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Sunday Sermonette: The Curate's Egg

“All you need to know that God exists is unaided human reason.”

The nine o’clock Sunday Mass, held in the basement known as the Lower Church, was designated the Children’s Mass. The liturgy was simplified for young believers, and a phalanx of nuns from the convent next door served as overseers and wardens. This was the Mass celebrated by the popular priest, the young athletic one fresh out of seminary. In Catholic parlance, he was a curate, an assistant to the parish priest.

“Where do chickens come from?” asked the curate.

“Eggs!” responded the kids in the front pews.

“And where do eggs come from?”

“Chickens!”

“Nope, my pocket. Do you believe I have an egg in my pocket?”

The youthful congregation looked dubious. Did priests even have pockets? Pushing aside his chasuble and pulling up his alb, we discovered that he wore ordinary street clothes under the long white robe and colorful poncho. He reached into his pocket and produced an egg.

“There, you see? But I didn’t make this egg. A chicken made this egg. And another chicken made the egg that hatched and laid this egg. And so on, as far back as you want to go. But somebody had to make the first egg. Eggs don’t just happen, not even in my pocket. The world didn’t just start spinning all on its own. Someone had to push. Someone had to be there in the beginning. Who do you suppose that was?”

And so it was that while still in grammar school I was introduced to the thirteenth century philosopher, Saint Thomas Aquinas, and his proof of God as Uncaused Cause, the First Mover. The Church has always claimed that God could by known by the light of unaided human reason, and Aquinas claimed to prove it with what is now called the Cosmological Argument in his Summa Theologica, written between 1265 and 1274 CE.

I wasn’t about to disagree. I was a kid; in front of me was a priest who for some unaccountable reason kept eggs in his trouser pockets, and the source of the argument was the greatest mind of Holy Mother Church. It never occurred to me to do anything but accept this wisdom unquestioningly.

Forty-five years later, the me who was once a little boy sitting on a hard pew has his hand in the air and is waving it frantically.

The answer is, I don’t know, and neither do you, and neither did Aquinas. The question is begged from the beginning. Why should there be a “who” that set the ball rolling? Then follows the special pleading: If everything has to have a beginning, where did God begin? Maybe the universe has no beginning. “Universe” doesn’t mean “this object,” it means “all that is.” It’s a lot harder to wrap your brain around (actually, it’s pretty much impossible), but how does an incomprehensibility called “God” explain an incomprehensibility called “universe”?

It is natural to feel a sense of wonder and awe when thinking about the cosmos. The numbers alone boggle the mind. 13.75 billion years old, 93 billion light years in diameter (at least so far as we know today), and yet the Big Bang theory says that it was all once contained in a space about the size of the period at the end of this sentence. The Big Bang is a complex theory that I do not even begin to understand, but here’s the important thing: Scientists and atheists do not have faith in the Big Bang the way believers do in their Prime Mover. If tomorrow we found evidence that the universe was eternal and banana-shaped, there would be great rejoicing. New information! New areas to explore! New knowledge to be gained! Another discredited theory would be tossed in the dustbin of scientific history. Science, after all, is not facts to be memorized, but a method of investigation.

Even if I were to accept the attempt to define God into existence simply by applying that word to the arbitrary termination of an infinite regress of cause an effect, what does that definition tell us? What information do we gain?

Absolutely nothing. Nothing at all. It answers no questions, it adds no information, it gives us no useful data. All it does is allow you to take a word heavily freighted by eons of cultural baggage and load on another steamer trunk.

There’s an old George du Maurier cartoon that appeared in Punch in 1895.


Right Reverend Host. "I’m afraid you’ve got a bad Egg, Mr. Jones!"
The Curate. "Oh no, my Lord, I assure you! Parts of it are excellect!"


The idea that the existence of God can be established by unaided human reason using flawed explanations like the Cosmological Argument is like that egg. When part of an egg is bad, the whole is bad, and no amount of humility or deference can change it.

