PZ Myers on the Great Nothing of New Atheism

PZ MyersReason is not enough. Reason can show you the best way to achieve a goal, but if your goal is mass murder, or denigration of women, or the perpetuation of an oppressive hierarchy, it’ll help you do that, too. We need purpose and value and meaning as well, and if a prominent Leader of atheism is saying that atheism doesn’t do that, that’s a declaration that atheism is bankrupt, and has failed totally. It has become a Great Nothing.

That’s not my atheism, though. I argue that the absence of gods gives greater prominence to the interdependence of the human community, and adds greater weight and urgency to the importance of empathy and equality and all those human values — but if atheism is now a label that allows us to nonchalantly disavow responsibility for the actions of those within our own group, perhaps it’s time to disband the whole idea of an atheist community.

But then it’s also clear that my vision of what atheism ought to be is a minority view. The majority are doing their damnedest to confirm the poor opinion the believers have of us.

—PZ Myers
Is Atheism Bankrupt?

Atheists Need to Understand Theology

Stephen Hawking

I joined Facebook recently. I did it in a moment of panic because I saw that FranklyCurious was available. So if you are on Facebook, you might friend or like or whatever the hell it is one does on the damnable thing. Here’s my account: FranklyCurious.

A guy named Steve Hall posted the image above. It’s quite well done. At the same time, it made me bristle. The quote is from Stephen Hawking and it reads, “What was God doing before the divine creation? Was he preparing hell for people who asked such questions?” It appears to have been said during a talk at Cal Tech three years ago. And I’m sure he said many smart things during that talk. But these two sentences are stupid.

Fundamentalists’ Frame

Although amusing, this kind of statement puts the discussion in the fundamentalists’ frame. In the 13th century, Thomas Aquinas well understood that such a conception of God was both facile and heretical to the Catholic Church. This is a good example of why I find myself a very lonely atheist. How can I be part of the atheist community when the vast majority of people in it think about God and religion with as limited a frame as the most backward fundamentalist? If atheists can’t address eight century old thought, what good are they?

“What was God doing?”!

Really?! That’s what Hawking thinks the nature of religious belief is? Would he ever ask the similarly silly question, “What was the universe doing before it sprang into existence?”?! Yet he seems to have taken spiritual guidance from people who know even less about theology than Pat Robertson.

Negative Theology

The only kind of theology that I’ve ever been able to get my head around is negative theology. This is a form of theology where people try to understand God by determining what God cannot be. And the most basic idea in negative theology is that God cannot be a thing in the sense that the Sun is a thing or even the multiverse is a thing. Such a conception of God denigrates the concept. God is simply something powerful. “I am God to my pet rat,” for example.

This is also why atheist proofs are so silly. “Could God create something so heavy he couldn’t lift it?” Such paradoxes are based upon the conception of God as we see it in cartoons: a white bearded man on a throne in the clouds. I understand: this is indeed the way most theists look at God. One of the biggest problems with religion today is that most believers would not see a problem with the question, “What was God doing before divine creation?” But that is their problem, not mine. I am no more interested in arguing with them about such theological caricatures as I am in discussing Bigfoot.

Atheists Need to Learn

But here is a very big problem with the atheist movement. They’ve been pretty good at converting fundamentalists to atheists. But I don’t consider these new “atheists” as believing anything but that their former religious beliefs were silly. What happens when they get a clue? What happens when they learn that there is more to religion that the dogma of a controlling and power hungry church?

One day, atheists will have to sit down with serious theists. As for now, they mostly ignore them. And when they don’t, the atheists are so ignorant of theology that they can’t even understand what the theologians are talking about. And the atheists — with great hubris — take this to mean that the theologians must be wrong. It’s pathetic.

One can’t be an atheist without knowing what it is to be a theist. And most atheists don’t seem to even know what God is supposed to be. What they seem to be against is ignorant people with childish beliefs. If that’s the case, we should call such people areligious. They don’t know or care enough to have an opinion about God, and thus don’t deserve to be called atheists.

