Justice that arrives like a thunderbolt

Our generation didn’t start this nation
We’re still pickin’ up the pieces, walkin’ on eggshells, fightin’ over yesterday
And caught between southern pride and southern blame

Those seemingly delightful lyrics are from the song “Accidental Racist,” by Brad Paisley and sung by him and LL Cool J. The song often refers to how white people from the south and black people from the north maybe just can’t understand each other, and maybe they’re being a little too sensitive about things, and maybe they should just have a beer together. It’s a really dreadful song and you probably shouldn’t listen to it.

A couple weekends ago, a white 20-year-old wearing patches representing pro-apartheid African nations, and who has been pictured waving a Confederate battle flag and burning a United States flag, and who — according to his roommate — had often spoke of killing some black people and starting a new civil war, went into an historic black civil war-era church in Charleston, South Carolina, sat around for a while while the pastor led his congregation in prayer, and then pulled out a gun and opened fire. The death toll, before he fled the scene only to be captured in North Carolina the next day, was nine.

Based solely on the evidence I listed above (confederate flag, anti-apartheid, yearning for another civil war, historic black place of worship) a lot of people labeled this pretty much immediately as a hate crime. Others claim it’s an act of terrorism, and I tend to agree with both. His intent was very clearly racially motivated, and going by the FBI’s official definition I think it’s clear to say this was an act of terrorism as well. The oddest thing, however, is when you switch your television station over to Fox News, you’ll hear they have taken a different approach to the situation. Obviously this wasn’t a racist hate crime, but an attack on Christianity! Because in Foxnewsland, the spin they put on any story has to make it seem like they, the Christian Right, are the ones being attacked. So far as I can tell, no indication of Roof’s religion has been made.

Anyway, this whole shooting debacle led very briefly to a discussion on gun laws and a lot of old internet memes popped back up for about three days, but that was all swept aside to make room for this week’s new topic of debate, and the real culprit here: racism.

And you know, I sort of agree. I’m no fan of guns. We need stricter gun regulations. We need to make it more difficult for all people to obtain guns. But it’s also important to determine motive and then see if there are ways to quell motivation — in this case, racism — that may lead to heinous acts like shootings that kill nine people. So our first course of action has been, for the first time in 150 years, to villainize the confederate battle flag (CBF). The day after Roof’s killing spree, the CBF was still flying on South Carolina capitol grounds. It still exists as part of the design on several state flags, as well. So obviously we have to have that flag removed.

But why a flag? It’s just a flag! It’s more than a flag, people. It’s a symbol. A symbol flown by supporters of a war 150 years old that was lost to the Union. A symbol of traitorous southerners who thought it was their god-given right to keep slaves. Yeah, technically people have the freedom to fly their CBFs or their Nazi Germany swastikas, but does that mean they necessarily ought to? Furthermore, does it mean they reserve the right to do so free of consequence? Freedom of speech and expression does not grant you immunity to criticism. As a person with German ancestry, I don’t feel it’s necessary for me to fly a swastika to honor my ancestors.

“Southern pride” rednecks can hang the flag from their trailers and lean-tos and claim their ancestors who fought and died for the Confederacy deserve respect, but I refuse to mourn for or respect separatists who, had they had their way, would have maintained their right to oppress a race of people and buy/sell them and force them into servitude.

Hell, the presence of the CBF or its likeness in the form of stickers on the bumpers of Ford trucks as old and rusty as their owners or patches on overalls serves to warn me in advance who the racists are who can’t let go of the past and their ancestors’ failings in the name of heritage, or some other hokey backwoods jargon that secretly stands for “Hey, we tried to [3/5ths] compromise!”

But that flag has no place whatsoever on public or government property. When it exists next to a United States flag, or a state flag, or especially AS a state flag, it gives the Dylann Roofs of the world a symbol to fight or kill for. It perpetuates — and even worse, institutionalizes — racism.

As of this writing, several states have removed the CBFs from their capitol grounds. Several retailers — even huge retailers like Wal-Mart, Amazon, and eBay — have stopped selling CBF merchandise. I don’t think that was a necessary step, but I support their right to sell or not sell what they please. Even video game publishers of historic games are talking about stopping sales of games featuring a CBF. It is absolutely huge that this is in national discussion right now. There are the people who think the flag belongs in a museum, since it certainly has a history within the United States, and then there are the people who refuse to take it down because their “southern pride” is more important to them than supporting their fellow Americans. When all is said and done, the racists will stick out like sore thumbs and we’ll all be better off knowing who to stay away from.

