes, “It is no different than Christian fundamentalism.” He finishes his post by writing: “I’m telling my Kirk Camerons to stop, and I hope [atheists] will send the same message to theirs.”

What is Fundamentalism?

In his post on the Super Bowl billboard, Corey links to a previous post in which he discusses fundamentalism. He points out that we are all at risk of fundamentalist ways of thinking. In discussing this thinking, Corey emphasizes the “black vs white” and “us vs them” nature of fundamentalism. This is alright as commentary on fundamentalism, but it is not sufficient as a definition.

Here’s a definition: A usually religious movement or point of view characterized by a return to fundamental principles, by rigid adherence to those principles, and often by intolerance of other views and opposition to secularism.

Let’s break this up and remove the religious context. Fundamentalism is a movement or point of view characterized by:

(1) a return to fundamental principles
(2) rigid adherence to those principles
(3) often intolerance of other views and opposition to secularism [or tolerance]

You’ll note, Corey’s definition covers characteristics 2 and 3, with an emphasis on 3.

American Atheists as Fundamentalists

Considering the definition of fundamentalism, it is hard to call American Atheists and their billboards a form of atheist fundamentalism. Of the three characteristics in the definition, American Atheists can only be criticized for part of number 3: intolerance of other views. People may debate whether or not AA is truly ‘intolerant’ of others’ views, but the link is reasonable.

Beyond that, the actions and views of American Atheists do not resemble that of a fundamentalism. In fact, AA is specifically in support of secularism, which puts the organization in opposition to fundamentalism. Of course, when it comes down to it, linking the actions of atheist organizations with that of religious organizations is a political/rhetorical move.

Lazy Rhetoric

Among us progressive, liberal-minded folks, fundamentalism is a bad word. We equate it with close-mindedness, intolerance, and socially regressive ideas. It is a label meant to stigmatize.

Going further, when you read the definitions at the link above, you’ll see a common refrain of something like “conservative movement within 20th-century American Protestantism.” When Shore and Corey label American Atheists as “fundamentalist”, it serves to call the group illiberal and anti-progressive. Likewise, it aims to call the group the atheist equivalent of the Christian right. Shore likens the actions of American Atheists to that of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. Corey calls them the atheist Kirk Cameron.

This is nothing more than lazy rhetoric on the part of Shore and Corey. Was the billboard offensive and disrespectful? Write about it. Does it continue a loop of antagonism? Criticize that. Does it work against the actualization of AA’s goal of secularism? Point that out.

Calling American Atheists the atheist version of Christian fundamentalism suggests that your critique lacks actual substance. It reduces actual criticism and commentary to bogey words. American Atheists are fundamentalists. In other words, to us progressive-minded folks, they’re bad guys.

It is disappointing to read this kind of rhetoric from Shore and Corey. When it comes down to it, both wrote posts worth considering. They made points of genuine critique that I think AA should consider. However, the ‘atheist fundamentalist’ canard risks reducing the potential sting of their critiques to the kind of cheap shots they are criticizing. Most importantly, it suggests that one shouldn’t try to understand the motives behind AA’s actions. We can already know they’re not worth considering. American Atheists are the atheist versions of fundamentalists, and we already know we don’t like fundamentalists.

Of Assholes and Fundamentalists

It very well may be the case that American Atheists is intolerant of religious belief. However, fundamentalism does not equal intolerance. It may be characterized by intolerance, yet intolerant actions and expressions are not, by definition, a sign of fundamentalism.

Can their be atheist fundamentalists? I’m not sure. I don’t think there has been a set of ‘atheistic principles’ that have progressed to a point where a segment of atheists would seek to return to some fundamental understanding of these principles. I’m open to suggestions, and I certainly could see it happening with time – especially as the movement cements itself. However, currently, I’m not sure there can be atheist fundamentalists.

More to the point, intolerant atheists may share a characteristic with fundamentalists: intolerance. That intolerance is, presumably, equally worthy of criticism. That doesn’t make the atheists fundamentalist. It very well may be the case that Dave Silverman is a complete asshole. Similarly, Glenn Beck may very well be a complete asshole.  However, of Silverman and Beck, only one of them is a fundamentalist.