Creation as a Spiritual Act

Pillars of Creation - NASAAfter some wait, I got Carmine Rocco Linsalata’s Smollett’s Hoax. It it an academic treatise from the 1950s by a professor at Stanford. And it is about — What else?! — something that most people would think incredibly minor: an 18th century translation of Don Quixote, which was actually just a rewrite of an earlier translation. But I’m not here to discuss the book. (That will come later!) I’m here to talk about creation for its own sake.

As I was reading through the book, I was taken by a sidetrack that Linsalata made into The Works of Alexander Pope. It was related to what he was writing about, but a minor point. And in that capacity, he had read a 600 page book. He must have read many other such books that he never found a use for. And I find that so inspiring. Why am I reading all that Pope? Oh, it’s just part of my work. Now go away!

Slowing Down

I’ve always seen myself as the human equivalent of a terrier: smart and hyper. But as I’ve gotten older, how I long for the leisure of working slowly — just letting the thoughts accumulate — taking whatever course is necessary for the creation process. What a glorious luxury that is in this time where we always know what we are going to produce: a commodity.

If Linsalata were working today, his book would likely have been quite different. The story he has to tell is quite sensational. But he would have written it rather differently. He would not have assumed, as he did in 1956, that his readers would be fluent in English, French, and Spanish. And I haven’t finished the book; he’ll probably get to Latin and Greek soon enough. Clearly, he was writing only for intimates — and total freaks like me who will take the time to work out the other languages. (Thank Google!) But mostly, he was just writing for himself — for the pure pleasure of the creation itself.

A Forgotten Act of Creation

It’s interesting because a couple of days ago, I moved my office/living-quarters/life. And I came upon a play I had written, “MP3.” I had no memory of writing it. I remember thinking about doing it. The basic idea is that a dog is angry at his owner for using MP3s. You see, a big part of MP3 compression is the removal of stuff humans can’t hear. But dogs hear well. So MP3s would sound terrible to them. I had thought of it as a 5 minute play to be part of a collection of plays. But no, there it was, all neatly typed — about a half hour running time.

As I read through it, I was struck by how idiosyncratic it was. It made me laugh, of course. (I find myself hilarious. Really!) It is clearly something I wrote just for myself, however. Creation for creation’s sake.

In it, the dog recites a poem he wrote. The owner doesn’t understand it. The dog replies:

I thought it was very clear, but maybe you have to be a dog. I sent it to those pricks at Exquisite Corpse. Laura Rosenthal gave me a No Mas! And if I ever run into that pretentious Romanian no-talent Andrei Codrescu, I’m gonna bite him in a place he probably has nothing to bite.

My Bizarre Mind

So let’s see: a puppet ranting about getting turned down from an old poetry magazine, with reference to two little-known poets and a dick joke thrown in. But if that isn’t bad enough, it gets more and more crazy throughout. There’s a sequence on the wooing of women with a Shakespeare parody. Then, there is a mini rock concert. Then, the chorus begins a technical interview with Dr Knowitall — son of Mr Knowitall. (“My first name is ‘Doctor,’ just as my father’s first name was ‘Mister’.”) But the actors are informed that he is actually doing the wrong character — it should be Dr Whoopee (son of Mr Whoopee). A long discussion of cartoons follows, but eventually, Dr Knowitall (who turns out only to have read a Wikipedia page on MP3s that he didn’t understand) interviews the chorus who explains MP3s.

I can’t imagine that an audience would know what to make of it. It is utter chaos. The material jumps from high culture to science to low culture and back. The only thing that would be clear is the Abbott and Costello style word play throughout it. But why shouldn’t I write something just for me — creation for the pure pleasure of it? It is ultimately a spiritual question. After we pay the rent and buy the groceries, what are we to do? It is creation or spiritual death. And that may explain why I find such a religious country as the US to be so lacking in spirituality.

Ann Coulter Christians and Easy Salvation

Ann Coulter ChristiansAlmost ten years ago, Ann Coulter was on The Big Idea and she got into trouble for saying, “We just want Jews to be perfected.” In that sentence, “we” means Christians. It is a bigoted thing to say and so entirely typical of Ann Coulter’s pointedly offensive and submental act that you may wonder why I’m bringing it up. Well, it’s what she said afterwards that really struck me. And the fact that she was not burned in effigy by Christians says a lot of really bad things about American Christians.