Sunday Sermonette: The Curate's Egg

“All you need to know that God exists is unaided human reason.”

The nine o’clock Sunday Mass, held in the basement known as the Lower Church, was designated the Children’s Mass. The liturgy was simplified for young believers, and a phalanx of nuns from the convent next door served as overseers and wardens. This was the Mass celebrated by the popular priest, the young athletic one fresh out of seminary. In Catholic parlance, he was a curate, an assistant to the parish priest.

“Where do chickens come from?” asked the curate.

“Eggs!” responded the kids in the front pews.

“And where do eggs come from?”

“Chickens!”

“Nope, my pocket. Do you believe I have an egg in my pocket?”

The youthful congregation looked dubious. Did priests even have pockets? Pushing aside his chasuble and pulling up his alb, we discovered that he wore ordinary street clothes under the long white robe and colorful poncho. He reached into his pocket and produced an egg.

“There, you see? But I didn’t make this egg. A chicken made this egg. And another chicken made the egg that hatched and laid this egg. And so on, as far back as you want to go. But somebody had to make the first egg. Eggs don’t just happen, not even in my pocket. The world didn’t just start spinning all on its own. Someone had to push. Someone had to be there in the beginning. Who do you suppose that was?”

And so it was that while still in grammar school I was introduced to the thirteenth century philosopher, Saint Thomas Aquinas, and his proof of God as Uncaused Cause, the First Mover. The Church has always claimed that God could by known by the light of unaided human reason, and Aquinas claimed to prove it with what is now called the Cosmological Argument in his Summa Theologica, written between 1265 and 1274 CE.

I wasn’t about to disagree. I was a kid; in front of me was a priest who for some unaccountable reason kept eggs in his trouser pockets, and the source of the argument was the greatest mind of Holy Mother Church. It never occurred to me to do anything but accept this wisdom unquestioningly.

Forty-five years later, the me who was once a little boy sitting on a hard pew has his hand in the air and is waving it frantically.

The answer is, I don’t know, and neither do you, and neither did Aquinas. The question is begged from the beginning. Why should there be a “who” that set the ball rolling? Then follows the special pleading: If everything has to have a beginning, where did God begin? Maybe the universe has no beginning. “Universe” doesn’t mean “this object,” it means “all that is.” It’s a lot harder to wrap your brain around (actually, it’s pretty much impossible), but how does an incomprehensibility called “God” explain an incomprehensibility called “universe”?

It is natural to feel a sense of wonder and awe when thinking about the cosmos. The numbers alone boggle the mind. 13.75 billion years old, 93 billion light years in diameter (at least so far as we know today), and yet the Big Bang theory says that it was all once contained in a space about the size of the period at the end of this sentence. The Big Bang is a complex theory that I do not even begin to understand, but here’s the important thing: Scientists and atheists do not have faith in the Big Bang the way believers do in their Prime Mover. If tomorrow we found evidence that the universe was eternal and banana-shaped, there would be great rejoicing. New information! New areas to explore! New knowledge to be gained! Another discredited theory would be tossed in the dustbin of scientific history. Science, after all, is not facts to be memorized, but a method of investigation.

Even if I were to accept the attempt to define God into existence simply by applying that word to the arbitrary termination of an infinite regress of cause an effect, what does that definition tell us? What information do we gain?

Absolutely nothing. Nothing at all. It answers no questions, it adds no information, it gives us no useful data. All it does is allow you to take a word heavily freighted by eons of cultural baggage and load on another steamer trunk.

There’s an old George du Maurier cartoon that appeared in Punch in 1895.


Right Reverend Host. "I’m afraid you’ve got a bad Egg, Mr. Jones!"
The Curate. "Oh no, my Lord, I assure you! Parts of it are excellect!"


The idea that the existence of God can be established by unaided human reason using flawed explanations like the Cosmological Argument is like that egg. When part of an egg is bad, the whole is bad, and no amount of humility or deference can change it.

