“The 30% Solution”

Ted Rall:

In the United States, you’re supposed to be religious. But you’re not allowed to be fundamentalist – i.e., truly believing every tenet of your religion. You’re only supposed to follow a portion of the beliefs of your faith. But then, if you don’t fully embrace it, can you really call it your faith?

If you only pick out the nice things you like about a religion, are you really a believer, or do you just like getting together with people on Sunday mornings and pretending you are?

Related: For The Bread

For The Bread

I struggle with this a lot.

Taking religion seriously means work…Getting inside the wisdom of the great religions doesn’t happen by sitting on beaches, watching sunsets and waiting for enlightenment. It can easily require as much intellectual effort as a law degree.

…Start by jarring yourself out of unreflective atheism or agnosticism. A good way to do that is to read about contemporary cosmology. The universe isn’t only stranger than we knew; it is stranger and vastly more unlikely than we could have imagined, and we aren’t even close to discovering its last mysteries. That reading won’t lead you to religion, but it may stop you from being unreflective.

I want the benefits of religion without drinking the Kool-Aid.

I Look At Ads: Christian Mingle


INT: Offices of Christian Mingle. Meeting room. Executives are in the middle of prayer

Exec 1: And Lord, please bless the offices of Christian Mingle and this strategy meeting, for us to better spread your love and your word. Amen.
All: Amen.
Exec 1: Brothers in Christ, allow me to introduce this new face at our table. This is brother Gregory.
All: (Nice to meet you, Gregory / Hi Gregory / Such a pleasure to have you here, Gregory)
Gregory: Uh, yeah – hi everyone. Please just call me Greg.
Exec 2: We are blessed to have brother Gregory join us at Christian Mingle. Gregory comes to us from Zynga, the Sodom and Gomorrah of Internet companies.
Gregory: Yeah, I guess you could say I was lost, but now I’m found, right?

Greg nervously laughs

Exec 3: Yes Gregory, and we at Christian Mingle are fortunate to have found you.
Exec 2: We can’t wait to hear your ideas about how to increase new registrations this quarter.
Exec 1: We believe that to best spread the message of Christ there is no better alternative than…what shall we call it? …hmm. “Cultural Eugenics.”
Gregory: Yeah, ok. Well, why don’t we start by talking about why registration rates have been on a steady decline?
Exec 1: Of course, Gregory. This has been a conundrum for some time. Every night I pray, hoping that our Lord may help me find an answer to this question. But alas, he has provided me no insight.
Exec 2: It is as if our lord has forsaken us.
Exec 3 (angered): NO! Did he forsake Daniel in the lion’s den? Did he forsake Abraham? Did he forsake Noah?
Greg: …I don’t really know. I’m not reli—
Exec 1: Even bible scholars debate these questions today. I believe we have not been forsaken, for we now have the insight of brother Gregory.
Greg: Like I said before, “Greg” is fine—
Exec 3: Brother Gregory, what new perspectives do you bring?
Greg: Well, over the weekend I reviewed Christian Mingle’s branding and other outreach methods.
Exec 2: I suspect you found them all top-notch. We baptized the laptop we created the landing pages on.
Exec 1: But that broke it, so we had to dip into our venture funding and buy a new laptop.
Exec 3: Yes, the cleansing waters of God’s love are too strong for electronics, particularly ones involved with the sinful viewing of pornographic material.
Exec 2: I confessed my sin!
Greg: Gentlemen, have you ever thought of what makes a good dating site? Where did you meet your wives?
Exec 1: Well, CHURCH of course! The church raffle fundraiser.
Exec 3: As a priest I am not allowed to have relations with a woman. I think of this sacrifice every day of my life.
Exec 2: I am not married, but my born-again girlfriend and I have been engaged for seven years. She has been through a lot. Crack addiction, prostitution. But God’s everlasting love brought us together.
Exec 1: Indeed. This is blessed news.
Exec 2: Well, it has not been perfect. I wonder if God is testing me. We sometimes argue about why she pushes our marriage so far into the future, or why she only visits when she needs money. Honestly, I look forward to losing my virginity to her on our wedding night…But lust is a sin and the flesh can wait. I’ve been waiting seven years. I can wait seven more.