To justify her statement (which doesn’t really mean anything — so whatever), she added, “That is what Christianity is. We believe the Old Testament, but ours is more like Federal Express. You have to obey laws. We know we’re all sinners…” She gets to clarify her remark later and then just makes matters worse. What she was getting at was that in the old testament, God was always angry at the Jews because they kept screwing up. But then God came up with this one weird trick that made it all better! This is what I call Christianity on the cheap. And those who practice it should rightly be called Ann Coulter Christians.

The Great Pumpkin and the Ann Coulter Christians

It’s funny that Charles M Schulz was raised Christian and maintained his faith far into adulthood. You see this quite clearly in A Charlie Brown Christmas. But less than a year later, he created the perfect parody of American Christianity in It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. In that show, Linus is like all the Ann Coulter Christians. If only he believes sincerely in this mythical being, he will be rewarded. His pumpkin patch has to be sincere and so does he. But nothing else is required.

Ann Coulter — and the millions of Christians just like her — believes she can commit adultery, bear false witness, actively encourage murder. It doesn’t matter! She knows that one weird trick. Just believe! God will reward her just because she believes the fables she was told as a child. I am personally offended for the hundreds of millions of Christians over the centuries who actually took their religion seriously.

There is an aspect of Christianty of allowing Jesus into your heart. But this was not meant to be the whole deal. And certainly the loony morphing of this into a “personal relationship” with God has effectively destroyed the religion for millions. It is the height of hubris. God as pal?! Whatever.

Is Jesus in Ann Coulter’s Heart?!

But could anyone mistake Ann Coulter as someone who had allowed Jesus into her heart? If you slapped her on the right cheek, who she offer her left to you? Of course not! She’d take one of her bony hands and smash you in the face. And I’m fine with that. But then, I don’t pretend to be a Christian.

It’s funny, because I was listening to a lecture by Terry Eagleton yesterday. It wasn’t about Christianity, but it touched on it. Whenever he talks about Christianity, I find it appealing. That’s generally true when I hear serious people discuss the religion. The problem is that there are so few of them. When I see Ann Coulter Christians, it just makes me sad.

I’ve been strongly effected by this quote from a Muslim scholar in the middle ages:

If one could combine Arabic faith and Jewish intelligence, with an Iraqi education, Christian conduct, Greek knowledge, Indian mysticism, and a Sufi way of life, this would be the perfection of humanity.

Yes, Christian conduct. Because, I assume, the religion meant something to them. Instead, I’m inundated with with the Ann Coulter Christians who think that just to believe in Jesus gives them license to be some of the worst people on the Earth.

God the Deal Maker

Corey RobinThe Talmud tells a story: the reason God covenanted with the Jews was that they were the only ones who were willing to take the deal.

According to a commentary on Deuteronomy, “When God revealed Himself to give the Torah to Israel, He revealed Himself not only to Israel but to all the nations.” First God goes to the children of Esau, asking them if they will accept the Torah. They ask him what it contains, God says, “Though shalt not murder,” they say, no thanks.

God goes to the Ammonites and Moabites. Same response, only for them the prohibition against adultery is the deal-breaker. He goes to the Ishmaelites, to all the peoples of the earth. Each time, they turn him down. They can’t accept some portion of the Torah’s instructions and injunctions.

Then God comes to the Jews. They don’t ask questions. They simply “accepted the Torah, with all of its explanations and details.” So God “surrendered them [the Torah and all of its details] to Israel.”

You almost get a sense, reading the midrash, of God’s weariness. The Jews aren’t his first choice, but they’ll take the deal. God’s exhausted, history is made.

—Corey Robin
From the Talmud to Judith Butler

David Perdue’s Little Joke Show’s He’s No Christian

David PerdueI don’t really want to write about politics right now, but I feel I have no choice. Roll Call reported, Come to Obama Picnic, Leave Bible Verse Behind. It’s a perfect intersection of politics and religion: Republican Methodist David Perdue.