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Sunday Sermonette: Deathbed Conversion?

Christopher Hitchens was a brilliant polemicist. I rejoiced when our views aligned, because his were always better thought out and far better expressed then my own. I despaired when we disagreed, such as on the necessity of regime change in Iraq, for the same reason. Whatever you may have thought of him, his was a brilliant and incisive voice in public debate.

It’s been almost five years since Hitch died, too young. It’s a given that the moment a celebrated atheist dies, some believer will claim that he saw the light just before his own went out, repented his manifold sins and wickednesses, and now rests in the bosom of Abraham. Hitchens spoke of the prospect of an afterlife at a debate in 2011, the year he died. “I would say it fractionally increases my contempt for the false consolation element of religion and my dislike for the dictatorial and totalitarian part of it,” he responded. “It’s considered perfectly normal in this society to approach dying people who you don’t know but who are unbelievers and say, ‘Now are you gonna change your mind?’ That is considered almost a polite question.”



“Fuck that, is what I’ll say, and will say if it’s my last breath,” Hitch concluded.

In May of the same year, Hitchens wrote a letter to be read at the American Atheists convention, apologizing that his failing health did not let him appear in person.

Dear fellow-unbelievers,

Nothing would have kept me from joining you except the loss of my voice (at least my speaking voice) which in turn is due to a long argument I am currently having with the specter of death. Nobody ever wins this argument, though there are some solid points to be made while the discussion goes on. I have found, as the enemy becomes more familiar, that all the special pleading for salvation, redemption and supernatural deliverance appears even more hollow and artificial to me than it did before. I hope to help defend and pass on the lessons of this for many years to come, but for now I have found my trust better placed in two things: the skill and principle of advanced medical science, and the comradeship of innumerable friends and family, all of them immune to the false consolations of religion. It is these forces among others which will speed the day when humanity emancipates itself from the mind-forged manacles of servility and superstition. It is our innate solidarity, and not some despotism of the sky, which is the source of our morality and our sense of decency…


The letter ends, “Don’t keep the faith.”

But these clearly stated rejections didn’t stop Christian evangelical Larry Taunton from recently publishing a book titled The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World's Most Notorious Atheist in which he strongly hints that Hitchens repented at the end. “Christopher had doubts ... and those doubts led him to seek out Christians and contemplate, among other things, religious conversion.”

“At the end of his life, Christopher’s searches had brought him willingly, if secretly, to the altar,” Taunton wrote at the end of the book. “Precisely what he did there, no one knows.”

Taunton had been a minor debating opponent of Hitchens in the three years leading up to his death, and claimed to have had many private conversations with the man. I don’t know what led him to the morally repugnant act of publishing those private and unrecorded conversations long after Hitch could defend himself, but it’s a shabby and rather ghoulish thing to do.

Taunton’s main argument for Hitchens’ possible recantation is that he had evangelical friends, and he read the Bible. This strikes me as a very slender reed - the man had many friends with whom he cordially disagreed, and many atheists are very familiar with the Bible. Again, despite what the Christian press is saying, Taunton merely suggests that Hitchens might have recanted. He has no evidence that any such thing took place and wasn’t at the bedside at the end.

Hitchens’ wife Carol Blue was. She was unequivocal. There were no doubts. “He lived by his principles until the end. To be honest, the subject of God didn’t come up.”

But let’s say for the sake of argument that Hitchens, in the opiate haze and pain of his terminal esophageal cancer, decided to recant on his deathbed, confess his sins, and accept Christ as his personal savior. So what? What would that mean?

Not a damned thing. I am not an atheist because I think Christopher Hitchens was ever so smart and I want to appear to be smart too. I am an atheist because I see no evidence for the existence of a god or gods. That’s it. The words a dying man says or doesn’t say are irrelevant. They’re not evidence of anything.

