Sunday, April 30, 2006

Find the Money!

Tired of that let-down feeling you get when the last Easter egg is found? Hungry for more hide-and-seek adventure? How about joining the first annual Atheist Spring Games? This is just the seed of an idea at present, organizers and contestants of all denominations and non-denominations are welcome. Write me with suggestions if there is any way that you would like to participate.

Since it’s my idea, I get to go first. I’m proposing a little game of “Find the Money.”
Rules: Figure out who winds up with money donated to some cause. Points are awarded for each recipient of revenue identified. Extra points are awarded for completeness of information in the following categories:
1. Identifying by name the Principal business owners that receive income.
2. Identifying actual dollar amounts received for goods or services rendered.
3. Identifying any Human Rights violations, alleged or proved that any of the businesses held by the above Principals have been accused of.

Playing field: The chosen target for this game is the FEBC (Far East Broadcasting Company). This group just sent me a flyer (and a donation envelope) announcing the launch of “Operation Good News” (zero points for originality).

“Through Operation Good News, FEBC is seeking to purchase and distribute (10,000) wind-up radios deep into Communist China. These radios can pick up the FEBC’s gospel broadcasts without the use of batteries or electricity.”

It seemed such a waste, sending those nice marketing materials to me (extra points available for identifying their printer and printing costs). This little game seemed the perfect way to give meaning to the experience. All you have to do to play is identify yourself as being “in”, and start digging. I will keep the game open for two weeks, with an extension of one more on request. Even if I am the only player, I will conclude the game with more information on the FBEC. Here’s a bit of a head-start for those interested in playing the game.

“News headlines for September 1st 2003 Mission Network News is brought to you in part by MTS TRAVEL and LUFTHANSA, leaders in providing special fare airline tickets for the missions community. To receive a free airfare quote for your short-term missions group or individual missions travel, please visit and click MISSION FARE SAMPLER or MTS TRAVEL Offices to contact one of our 11 nationwide Travel Service Centers.

(International)--A missionary radio ministry has a new leader today. Jim Bowman, President of Far East Broadcasting Company[3] and the FEBC Board of Directors, announce that Gregg Harris will become FEBC’s fourth President. Bowman says Harris, who has 10 years of international radio ministry, is a great person to succeed him. Bowman, meanwhile, will work full time with field leaders and assisting in developing FEBC’s international office in Asia.”

One more clue to level the playing field: The brand name on the radio pictured on the flyer is “Tecsun”. This information does not appear on their web site. I can't find the dollar amount spent on these radios in FEBC’s financial statements, either.

Remember, these guys probably don’t have to pay taxes, so even though they are trying to sell me a radio, which they will then allegedly give to someone else, it doesn’t count as a business transaction. This means they have ample opportunity to bury income and write off personal expenses (like food, travel, and hotels) as arising from church business. Players will have their work cut out for them in the quest for information.

Good Luck!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

How to Tell a Convincing Lie.

Sunday morning. Flip through the TV channels and all you see are infomercials and Godfomercials. It’s bad enough when the Televangelists stick to the scriptures. Their mission has become increasingly about painting a lurid picture of what the world has become without their particular brand of Old-Time Religion (Patent pending. Spread it on your crops and watch ‘em grow!) This is not the problem. There is more religion around than there ever was in the “good old days”. Back in the days that the preachers are glorifying, the only religion in the house was what the parents brought in, a bible, a cross, some spooky disembodied praying hands perhaps. Now, I’ve got snake oil salesmen falling all over themselves to reach me through my television. Lots of them have toll free numbers where I can contribute to their pet charities, and the army of production staff, accountants and phone room slaves that keep the whole scam going.