Senator Perdue from Georgia spoke at the Faith & Freedom Coalition conference on Friday. And he was yucking it up. He said that everyone should pray for the president. In particular, they should pray Psalm 109. He apparently quoted, “Let his days be few, and let another have his office.” Now, the reports claim that he said they should pray Psalm 109:8. That’s the exact passage that he read.

There are just a few problems with it. One, that isn’t a prayer; that’s just part of one. The other is that I doubt anyone would be so specific, “Psalm 109:8.” No, I think it was just Psalm 109, and the whole thing is pretty vile. Pastor Bob Deffinbaugh calls it A Prayer for the Punishment of the Wicked. He notes that while other psalms have nasty phrases, Psalm 109 is nothing but. He (and he is not at all alone in this) thinks that the psalm should not be used by Christians because it so conflicts with the message of Jesus.

The Bible Has Great Political Rhetoric

Of course, it works great as political rhetoric. The psalm does not just call for the trial and execution of our president, it goes onto say, “Let his children be fatherless; And his wife a widow; Let his children wander about and beg.” Just charming stuff. And I suppose the conservative movement has gone so far off the rails as to require that I mention that traditionally we have not believed in holding the children accountable for the acts of their parents.

But what David Perdue’s little joke at the Faith & Freedom Coalition conference really shows is that religion means very little to the conservative Christian. It is all just tribalism. And I’ll admit, this does goes right along with the Old Testament, which is about nothing so much as getting God on your your side so that he would kill and torture your enemies. But if this is the case, then why don’t these Christians just end the pretense. Because they clearly don’t accept Jesus Christ’s message.

In modern America, Christianity is little more than a tribal excuse for hating the people you already don’t like. And with this ridiculous notion of having a personal relationship with God, what can’t be justified?! Think about the hubris of that: a personal relationship with God! It doesn’t need to be this way, because it didn’t used to be this way.

David Perdue Is a Modern Christian

In Legacy: A Search for the Origins of Civilization, Michael Wood quots a Muslim scholar:

If one could combine Arabic faith and Jewish intelligence, with an Iraqi education, Christian conduct, Greek knowledge, Indian mysticism, and a Sufi way of life, this would be the perfection of humanity.

In those long ago days, Christians were known for their excellent conduct, which I assume means morality. But here we have David Perdue calling for the death of the president. And it isn’t for anything the president has done except to disagree on policy and be a member of a different political party.

The nicest thing you can say about David Perdue is that he doesn’t mean anything he says. He’s just following along with his tribe. It is just that his tribe stands for nothing good — just that whatever the tribe does is good. This isn’t religion; it is tribalism; and it is sacrilege.

Anniversary Post: Rastafari Holy Day

Rastafari Savior Haile SelassieToday is Grounation Day. It is a Rastafari holy day. And it commemorates the day when Haile Selassie visited Jamaica. Now why is this a big deal? Well, he was yet another son of God — or so the Rastafari believe. He was also the Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974 when he was overthrown in a coup d’état. This all came as a surprise to me. I did not realize that the Rastafari religion was an Abrahamic religion.

Most people know the religion as being all about smoking cannabis, and the religion does indeed use it in a sacramental way. Most religions do use mind altering substances. There are people who naturally have mystical experiences. Others need help. I see nothing wrong with that. And certainly cannabis has been used in this way since before history. The only reason the Rastafari stick out is because the west decided a century ago that cannabis is an evil drug. It’s us and not the Rastafari who are messed up — at least on this issue.

Other than cannabis, the Rastafari are very much Abrahamic in the sense of “no fun.” According to Wikipedia, the religion rejects what it calls, “Babylon” — by which it means materialism and sensual pleasures. I always have a problem with powerful groups and people telling the rest of us that we really ought to knock off all those things that make life worth living.