In Hitchens’ biography of Thomas Paine, he wrote,

It was widely believed by the devout of those days that unbelievers would scream for a priest when their own death-beds loomed. Why this was thought to be valuable propaganda it is impossible to say. Surely the sobbing of a human creature in extremis is testimony not worth having, as well as testimony extracted by the most contemptible means?

I am forced to conclude that this book is not intended to convert atheists from our unbelief. This is a book written by a believer to reassure other believers. The very existence of atheists causes believers existential dread. Death is inevitable, unpredictable, and above all final, and atheism threatens the comforting stories that the religious tell themselves about an afterlife. It’s comforting for them to imagine that a famous atheist reached out for God at the last. Someone like Larry Taunton already believes far more improbable things.

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May is National Masturbation Month. I didn’t know that autoeroticism had a month of its own, but Wikipedia says so. It began with a National Masturbation Day declared by sex-positive retailer Good Vibrations on May 7th, 1995, in honor of Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders’ comment to a United Nations conference on AIDS the previous year. She was asked whether it would be appropriate to promote masturbation as a means of preventing young people from engaging in riskier forms of sexual activity, and replied, "I think that it is part of human sexuality, and perhaps it should be taught." This modest proposal caused such a furor that President Bill Clinton fired Elders in December of 1994. According to White House chief of staff Leon Panetta, ”There have been too many areas where the President does not agree with her views. This is just one too many."

I don’t think the reason the President fired the Surgeon General was that he thought blow jobs from interns in the Oval Office was a preferred substitute to whacking off in the executive washroom. It was the howls of outrage from the religious. The one thing most religions agree upon is that God doesn’t approve of self-love.

The Catholic Church is quite clear: masturbation is a mortal sin, a deadly peril to the soul. According to the Catechism, "Both the Magisterium of the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action. The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose." If the words sound familiar, it’s because they use the same phrase “intrinsically and gravely disordered” to describe homosexuality, sex outside the bonds of holy wedded matrimony, and any sexual act that doesn’t end in “husband-on-top-get-it-over-with-quick.”

Evangelical Protestants don’t have the Magisterium of the Church to fall back on, and it’s not mentioned in the Bible (the sin of Onan wasn’t masturbation but his unwillingness to father a child by his widowed sister-in-law, though some have interpreted the offense to mean all non-procreative sex) so they resort to discredited pseudo-science. Masturbation, once indulged, becomes an addiction. Illicit orgasms produce oxytocin, dopamine, norepinephrine, vasopressin, serotonin, and endorphins. These hormones are more addictive than heroin. Just like with drugs, the masturbation addict requires ever-increasing amounts of stimulus to achieve consistent pleasure. The depraved masturbation fiend soon collapses into sexual exhaustion, a pitiful blind, impotent, hairy-palmed shell of a once-happy human being.

Besides, masturbation often involves pornography or impure thoughts, and impure thoughts are a Very Bad Thing. Jesus said that lustful thoughts were sinful. We can’t go around encouraging our young people to entertain impure thoughts, can we? And then they fall back on the Catholic claim: We know the unfathomable mind of the Almighty. God created sex for one purpose, and this ain’t it.

For the record, despite a strict Catholic upbringing, I somehow managed to discover impure thoughts when I was a young teenager, and solitary vice at about the same time. I didn’t have Joycelyn Elders to tell me it was OK, but I had plenty of priests to tell me how sick, perverse, and wicked I was. On the whole, I’d have preferred General Elders. Why would the church sadistically condemn something so normal, harmless, and universal? Might it be to ingrain that sense of guilt and brokenness that only regular and faithful devotion to religion can alleviate?

I probably don’t need to say this, but masturbation is something that almost every mammal, bird, and amphibian does. It’s relaxing, pleasurable, and free of any possibility of sin, disease, or scandal so long as you don’t do it in the road and frighten the horses. It’s great for headaches, insomnia, stress, and can be indulged by yourself or with a significant other. Enjoy. God’s not watching.