Greg opens his briefcase and removes some printouts, placing them on the conference table

Greg: Gentleme—BROTHERS! Have you ever looked at the banner ads we run?
Exec 1: Of course. We designed them ourselves.
Greg: I suggest we redesign them. I believe they are entirely inappropriate for a dating site.
Exec 3: But this is a CHRISTIAN dating site!
Exec 2: What better way to let people know that than with our current banner ads featuring imagery of Jesus on the cross?!
Greg: I don’t think that’s the right message to send. Not for a dating site.
Exec 1: Well, we do! Right off the bat! BOOM! Christian imagery. Christ on the cross.
Exec 3: And right underneath, copy that reads, “He died for your sins. christianmingle.com.”
Exec 2: Yeah. That tells people, “Click this for Jesus. He died for your sins, but he loves you and wants you to be happy with other Christians.”
Exec 3: But strictly for procreation!
Exec 1: Flirting isn’t a sin.
Greg: I think we need to do something different…we need to make the ads…sexier. Maybe feature some of our female members.
Exec 2: But then people will think—people will think this is a HOOKUP site! We may as well change the name of the company!
Exec 1: Our mission is to unite people in the pursuit of making more Christians.
Exec 2: Ok – COMPROMISE. We remove the image of Christ, but maybe we put up an image of some hooded monks or something.
Exec 3: That CHANT album from 20 years ago did that and they sold boatloads!
Exec 1: What about if we make the ad about the end result? Beautiful Christian children! We can put little halos atop their heads so people will know they’re Christians!
Greg: If we put up some female imagery we can attract some male clientele.
Exec 1: But then how will we know they’re Christians?
Greg: Simple. We ask them…right in the profile. And if they say they’re muslim, agnostic, or jewish or something else—
Exec 2: Like PAGAN?! Or WICCAN?
Greg: Especially Wiccan – then we simply don’t allow the registration process to continue.

Silence as the team thinks this through

Exec 1: …you know, this could work. Maybe a little message comes up saying, “Christ loves you, but not this much. Come back when you’re a Christian.
Exec 3: And then we cookie their computer, block it, and excommunicate them.
Greg: Yeah, okay, sure. But the main thing is we need to put up some sexy Christian women on the advertising…sexy, but tasteful. And we target men on Facebook.
Exec 1: And on the landing page we ask two questions. #1 – “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?” And #2 – “Would you like to meet some Christian chicks?”

Exec 2 raises his hand

Exec 2: …what is the Church’s position on someone in a committed relationship signing up for the service?

“Facebook Is Too Big To Hate” / For The Bread

You might hate using Facebook, but you still do. Because your friends are on it or your family or someone that you don’t or can’t connect with any other way, and they’re sharing things that matter to you, even if Facebook doesn’t.

I think of that exchange between Bill Maher and Mario Cuomo:

MAHER: If you disagree so much with so many of the rules, why do you need religion at all? I have a lot of trouble understanding why somebody like yourself who is a brilliant man, I have trouble understanding why brilliant people can even be religious. Quite frankly, I don’t mean that disrespectfully.
CUOMO: [overlapping] Bill-okay. No, Bill, I-
MAHER: [overlapping] But – and it seems like religion is the kind of thing where you either eat the whole wafer or you don’t eat it at all. I mean, if you’re going to pick all the raisins out, why buy raisin bread?
CUOMO: Well, I’ll tell you…Well, for the bread, that’s why you buy it.

“For the bread” is the reason why I continue to use Facebook.

Islam and the Future of Liberalism

Sam Harris clarifies what he was getting to on that Joe Rogan podcast appearance.

…I appear to have left many viewers with the impression that I believe we invaded Afghanistan for the purpose of rescuing its women from the Taliban. However, the points I was actually making were rather different: I think that abandoning these women to the Taliban is one of the things that make our inevitable retreat from Afghanistan ethically problematic. I also believe that wherever we can feasibly stop the abuse of women and girls, we should. An ability to do this in places like Afghanistan, and throughout the world, would be one of the benefits of having a global civil society and a genuine regime of international law. Needless to say, this is not the world we are living in (yet).

That last part makes me think of those conspiracy theories about the Amero.

“Atheism in America” by Julian Baggini

And while we’re on the topic of secularism…

This writeup of the United Atheist Alliance (or the United Atheist League, or the Allied Atheist Alliance, or whatever I guess we’re all supposed to be calling ourselves now) profiles atheists in America and how they keep their non-religious ideals to themselves in fear of being shunned within their communities.