WHICH BRINGS ME TO TODAY’S BIG NEWS

I awoke this morning and turned on the news, like I do, and I picked up my Android phone and started scrolling through Facebook to see what I had missed during my slumber. As it turns out, the Supreme Court of the United States, in a vote of 5-4, overturned states’ rights to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

This is an extraordinary time to be alive right now, knowing that not only is history being made, but that I’m on the right side of it and have been since I was old enough to understand that boys are allowed to love boys too.

The second thing I did this morning, after I had scrolled a bit through Facebook, was to start perusing the comments sections under the posts made by local news organizations. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if you really want to know the state of things in our country, don’t watch TV, don’t read a newspaper; all you have to do is read the comments sections under local news articles. Because this is your home; these are the people who surround you. Many of them are kind-hearted, reasonable people whose love for life extends to their friends and neighbors and doesn’t just stop outside their own personal egobubble.

But then there are the rabid, hateful, obscene people who want everyone to know how much love they have for family values and Jesus and oh god won’t somebody think of the children! It is to those people whom I address in the remainder of today’s post. Those Christians who assume this progressive country abides by the laws in their millennia-old book.

Your silly book of fairy tales with its laws against shaving your beard and laws against women taking on roles as educators and laws proclaiming bats are birds and stories about talking donkeys and people being turned into pillars of salt and daughters raping their drunken father and god destroying everything a man loves and lives for all because of a silly bet…

That’s not the book from which our normal-people laws are derived. Hell isn’t real, heaven isn’t real, talking serpents and donkeys aren’t real, dragons and unicorns and behemoths and leviathans aren’t real… so do kindly shut the fuck up and refrain from passing judgment on anybody – ANYBODY – seeking happiness and inclusiveness and equality. Because if what they’re doing shakes the very foundation of your fundamental beliefs, then it’s your fundamentals which need to be checked, NOT theirs.

If I learned anything from the Bible, and I have read it cover to cover, it’s that lesson from very early on in the book about the big important guy getting all in a kerfuffle because his two subservient playthings decided to seek knowledge: the ultimate gift.

Too bad satan’s not real, otherwise I’d praise him for setting us free from the Christian god’s shackles.

Equality wins, boys and girls, friends and family. And of you still huffing and puffing about hell or about how icky it is that some people actually had to fight and live through the ridicule and the pain and the insults just to hear their country say “okay, you’re allowed to love each other now,” you huffers and puffers are a dying breed.

This is an incredible time to be alive in the United States. I’m watching history being made. I’m watching my friends finally be recognized as actual people. I get to see my friends rejoice in who they are and know that finally, America is on their side.

If there was a god, I wouldn’t offer cries of “god bless” or “god is great” or any sort of fealty. Not after seeing how his/her/its followers and so-called disciples spit venom and hatred and condemnation toward anybody a little bit different than themselves. Anybody with a different skin color, or anybody with a different sexual preference or identity. No, god deserves no love, no praise, no thanks. It’s the fast-growing majority of progressive, forward-thinking Americans who are to thank for helping bring this country that much closer to universal equality.

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Why am I so smug?

According to Christian religious texts (the Bible), the one unforgivable sin is to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit. In other words, to deny Jesus’s power.

Before we get any further, let me say the following right here and now: if Jesus ever even existed at all (historical texts from the alleged Jesus’s era suggest a religious leader of a similar name may have existed) and if he actually did those things Christians typically chalk up as miracles, like killing a fig tree by pouting at it or curing a man of leprosy or raising Lazarus from the dead (no historical texts from the alleged Jesus’s era support any of his so-called miracles), then I firmly believe his feats were nothing more than magic tricks which could each be explained in turn using modern science and simple logic.

In other words, if Jesus existed and did those things the Bible says he did, it’s not because he’s the son of any god or because he possesses special powers the rest of us don’t. No, Jesus was a trickster – a master illusionist. I don’t know how David Copperfield or Penn and Teller or even modern day televangelists do what they do, and what they do is certainly fascinating (except the part where gullible people are knowingly scammed out of large amounts of money), but I don’t think these people are actually capable of bending natural laws at their will or literally accomplishing the impossible.

Jesus may have mastered sleight of hand, but he wasn’t anything special.

Oh, and here’s the cherry on the top if that wasn’t enough for you. If there’s one “good guy” in the Christian Bible, it’s the guy who freed humans from their blissful ignorance and granted them the greatest gift of all: knowledge. It’s not the guy who has literally killed millions of people or had millions of people killed in his name. That’s right, friends. I just inferred that in the great contest of who’s done more good versus bad for humanity, Satan beats God.