Sunday Sermonette: Past Due

This week, a dear friend reposted a discussion we had on Facebook five years ago. It had begun with an essay by a former priest, author, and Boston Globe columnist named James Carroll. In it, he made a sophisticated and subtle argument that whether or not Jesus bodily rose from the dead is irrelevant. The event must be understood as a transcendent resurrection beyond space and time and human understanding. It changed not the laws of nature but the minds of the disciples, who now perceived that death was the entry into the ultimate reality.

My friend wanted to know if I were still a convinced atheist. We batted the old ball around for a while.

My friend and I used to attend the same church and are from the same religious tradition. If, as it says in John’s Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” then maybe God can be found in the words. Our tradition has given birth to some of the most brilliant and insightful theologians who have ever lived. I am not worthy to loose the sandals from off their feet.

Nevertheless, there are some things I do know. I do know that Carroll’s assertion of an alternate transcendent reality where the resurrection really took place is sophistry. Claiming that the Resurrection wasn’t mere resuscitation and cannot be understood by such base and imperfect things as human senses or the human mind - it can only be seen with the enlightened eye - is just nonsense. It neatly dismisses the contradictions in the resurrection accounts in Scripture by inventing an alternate and utterly inaccessible and undetectable plane of reality.

Is this really the best defense of the central and single most important doctrine of Christianity? This idea was dismissed as gnostic heresy by the Church Fathers over 1700 years ago. As the Apostle Paul wrote, And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. (1 Corinthians 15:14)

At some point, aren’t we compelled to consider Paul’s words? Christ isn’t risen, all our preaching has been in vain, and our faith likewise. There is no evidence or compelling rational argument that the Resurrection ever took place. We’re just making it up out of wishful thinking, self-delusion, and social conditioning.

But that would be apostasy. The older we get, the harder it is to admit that we’ve been fooling ourselves. James Carroll was a priest and is still a Catholic. He wants to believe, even if it means building elaborate fantasies out of thin air.

He’s not alone. Christians have been making it up as they go along for two millennia now. You can see this in New Testament itself. First century Judaism had a couple dozen active factions, so it should come as no surprise that the new Jewish cult of Christianity began with factions and schisms of its own. Despite anathemas, annihilations and inquisitions over the centuries, there are now 38,000 denominations of Christianity, each claiming to be the One True Church. To be fair, most acknowledge that it is possible for members of some of the other denominations to be saved, but as the bishop said of the Church of England, “No gentleman would want to do it any other way.”

You can hear the ultimate result of twenty centuries of improvisation talking with Christians online today. It’s not about a historical event, it isn’t a creedal statement, it’s not a particular denomination or church. It is all about the personal, private relationship which the believer claims to have with God. Scripture may have contradictions, the historical record may be non-existent or flawed, the belief and practice of the church may have changed many times over the years, but it’s all OK. God is in my head, and that’s all the evidence I need.

We ended our discussion with the words of e.e. cummings from his poem, “i thank You Lord for most this amazing”

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any—lifted from the no
of all nothing—human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

We both love poetry and the search for meaning, but to me, that which is unimaginable must be doubted. Castles in the air are lovely, but there’s always someone who comes to collect the rent.

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Sunday Sermonette: In Praise of Unicorns

The cover of Time magazine this week reads, “What If Unicorns Are Mythical?”

I think we can all agree, all of us ordinary decent thoughtful people, that this is modern liberal intellectual claptrap. No such thing as unicorns? That’s just silly. Unicorns aren’t just something in fairyland, after all. They’re perfectly accessible to us in the here and now. You just have to have enough humility to believe.

Don’t just sit there smiling dismissively. This may be an unusual topic, but unusual topics are often the most important. Mature, well-dressed people on television agree. Proof of unicorns can be found in ancient holy texts.

Of course, there are people who live in a place with no unicorns, but they sentence themselves to that drab, joyless existence. They’re just too puffed up with their own pride, vanity, and selfishness to admit the existence of unicorns. It’s little wonder that no unicorn ever appears to such as them.