Apparently, Bob Marley’s wife became a Rastafari when Haile Selassie visited, believing that she saw a stigma on his hand. These are wounds and deformities that correspond to Jesus’ wounds from the crucifiction and getting stabbed with the Spear of Destiny. It always makes me think of the REM song “Losing My Religion” because the video features this. So why not?

An old physics professor of mine got to meet Selassie when he worked in the Peace Corps. He thought very highly of him and as far as I can tell, Haile Selassie was a good leader of the country. The Rastafari could have chosen much worse.

Democracy and Humanum Genus (Anniversary)

Pope Leo XIII - Humanum GenusI know I’m recycling a lot of stuff these days, but you should give me a break. First, I’m overworked and really tired pretty much all the time. Second, much of my old work is really good! Like this article. Humanum Genus is important stuff!

On this day in 1884, Pope Leo XIII released the papal encyclical, Humanum genus. Oh, that Catholic Church! It is always angry about something. And at that time, it was angry about, well, democracy. Or more precisely, it was not keen on popular sovereignty — the idea that government has the right to rule because of a mandate by the people and not because God decided it. Or as Dennis puts it in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, “Listen, strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony!” Pope Leo begged to differ.

It also isn’t keen on separation of church and state. So basically, the whole damned thing was very un-American. The funny thing is that now a good 35% of the country — almost exclusively protestants — would totally agree with Leo the Pope. Among conservatives, democracy itself is out of favor. And most of these ninnies think the Constitution itself — you know, that document that rather pointedly doesn’t mention God — is divinely inspired. I really do wonder what kind of American history these people learned. Or is it just anything to justify getting what they want?

Anyway, back to the Humanum Genus, most of it was presented as an attack on the Freemasons. That makes sense, because they were a secular force. And they were of what is fast becoming my favorite American religious group: those who just don’t care enough to have much of an opinion about God. They are much more sensible than atheists like me who spend a lot of time on it. I mean, I would save a lot of time if I just became a Catholic and went to Mass each Sunday.

The Pope was also concerned about public education. Basically, the Pope was concerned that the people would be self-reliant and not dependent upon the hierarchy that God himself set up. In other words, Pope Leo was the same as the power elite at any time: he was just complaining about trends that were threatening his power. I think people should give Pope Francis a little slack in that regard. But it’s a different time. At least in America, it isn’t the pope who is oppressing us. It is the corporate state. And just like the many Catholics in 1884 who loved the oppression of Humanum genus, so there are many today who love their modern subsistence wage economy.

Happy anniversary Humanum genus!

Cultural Christians and Bigotry in Tennessee

Cultural Christians Lie in TennesseeLast Wednesday, the Tennessee House voted 68-22 for a bill that would allow mental health professionals to refuse to treat patients on the grounds of the counselors’ religious beliefs. It’s just another “hate the fags” law and a big sign that on this issue at least, the cultural Christians are not only losing, they are terrified. This vote reminds me of the comment from yesterday’s anniversary post where an explicitly racist judge ranted from the bench.

Let’s think about this for a moment. This law is designed to make it harder for LGBT people to get counseling services. In what way is this Christian? In the Gospels, Jesus doesn’t have a problem going around and ministering to anyone at all. But apparently, these Christian counselors have to be protected from the rules of their profession, the American Counseling Association, that they can’t tell LGBT people that they are wrong or sinful. You have to ask: why didn’t such counselors go into the church instead?

Two days before the House voted on its ridiculous bill, the Tennessee Senate voted on an even more ridiculous bill, SB1108, which “designates the Holy Bible as the official state book.”

Think of a lawyer who is defending a murderer. I would assume that the lawyer would be against murder; pretty much everyone is; the truth is that the vast majority of murderers are against murder. But the purpose of the lawyer is not to judge the murderer but to provide them legal services as dictated by the ABA. Yet where are the laws being passed to protect Christian defense attorneys from having to defend people who have sinned in God’s eyes? I’ve never heard of any such thing, and I have no doubt that such a law would go down in flames in the Tennessee House.