There. It took me a while, but in the end I’m pretty sure I just committed the one unforgivable sin and thus solidified for myself a future of eternal pain and suffering. Phew.

Now that’s one (or two, I guess) simple little opinion of mine that doesn’t really come up very often in everyday conversation. It’s a personal opinion that I can’t expect many people around me to share, especially in Texas. Despite my opinion regarding Christianity’s Jesus, God, and Satan (none of whom I believe exist simply due to a lack of evidence), which I typically keep to myself outside Internet World, I like to think of myself as a somewhat decent person.

I’m pretty nice to people, even those I don’t know or don’t like (despite my being a nice guy, there are plenty of people I just don’t like). I try to avoid confrontation or conflict, not because I’m afraid of either but because I like people to be happy, sometimes even at the expense of my own happiness. I love to make people laugh. I’m a pretty charitable guy. I’ve made some mistakes in my life, but who hasn’t? Fortunately I can say I’ve learned from my mistakes and if I haven’t yet, I aim to make up for them. I enjoy reading books and I like to learn as much as I can, sometimes about random things “just because.” I’m educated, for the most part. No, I don’t have a college degree but I’ve still got plenty of time and I’m working on getting my first degree. I love my wife and she loves me. I think the most severe law I’ve ever broken is driving too fast on the highway, and now I’m very careful about driving at a reasonable speed. I don’t judge people for something they can’t control, whether it’s their gender, race, age, or sexual orientation. I abide by the golden rule: don’t do to others what you wouldn’t have done to yourself. I’m a utilitarian: the outcome which is best for the most people is the most ideal outcome. Do the most good while causing the least harm.

I do all this not because I believe I’ll be rewarded in the afterlife, or even out of fear of being punished in the afterlife, but because the evolution of society and ethos tells me the best society is a cohesive one, in which people are happy and can work together to achieve a common goal, whatever that goal may be. Sometimes the goal is just more happiness.

Despite this; despite my contributions, a Christian will tell me it’s what I generally keep to myself which matters. The Christian Bible basically says that because I’m humble enough to admit that sometimes “I don’t know” really is the most rational answer, a child rapist can repent on his deathbed and will have a greater chance at getting into Heaven (if Heaven exists at all) than I do. And part of being Christian means believing what the Bible says to be true.

And I think anybody who sincerely believes that is a horrible person, and I’m better than you.

That’s why I’m so smug.

Wasps

I originally posted this today on my personal blog, Fancy Hollywood Frogs, but as it pertains to atheism (in the sense that wasps are evident of a cruel or nonexistent god) I thought I would share it here too.

I hate wasps.

I’m not talking about WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants), though they sure annoy the hell out of me too, but wasps – the spindly, black-and-yellow, six-legged, winged harbingers of misery and impending doom.

Yeah, one of those.

Wasps serve no purpose whatsoever other than to scare the ever-loving shit out of me. They are aggressive, hideous, and haunt the worst of my nightmares. Oh, and they come with a weapon. Not that anybody needs to be educated on what wasps are, but they will sting you. Not only will they sting you, they’ll hunt you down for miles just so they can sting you. And you know what else? Unlike bees, which lose their stingers (and die) after stinging someone or something, a wasp will just keep stinging. With no regard whatsoever to your overall happiness, a single wasp will release up to six pints of venom into your body through its stings.

Wasps do not care about your well-being. They will happily kill a man and then fly home to their colonies of buzzing death and brag to all their friends. Wasps are known for their ability to kill entire crowds of people without so much as blinking one of those horrid, black eyes. For the record, looking into a wasp’s eyes is like peering into the depths of Hell itself.

There is nothing on this world (or, I would wager, on any other world) worse than a wasp. They are evil, conniving, and full of pent-up teenage angst. Except instead of wearing dark eyeshadow and cutting themselves, wasps will cut you. Because some of them carry knives. Wasps are worse than Hitler.

Here in Texas we have what are conveniently called “red wasps.” These are like normal wasps, except their bodies are red and their wings are as black as their hearts (picture below). According to a website called “What’s That Bug?” red wasps are known for their non-aggressiveness. Oh wait, except they are aggressive, according to the editor’s note at the bottom of the page linked above:

April 11, 2011. We have gotten so many comments of first hand accounts of aggressive Red Wasps that we feel compelled to withdraw our statement that the Red Wasps pose no threat.

The editor then goes on to say, basically, that there must be some new species or subspecies of red wasps that are pissed off, all the time. What’s worse is they won’t tell us what we did to make them so angry.