Unicorns play an vital role in the proper education of our young people, particularly our daughters. The promise that only a virgin may tame a unicorn promotes abstinence and morality among the young. What kind of sick liberal child-molester would want to discourage that?

And remember, it’s not just this life we’re talking about. If you faithfully believe in unicorns in this life, you will have one of your very own in the next. A beautiful white one with silver hooves and a rainbow mane. Unless you’re one of those pitiable materialists who can’t believe beautiful things without reason or evidence. Those people can never get a unicorn after they die.



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Re-No-Vated!

It’s Done! The renovation that started ten weeks ago is complete.

Did I say ten weeks? This project really began at the end of December, 2014, when we first met with the contractor and began planning. Never has a project been so carefully planned down to the last tiny detail, thanks in no small part to the Unindicted Co-Conspirator. The main design of the kitchen ended up being done by the Unimpeachable One’s brother, who’s an architect. But every single element was discussed, debated, researched, x-rayed, microscoped, fluoroscoped, and double checked.

The job was managed by iKitchens, Etc. out of Falmouth. They were absolutely superlative - everything was carefully scheduled and professionally done. We could not be happier with the job they and their subcontractors (painters, plasterers, electricians, plumbers) did.

So, without further ado, the pictures.

Here's what the fabulous Eighties kitchen looked like from the table in the front window:



And here are a few shots of it now:







The living room before:



And a couple shots of now:





And the dining area.



Next job: painting the second floor, to be done by the firm of Yours Truly.
A friend of a Facebook friend posted this Heritage Foundation meme criticizing Bruce Springsteen for refusing to bring his act to North Carolina while their discriminatory anti-transgender, anti-gay law is in force. My friend made some good points, but had to withdraw from the discussion out of consideration for his work deadlines and blood pressure. Since the original poster is not a friend of mine, I couldn’t join the debate. Ah, well, that’s what a blog is for, correcting what’s wrong on the Internet.



The trouble with memes is that they’re short and memorable. It takes time and a lot more words to explain why this one is wrong. The best I can do is counter with another meme.



Now, for those who like their ideas with a little more meat on them, here’s what the friend-of-a-friend wrote (in italics), and why I think he’s wrong.

The larger issue is that Springsteen exercised his fundamental right to refuse to do business, or "associate", with people with whom he believed he had a fundamental difference of opinion.

The fact that this particular difference of opinion was that the people he was refusing to do business with also wanted to be able to refuse to associate with people that they fundamentally differed from is almost a textbook example of "irony".

If not "hypocrisy".

Unless you're in the health care, hospitality or a few other businesses that require special consideration, if you own a business, it is your right to refuse to do business with anyone for any reason. It's YOUR business, not society's business, or the community's business or (worst of all) the government's business.


This statement is deliberately misleading, but we’re hearing it a lot now in defenses of “Religious Liberties.” Why should a good Christian have to make a wedding cake for a gay couple’s wedding? Why should I have to do business with people of whom I don’t approve? There was a recent incident in Mississippi where the owner of a mobile home park who’d agreed to rent to a young lady and even invited her to his church evicted her when he discovered her husband was African-American. They could still come to his church, but they couldn’t be members. It’s his R.V. park, doesn’t he have the right to rent to whom he chooses?

The answer, of course, is no. The Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination by privately owned places of public accommodation. “Public accommodation” is a legal term which includes hotels, restaurants, theaters, health clubs and stores. The 1964 Civil Rights Act bans discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin. It has been expanded by the Americans with Disabilities Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of handicap or disability, and over twenty states and many more cities have passed their own anti-discrimination laws that include sexual orientation. It is emphatically not your right to refuse to do business with anyone for any reason. There’s also not a breath of Biblical warrant for it. Nowhere does Jesus say that you shouldn’t rent your camel to publicans and sinners.

Musicians and other artists are not providing “public accommodation.” They have the right to refuse to do business for any reason. The other business that’s allowed to discriminate is churches. Discrimination is their stock in trade, after all.