Cultural Christians and Bigotry

So this really isn’t about Christianity. This is just about attacking one minority group that a certain section of cultural Christians have decided is more important than everything else. And shame on them for using the cover of their religious freedom to justify it. These are not just bad Christians and bad Americans, these are anti-Christians and anti-Americans. These are people for whom their bigotry is more important than both their religion and their country.

Meanwhile, we had the Catholic Church release, The Joy of Love. And yes, it isn’t radical. I actually get rather cross at people who think that the Catholic Church is suddenly going to accept same sex marriage or allow priests to marry. But the document is about acceptance. And based upon where the document started two years ago, we know that Francis himself would like to go a good deal further on these matters. But my point is that even the sclerotic Catholic Church is trying to reach out, but these American cultural Christians just want to segregate.

Two days before the House voted on its ridiculous bill, the Tennessee Senate voted on an even more ridiculous bill, SB1108, which “designates the Holy Bible as the official state book.” The House approved the same thing last year by a vote of 55-38. The Senate passed SB1108 by a vote of 16-8.

I’d like to say that it is obviously unconstitutional, but it is hard to say anything is obvious in the federal courts anymore. But most opponents are making that argument. Happily, some Christians are making the argument that making the Bible the state book “trivializes something they hold sacred.” Yes! If you actually care about your religion, you treat your holy texts as something more than a cultural symbol of how “everyone ’round here believes it!”

The world of religion is wild and wacky. And I’m always interested to hear what serious people think about religion. But what I come upon in this country is mostly a bunch of people who believe it because it is in that book that their parents told them was the truth. Cultural Christians have absolutely nothing to add to any theological discussion. They use their religion as a cultural signifier to tell the world that they are the right kind of people and the rest of us aren’t.

Old Fashioned and Repressed Sex

Old FashionedBrandon Ambrosino over at Vox tried to get to the bottom of an interesting question, Why Are Christian Movies So Painfully Bad? But I think he made it over complicated. The reason that “Christian” movies are bad is that they are made for a particular distribution channel — one that depends upon churches. So part of the reason that these “Christian” movies are bad is the same reason that most of the drive-in movies of the 1950s were bad. The other is that the people who go to see these films just want to be assured that they are the right kind of people.

One great film that is explicitly Christian is John Michael McDonagh’s Calvary. But the point of the film is not to sell Christianity to people who have already bought it. And, in fact, you see lots of Catholicism in Irish films. But the religion is not the point; it is just part of the lives of the people. It isn’t surprising that that there is a Christian Film Industry in the United States. American Christians are the most insecure religious people I’ve ever see. This is why they get so upset about “Happy Holidays,” because they need constant assurance that everyone believes the same thing they do.

And then there is the Amway aspect of it. I’ve been talking to Jehovah’s Witnesses for decades. They are the most fake people one on the planet. I know all their tricks. And they are the exact same tricks of Amway salesmen or car dealers. They try to find out what you are interested in so they can form a bond, and then they go in with their high pressure sales pitch. In the end, it is all about selling their very specific form of Christianity to you. They have no interest in you at all. They are just “fishers of men.”

But I was really struck by Ambrosino’s prime example, a new Christian Film Industry monstrosity, Old Fashioned. It is supposed to be a response to Fifty Shades of Grey. In this new film, a young man who “Jesus found” during his senior year of college now has very old fashioned ideas about courtship. And he finds himself attracted to the nubile and feisty Elizabeth Ann Roberts. And I’m sure they work through their problems and have a good old fashioned courtship and, just like in every secular romance, it ends where the actual hard work of the relationship starts.

But check out this trailer. Really. I want to talk about it:

I find the trailer of Old Fashioned kind of sexy with all the “I’m an inch away from your face” and “I’m shoving roasted marshmallows in your face.” So really, it’s a movie that is all about sex. It’s just one with sexual mores that are based some kind of Victorian notion of sexual propriety. The thing you find if you read about the distant past — of Christians in the distant past — is that these ideas about sex were never real. They were always about power and contracts. There’s nothing religious about them.