Death on six legs.

I had an encounter with a red wasp yesterday. There I was, minding my own business, when I caught a flash of red out of the corner of my eye. I spun around to see what it was, but nothing was there. Suspicious, I took my next few steps very carefully. Suddenly, from about ten yards away I spotted something flying at me fast. I ducked to one side and saw the unprovoked, pissed off kamikaze wasp soar by my head. With barely enough time to readjust my footing, the wasp pulled a perfect 180º and came at me again. I ducked the other way and managed to evade the hate-copter a second time.

Now when I turned to face it, the thing was already preparing to strike at me a third time. It was hovering in the air at eye-level, about two yards away. Hovering. It was just watching me. This insect was judging me, trying to determine whether it could take me in hand-to-hand combat. It was soon clear that ultimately the wasp decided it did not fear me and wanted nothing more than to taste my blood. It came at me again and I swatted at it with an open palm but missed. I spun to face it just in time. It was now right. in. front. of. me.

My enemy and I danced for a while; the wasp swerving this way and that, growing angrier by the second while I flailed my arms about in a panic, wondering nothing but whether this would be the day I died. With a stroke of luck, my open hand made contact with the wasp and it fell to the ground. One slap, I knew, would not be enough. Wasps are like zombies: they will keep coming after you until you put a bullet into their brain. Even if I had managed to find shelter while it was still incapacitated, the wasp would have eventually found me. Maybe not right away – maybe even six years from now – but the important thing to know is that a wasp will never forget you, and it will never find solace until it has killed you.

So I stepped on it. I crushed my foe under my shoe, but when I removed my foot with a sigh of relief it was still moving. I think it even managed to flip itself over onto its feet after having landed on its back – I’m not sure, though. My next act was not a conscious decision I made, but an animalistic impulse. I drove my heel into its pathetic, wounded body and dragged it across the pavement until it had been properly shredded.

My only regret is that I did not then gather its body parts and craft myself a necklace out of them, to serve as a warning to any other would-be attackers.

Wasps are proof that either god does not exist, or he hates us.

Thoughts (I)

With nothing better to discuss today, here is an assortment of thoughts.

  • This Pakistan/Pakistani-bashing has got to end. My workplace employs people of all different lifestyles, races, and from all different walks of life. Among my peers at work are a couple people from Pakistan. Not two days after Osama bin Laden’s death I heard they’ve already had to put up with mental and verbal abuse; not necessarily at the workplace, but certainly outside of work. The Pakistan government may or may not have had anything to do with bin Laden and they may or may not have known his whereabouts for a while, but this by no means subjects anybody else to any kind of abuse. Guess what? The American government has done or allowed some pretty terrible things in the past; I certainly don’t take accountability for their actions, nor is anybody who happens to be from Pakistan responsible for any of his or her country’s government’s alleged actions.
  • On the topic of Osama bin Laden, I frankly don’t care if pictures of his corpse are not released, or his “death tape” (the video he allegedly recorded to be released upon his death). I’m perfectly fine with never seeing him or hearing his voice again. As far as I’m concerned, he may still be alive, detained in a top-secret military base somewhere on the dark side of the moon. Probably not, of course. He probably really was pushed over the side of an aircraft carrier into the Atlantic Ocean somewhere with weights tied to his feet. Personally, I think that’s just too bad – science really could have benefited from studying that man’s brain. Oh well.
  • I would like to know the exact time of day (local time) that the Rapture is supposed to happen on May the twenty-first. I’m a bit of a procrastinator so I’ve got some things I’d like to work out before all that business goes down. Especially since I’ll be working that day and it’s possible everything happens while I’m there.
  • On that note, May 21st is a Saturday, so if anybody’s throwing a party around here I’d like an invite. I should be free in the evening; I’ll even bring some beer. I recommend holding the party somewhere with lots of accommodations. Being that most of the people here are “good” Christians, that means there ought to be plenty of empty houses to choose from. On the off-chance that god turns out to be loving and reasonable (I know, I’m pushing it) and I end up being raptured, you’re welcome to crash at my place. There will be plenty of beer in the refrigerator, a loaded bar, and a ton of great books and movies to kill some time with.
  • If Satan is known for punishing bad people eternally, is Satan really evil? Is our justice system evil? Our prisons? The police? If evil exists not because god is fictional but because of Satan, then does Satan have more power than god? All that aside, doesn’t the recognition of Satan as being as powerful as (or nearly as powerful as) god make the Christian faith polytheistic? Not to mention Jesus. That’s at least three gods Christians believe in. It’s actually less of a stretch to say the whole thing is rubbish.
  • If David Copperfield traveled back in time two thousand years and performed a simple card trick, we would be worshiping him now. I don’t know how magicians pull off a lot of their tricks, but that doesn’t mean I believe magic exists.