And, in this particular case, if you're someone like Caitlyn Jenner, who I understand still has a complete set of "original equipment", then I don't want you in the ladies' room with my wife or daughter.

Here’s the root of the issue. Because they hate and fear transgender people, they give free reign to his darkest imaginings. I don’t know about you, but when I go to a public restroom I don’t see anybody else’s genitals. Indeed, I go out of my way to avert my eyes, and I go restrooms with open urinals. If there’s only one toilet in a restroom, there must be a lockable door. More than one toilet must be in stalls. The only place a woman will see another patron is when both are fully clothed, washing their hands. Anyone loitering in a restroom with other intentions is breaking laws already in place. Just ask Senator Larry Craig or Congressman Jon Hinson. More Republican legislators have been arrested for sex acts in public restrooms than trans people.

No, this argument is based on the baseless and unwarranted fear that anyone who wants to change their gender expression is so depraved they must also be sexual predators. It’s the same argument some Christian conservatives are still making about lesbians, bisexuals, and gays. It’s hateful.

And it ends with a weak, chauvinistic excuse for homophobia and transphobia: it isn’t that I have a peculiar fascination with what’s under other people’s slacks and dresses, I just want to protect my wimminfolk from Caitlyn Jenner. This is the explanation given by politicians as they play to their Bible Belt base.

You want to know the worst thing that can happen when associating with transgender people? You might commit a social gaff by carelessly using the wrong pronoun. But they’ll usually forgive you if you correct yourself.

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Most Christians, when confronted by something truly nasty in the Bible, find some way to gloss over it. Take the passage in Deuteronomy chapter 20 where God commands genocide. It was the Old Testament, after all, that’s why we have a New Testament. Things were different then.

But the Biblical literalist will find a way to twist even a command that every man, woman and child among several tribes be put to the sword without mercy into something good. Here’s how noted Christian apologist William Lane Craig justifies it.

First, while he agrees these stories offend our moral sensibilities, Craig is quick to point out that we owe those moral scruples to a few thousand years of Judaeo-Christian heritage. I guess they just didn’t know better.

Besides, God is perfectly good, so anything God does has to be perfectly good by definition. It’s like that sign on the office bulletin board: “Rule 1: The boss is always right. Rule 2: If the boss is wrong, see Rule 1.” If God ordered the extermination of every Hittite, Amorite, Canaanite, Perizzite, Hivite, and Jebusite, with their wives, children, and livestock, it must have been good. To say otherwise is to entertain apostasy.

The problem, wrote Craig, isn’t that God ended the Canaanite’s lives. They were God’s lives to end. How long anyone lives or dies is up to God. The problem was that he commanded the Israelites to do his dirty work for him. Wasn’t this immoral?

No, because God decides what is moral by his divine command.

But what about those innocent children? Can anything justify their slaughter?

I hope you’re sitting down for this. I’ll quote directly:

Moreover, if we believe, as I do, that God’s grace is extended to those who die in infancy or as small children, the death of these children was actually their salvation. We are so wedded to an earthly, naturalistic perspective that we forget that those who die are happy to quit this earth for heaven’s incomparable joy. Therefore, God does these children no wrong in taking their lives.

So whom does God wrong in commanding the destruction of the Canaanites? Not the Canaanite adults, for they were corrupt and deserving of judgement. Not the children, for they inherit eternal life. So who is wronged? Ironically, I think the most difficult part of this whole debate is the apparent wrong done to the Israeli soldiers themselves. Can you imagine what it would be like to have to break into some house and kill a terrified woman and her children? The brutalizing effect on these Israeli soldiers is disturbing.


Those poor blood-soaked Israeli soldiers...



Craig ends his essay with a panegyric to God’s holy and loving nature.

I’m an atheist. I don’t believe this God exists. That’s a good thing, because if he did, it would be every human’s moral duty to oppose him.