How then, do the preachers make it look like lack of religious belief has anything to do with modern social problems? By telling half-truths and promoting erroneous conclusions of course! One of their favorite soap box speeches is a complaint about the divorce rate in which they kindly tell their audience what to conclude from it all. The first problem with this argument is that divorce statistics are a mess. For example, ask around, and you will be told that anywhere from 1 in 4, to 1 in 2 marriages end in divorce. The general belief is that this has been true for two decades at least. Compare that to statistics collected by the National Center for Health Statistics (NHCS) that state in 1988, the divorce rate in the Northeast was 3.5 per 1000 inhabitants. In order to reconcile these two figures, we would have to believe that a maximum of 14 people per 1000 were married for the first time that year. One also has the problem that a marriage can last 10-20 years and still end in divorce, therefore qualifying as an unsuccessful marriage. Then there are second, third, and fourth marriages to consider. Should we count the divorce rate of subsequent marriages in the same way as the first marriage? At least one of those partners found the institution (paradigm) of marriage unsuitable already, so are we double-counting their behavior pattern? Here is a broader study of the social issues affecting marriage and divorce. It is by no means complete, and it is also written in support of a pet theory, but it is much less simplistic than the picture painted by the Bible Belters.

The second problem is that the statistics themselves do not present a complete picture. The preacher will tell you that in 18-something, only 1 marriage in 300 ended in divorce. How many ended prematurely from disease and mortality in wars like the US Civil War? How many were held together for the sake of the children? How many were hell on earth, a partnership in name only, continued only because of a slavish devotion to public opinion that dictated that marriage was forever? How many husbands or wives left home without the courtesy of divorce? How many horrible marriages ended in murder instead of divorce? These numbers are unobtainable, but the scenarios need to be considered as part of the mix.

Third and last, divorce is not a problem. It is a solution to a problem. It might or might not be the best solution, but who am I to second-guess someone else’s decision? The attitudes of those who would pass moral judgment on someone else’s situation without knowing all the facts of that situation are prejudiced. The prejudice is created by those who would legislate a false morality. This has never worked, but the control freaks keep trying, and seem to have no trouble convincing large numbers of people that it could work.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Holiday Fun

A challenge to all Pagans:

If you start organizing now, by next Easter you could be ready to stage huge protests over the insensitive mockery of your fertility symbols by the Christians. How long will you sit idly by as they boil eggs into infertility? How can you not be outraged by their ritualistic killing and devouring of rabbits, insuring that they cannot multiply? The Muslims have shown us the way! Take to the streets and threaten mayhem until the Christians stop this centuries-old insensitivity! What are a few cartoons compared to the millions of chicken eggs turned into gastric time bombs each year? When will the ritual slaughter of defenseless candy cottontails end? Join the War on Easter, and together we can embarrass the enemy!

You might say to yourself, “This is the Atheist’s war, and none of my business.” Just remember the words of Martinus of Neimoll:

“When they came for the Dionysians I did not speak because I was not a Dionysian. When they came for the Apollonians I did not speak because I was not an Apollonian. When they came for the Druids, I did not speak because I was not a Druid. When they came for the Vallar, there was no one left to speak.”

The enemy is weak. They are still reeling from their loss on the cartoon front. If we attack now, we can keep them on the run. I smell lamb chops!

With acknowledgment to Martin Neimoller for his timeless quote.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

"Class" Part 2.

I grew up in an upscale, predominantly white-bread New Jersey suburb of Manhattan. As bedroom communities go, it was not the Ritziest in the area, but it was probably in about a seven-way tie for third Ritziest. It was a Colonial town, and even boasted a few artifacts, including one of those white churches with mammoth steeple, and a duck pond to reflect it in. There were plenty of shops, and no industry in town, which made it marginally prettier than some other nearby towns. Large, tree-lined streets, large Victorian houses, zoning to keep them from going duplex... you get the picture. It also boasted one of the best school systems in the area, two or three Country Clubs, proximity to several more golf courses, and a couple of real mansion-lined neighborhoods. I’m not talking McMansion here either, these places had grounds, greenhouses, the works. I did not grow up in one of those neighborhoods, but one of them was a scant 3-minute bike ride from my house, so I went to school with those kids.