That’s all I’ve got for today.

Bible sans Bible (Revelation 12-13)

The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun

Image via Wikipedia

Bit by bit, I’d like to attempt to retell some fantastic Bible stories, but without all the parts about God and Jesus. Other revealing “religiousy” names and places (such as Satan, Moses, and Heaven) will also be removed, or replaced if necessary. I thought I’d start with the fun and fabulous story of the dragon (whose actual name has been omitted) and the beast from the sea, found in the book of Revelation. I’ll let you come up with your own commentary. I’ll just say this: the Bible is a ridiculous piece of literature on which to base your views of morality and reality. The stories contained within are simply too absurd to be taken seriously. If you need fantastic stories to teach you morality, I would recommend Aesop’s Fables.

A great and wondrous sign appeared: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. And the child was snatched up [to the sky]. The woman fled into the desert to a place prepared for her, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.

And there was war in [the sky]. Michael fought against the dragon, and the dragon fought back. But he was not strong enough, and [he] lost [his] place in [the sky]. The great dragon was hurled down – that ancient serpent who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth.

When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the desert, where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time, out of the serpent’s reach. Then from his mouth the serpent spewed water like a river, to overtake the woman and sweep her away with the torrent. But the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon had spewed out of his mouth. Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to make war against the rest of her offspring.

And the dragon stood on the shore of the sea.

And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. He had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on his horns, and on each head a [bad word]. The beast I saw resembled a leopard, but had feet like those of a bear and a mouth like that of a lion. This dragon gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority. One of the heads of the beast seemed to have had a fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed. The whole world was astonished and followed the beast. Men worshiped the dragon because he had given authority to the beast, and they also worshiped the beast and asked, “Who is like the beast? Who can make war against him?”

The beast was given a mouth to utter [bad words] and to exercise his authority for forty-two months. And he was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation. All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast.

He who has an ear, let him hear. If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity he will go. If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword he will be killed.

Then I saw another beast, coming out of the earth. He had two horns like a lamb, but he spoke like a dragon. He exercised all the authority of the first beast on his behalf, and made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed. And he performed great and miraculous signs, even causing fire to come down from [the sky] in full view of men. Because of the signs he was given power to do on behalf of the first beast, he deceived the inhabitants of the earth. He ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived. He was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that it could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed. He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name.

This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man’s number. His number is 666.

Ricky Gervais: Why I am a Good Christian

Ricky Gervais was kind enough to write us a wonderful holiday message last year titled Why I’m an Atheist. This year he’s done it again for Easter, but with a new message: Why I’m a Good Christian. In it he covers the coveted Ten Commandments and A) sheds some light on the meaning of one or two commandments and B) explains why he is better at following every one of them than most Christians. I’ll give you a taste of his message, but you’ll have to click through to his site to read the whole thing (which I highly encourage).

So many Christians think that because they believe in the right God, they are automatically good and have a one-way ticket to everlasting life. Dare I say it but I suspect this is their main reason for believing. I’ve heard so many “believers” say, “Well, since there is no way of being sure whether there is a God or not, it’s better to believe in God than not, because that way, if you’re wrong it doesn’t matter and if you’re right you get everlasting life.” Win:win.

This is of course Pascal’s Wager, which assumes that God if he exists would reward blind faith above logic and living a good life as an atheist.

To the Christians’ God by the way, it’s just as bad to believe in the wrong God as no God at all. The idea of other Gods is of course ridiculous to Christians. Supernatural poppycock. As if there was ever a Zeus; stupid, ancient, unenlightened superstition. And even if there are other Gods (which of course there aren’t) then the Christians’ God is the best. Hardest, smartest… just better. He would laugh at Zeus and call him a Greek bender. (I doubt that God is racist and homophobic but the Bible isn’t clear. Some bits go on about love and equality and others say you shouldn’t trust certain types and that laying down with a man as you would with a woman is punishable by death and is a bit sick and evil.)

So remember. If you are gay you are “Bumming for Satan” basically. (That would make quite a good T-shirt.)

…read the whole thing

I hope you’ll read both the Easter message in its entirety and the original Christmas message from last year (which I linked to at the beginning of this post). Even if you get nothing else from it, Gervais has a way to make religion even more hilarious than it does for itself, so hopefully you’ll at least get a kick out of it.