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully. - Richard Dawkins

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Sunday Sermonette: Special Treatment

Lately I've been feeling like I've gone back in time fifty years.  It seems that women are once again expected to be pregnant and in the kitchen, preferably barefoot.  I've heard Congresscritters and state solons getting up on their hind legs to say that women are not competent to make medical decisions without the government's compulsory help.  I've heard pundits claiming that the only reason women need contraception is to be sluts, and would they please video their sex lives so male voyeurs can enjoy it later.  And here's the best part:  All of these men are saying that it's not about abortion or contraception or insurance, it's about Religious Liberty!  Contraception is waging war on Christianity!

So I thought I'd open my Bible and see what God thinks about the battle of the sexes.

Let’s not bother with who Cain and Abel slept with - every schoolboy has tittered over that one.  

Let’s skip God’s sons and their fatal attraction to human girls.  Didn’t know God had more than one son?  Sure he did - it’s right there in Genesis.

And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them,  That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose.
(Genesis 6:1-2)

Human women are so desirable even God’s sons want them.  Heck, I could have told you that. 

Let’s start instead with Abram or Abraham, the mythical ur-patriarch, who was married to Sarai or Sarah.  Abraham was the ancestor of all pimps and lying weasels: 

And there was a famine in the land: and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there; for the famine was grievous in the land.  And it came to pass, when he was come near to enter into Egypt, that he said unto Sarai his wife, Behold now, I know that thou art a fair woman to look upon:  Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see thee, that they shall say, This is his wife: and they will kill me, but they will save thee alive.  Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister: that it may be well with me for thy sake; and my soul shall live because of thee.
...
The princes also of Pharaoh saw her, and commended her before Pharaoh: and the woman was taken into Pharaoh's house.  And he entreated Abram well for her sake: and he had sheep, and oxen, and he asses, and menservants, and maidservants, and she asses, and camels.  And the LORD plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai Abram's wife.
(Genesis 12:10-13, 15-17) 

Abraham had a nephew named Lot who was an even bigger weasel.  When the men of Sodom threatened his guests, the visiting angels, what was Lot’s response?   

And Lot went out at the door unto them, and shut the door after him, And said, I pray you, brethren, do not so wickedly.  Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof.
(Genesis 19:6-8)

Rape my virgin daughters, but leave me and my guests alone!

After the destruction of Sodom, his trailer trash daughters, on at least two separate occasions, plied him with wine, had sex with him, and became pregnant by him. Please note that that the person reporting this was a man. “Dear Penthouse Letters:  God, was I drunk last night…”

Abraham’s son Isaac was also a weasel, using the same trick of calling his wife his sister to protect his own cowardly hide, regardless of what happened to her.  

And the men of the place asked him of his wife; and he said, She is my sister: for he feared to say, She is my wife; lest, said he, the men of the place should kill me for Rebekah; because she was fair to look upon.
(Genesis 26:7)

I'm only halfway through the first book of the Bible and the message is clear.  Bros before hos, man!

I guess it's understandable.  Who created these religions in the first place?  It wasn't women. But women are the ones who keep the churches going.  According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, women are more religious than men.

86% of women are affiliated with a religion.  79% of men have a religious affiliation.
66% of women pray daily.  49% of men do.
58% of women have an absolute belief in a personal God.  45% of men believe.
44% of women attend worship services weekly compared to 34% of men.

In almost every religion practiced in the world, women are marginalized, patronized, oppressed, subjugated, excluded, and exploited.  Whenever you look at the Taliban or at fundamentalist Christians, you can tell how devout they are by how badly they treat half of the human population.

There are exceptions:  the last Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church was a woman, Reform Judaism has female rabbis, and so forth.  But these are not statistically significant.

In every church I've ever been in, it is the women who do most of the work, and get the least credit or reward for it.

Back in 1981, as the Equal Rights Amendment was going down to defeat at the hands of Moral Majority Republicans and Phyllis Schlafly, I used to have this Mike Peters cartoon on my fridge:

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