My neighborhood consisted of only a couple of blocks, connected to a main road at one of the corners, kind of like the letter K, where the upright is the main drag, and the two side streets form half of a square block. In some strange way, it was reminiscent of a backwater on a river, and the people that lived there were “backwater people”. The town had a slice of every ethnic and economic background, although it was weighted a bit heavily toward the higher income brackets. We were not the poorest, they lived on either side of the railroad line, often in rented housing. We were the support staff and the retirees. We were the butchers, the bakers, the candlestick makers. My neighborhood boasted two police officers, a plumber, a painter/carpenter, another carpenter whose wife worked at the cafeteria at Roosevelt Junior High School, a beautician, a landlord, a steamfitter... you get the picture. One guy owned a heating oil distributorship and another worked for Exxon as a research chemist. These were the more well-off members of my little community. The long-time residents of the neighborhood were of German, Polish, and Italian extraction. The food was great.

As I said, I went to school with the rich and, well, rich. The famous people in town tended more toward the arts, and were much more approachable. They were also adults. The teachers never played favorites that I could see, the wealthy parents were distantly polite, but the kids... Spoiled doesn’t cover it. Some were spoiled, some weren’t. This was the real world, not some TV stereotype. Most of them, with only two exceptions I remember, made it quite plain that we didn’t belong. We were not in their league, we were not on the fast track, and they were. I did not resent this at the time. Frankly, I didn’t think about it much, I had other problems to think about while growing up. I remember that I didn’t get it. I would not accept that these kids were better than I was simply because of the accomplishments of their parents. This caused some additional friction since I would not play along with their sense of entitlement. I think some of them even concluded that I was too retarded to understand the difference in our respective social standings.

Years later I did resent them, and it took me more years to stop. They were a product of their environment. Their parents went to the same clubs, ran in the same, somewhat exclusive, social circles. Their parents had friends that would make sure the kids didn’t start their careers in dead-end jobs. Their older brothers and sisters went to the best colleges, and so did their girlfriends and boyfriends. They were taught at an early age to be suspicious of people that were not as well off as they were, people that would only be friendly because they wanted something. They hung out with people just like they were, and were taught to be the clique that they became. They were as much a victim of prejudice as the people they shunned. They also had their share of complete failures. Money only makes some aspects of living and growing up easier, there are many things in this world that money can’t fix. Some of them too, I’m sure, were snubbed by the next group up the social ladder. You know, the ones that went to private schools in Switzerland, lived all over the world, had stables, fleets of cars, planes, and servants to operate them. You get the picture.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Remember, you can't spell "saint" without "aint".

"As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active power of the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of a woman comes from defect in the active power...." Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica,Q92, art. 1, Reply Obj. 1

Yup, this is the kind of ignorant garbage I want to hold up as wisdom! Presumably, one of the three miracles that got him a sainthood was the report of some monks that claimed to see him levitating. I wonder why that doesn't happen so often anymore? Do you suppose that it was the 11th century canonical equivalent of a "gimmie" in golf?

Sunday, April 02, 2006

For Those Who Would Cover Up the Bullshit Yet Hide Behind It Anyway

Part 2 of “Class” coming soon. I am spending time today cleaning up some other unfinished business. Meanwhile, an observation from a man that I would call friend, and a commentary. Romeo Macapobre posts to Atheisthaven, a predominantly Pacific Rim Atheist group.

"Slavery in the Bible
Many Jews and Christians will try to ignore the moral problems of slavery by saying that these slaves were actually servants or indentured servants. Many translations of the Bible use the word "servant", "bondservant", or "manservant" instead of "slave" to make the Bible seem less immoral than it really is. While many slaves may have worked as household servants, that doesn't mean that they were not slaves who were bought, sold, and treated worse than livestock.

When a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod so hard that the slave dies under his hand, he shall be punished. If, however, the slave survives for a day or two, he is not to be punished, since the slave is his own property. (Exodus 21:20-21 NAB)"

You can whitewash it, paint it, embellish it, or ignore it, but that will not change the fact that this religion was born of a primitive and self-centered bunch of goatherds, not unlike the squabbling Islamic tribes that exist even today. Whom does it serve? Forget the concept of god, and look to those in authority with soft, pudgy hands.