But as usual with repressed Christians, the sex is just bursting at the seams. And I find it ironic. I’m a sexual liberal. I think it is great that people have sex whenever they want how ever they want. If people copulate in the streets, I wouldn’t care. But sex just isn’t that big a deal to me and if you doubt me, you can ask my two ex-wives. But for people like writer, director, and star of Old Fashioned, Rik Swartzwelder, sex is apparently very important — so important he has to make a whole film about it. He is, in fact, just the same as the makers of Fifty Shades of Grey. And I don’t imagine him that different from Osama bin Laden with all his pornography.

Religion makes people very creepy when it comes to sex. It’s like conservatives when it comes to policy: they start every discussion of fixing a problem with everything they can’t do. And that’s a recipe for disaster. The world is about possibilities, not arbitrary limits. And the young man in Old Fashioned is not even practicing his faith; he’s just another cultural Christian with major sexual hangups.

Anniversary Post: Jim Bakker Steps Down

Jim BakkerOn this day in 1987, Jim Bakker stepped down from his “Praise The Lord” (PTL) church because of the whole Jessica Hahn incident. I’m not that much interested in that, but it is interesting to think that he actually raped her. I wouldn’t put it past him. He is not a good man. But what I didn’t know is that Jerry Falwell took over for him. It makes you wonder.

You all know that I’m an atheist. At the same time, I’m pretty friendly toward religion as long as it is sincere and not just some kind of cultural signifier. Now my father is rabidly anti-religion, even as he has beliefs in a spiritual side of the universe that I don’t buy into. He just thinks that churches are just about money and that’s it.

I think that’s unfair. Just the same, when you look at someone like Jim Bakker, it’s hard to deny that at least in the world of television Protestantism, it does seem to be all about money. In the end, we find out in Small Gods, that Vorbis had just been talking to himself all those years. Indeed, we find out that there is only one person in all of Omnia who actually believed in Om. But it’s so much worse when it is a high priest.

I don’t think that Jim Bakker believes in the God of the Bible, just as I don’t believe that Jerry Falwell did. These were just men who found that they could use the old religion to gain money and power. I don’t see them as any different from the ISIS pretenders who claim to be doing God’s will by burning people alive. They just live in a different environment where worse acts are acceptable.

So where is Jim Bakker today? Well, he apparently has a radio show and he publishes books. Because it really doesn’t matter. He’s a man of “God” and there will always be people willing to give to him. If God wanted to prove his existence, he’d strike Jim Bakker dead. But God has always been a great disappointment when it comes to that kind of justice.

Anniversary Post: Richard Ramirez — Satanist

Richard Ramirez - SatanistI’ll admit that this is a bank shot. On this day in 1985, Richard Ramirez started his Los Angeles murder spree. He had already murdered two people, but this was the day that he really got going. He was labeled the “Night Stalker” by the press. In total, he killed 14 people. I’m not that interested in him. What I am interested in is the fact that he said he was a Satanist. This I find curious.

What does it mean to be a Satanist? I don’t think I am overstating when I say that it means absolutely nothing. It’s kind of like the word atheist in the time of Shakespeare. An atheist was anyone who wasn’t your form of Christian. So Protestants called Catholics atheists. And vise versa. Usually, when people say they are Satanists, they do so simply to shock people. It’s childish, but less so than the reactions of Christians to the idea.

What Makes a Satanist?

I don’t know of there ever being actual Satanist in the form we see in movies. Today, Satanism is a movement reflected in groups like the Satanic Temple, which are explicitly atheistic and use Satan merely as a symbol. The only people who take Satan seriously are fanatical followers of Abrahamic religions — people like ISIS and Pat Robertson.

It is well established that in early Judaism, Satan was more of a prosecutor for God. It is only later that he gets transformed into a kind of Yin to God’s Yang. And what that means is that the Abrahamic faiths are fundamentally polytheistic — but not in a fun way like the Greek, Norse, and most of all, Hindu myths.

But if we are to believe Terry Pratchett (and I see no reason not to), gods gain their power by having people believe in them. I rather doubt that Richard Ramirez was a Satanist in any meaningful way. He was just a psychopath. So if there really are gods, it’s the Christians and the Muslims who are keeping Satan alive.