This bit stuck out to me:

Elder says with a smile that when he goes out wearing his black T-shirt with its large scarlet A – the symbol of the atheist Out Campaign inspired by Richard Dawkins – “you’ll see mothers bring their children a little closer and step a little quickly away”.

Really? That’s why they bring their children closer? It couldn’t be that you’re some stranger? Must it be because of the logo on your t-shirt that’s difficult to read from a distance?

I’m non-religious and I didn’t know what that logo meant until after reading this. I wonder if this mother even knew what that A stood for. It could stand for Anarchy, like a punk rock t-shirt. Like we’re all supposed to know that’s the symbol atheism has rallied behind.

This is what I dislike about secular organization. When we/they do organize there’s always this sense of self-satisfaction about it. Isn’t the whole point of atheism to not have any particular agenda? Isn’t that why it’s so difficult to organize?

(Sam) Harris argues “it’s a losing game to trumpet the cause of atheism and try to rally around this variable politically. I’ve supported that in the past, I support those organisations, I understand why they do that. But, in the end, the victim group identity around atheism is the wrong strategy. It’s like calling yourself a non-astrologer. We simply don’t need the term.”

I’m not an “out” atheist/secularist/humanist because it isn’t necessary to be “out”. On my Facebook profile I don’t put “atheist” in the religion box. I just leave that box blank. I don’t want to talk about my lack of religion and how the other side is wrong. That’s what churches are for.

If you’re going to organize, why not do something constructive, like participating or forming organizations around common interests that aren’t united solely by lack of religion? Some of these organizations may already exist in your town.

Atheism isn’t a religion, but I get the feeling that these atheists, who have taken it upon themselves to speak for the entire secular population in America, think about religion in the same way that Rick Santorum thinks about homosexuality.

No wonder people think it’s a religion.

Under The Banner Of Heaven

Under the banner of heaven

I finished reading this today.

Krakauer’s Into The Wild got a lot of attention, particularly after the Sean Penn directed movie adaptation, but I think this is a much more important book. Krakauer tells the story of brutal murder by Mormon fundamentalists in the name of God and juxtaposes1 it with the formation of Mormonism in the 1800s.

When this book was originally published the Bush administration was in power and criticized by the left for letting religious doctrine influence politics. Here it is, 2011, and a Mormon is likely to get the Republican nomination for president in the 2012 election. But the republicans know that if they run the Mormon he will not win, which is why they are going through every other possible option before settling. In the same way that many Americans will not vote for an atheist, they also will not vote for a Mormon. I think that’s interesting.

Under The Banner of Heaven isn’t just an analysis of Mormon fundamentalism. It’s a look at religious belief, God’s Law vs. Man’s Law, and the struggle between church and state in America.

  1. Juxtapose is my new favorite word. 

Mormon Veracity

Those who would assail The Book of Mormon should bear in mind that its veracity is no more dubious than the veracity of the Bible, say, or the Qur’an, or the sacred texts of most other religions. The latter texts simply enjoy the considerable advantage of having made their public debut in the shadowy recesses of the ancient past, and are thus much harder to refute.

Jon Krakaeur — Under The Banner Of Heaven

Blasphemous Strokes

Andre Agassi on Michael Chang thanking God.

…Once more I square off against Chang, who’s developed a bad habit since we last met. Every time he beats someone, he points to the sky. He thanks God—credits God—for the win, which offends me. That God should take sides in a tennis match, that God should side against me, that God should be in Chang’s box, feels ludicrous and insulting. I beat Chang and savor every blasphemous stroke.

My Atheist Christmas

I don’t think the word ‘God’ should be in the pledge of allegiance.

You could say I grew up secular, but there was always some religious undertone in my family. It wasn’t really acknowledged until holidays when we’d say grace at meals. Without having any religious foundation things like that just flew under the radar. I thought this was just something that families do.

I didn’t understand the basics of christianity until my teens. As we got older my parents would give my siblings and I a talk that went something like “some people believe this, some people believe other things, some people don’t believe in anything. Pick what’s right for you.”

So now I’m non-religious and I wonder if they were sincere about what they said or if they think that the plan backfired.

As an adult I think about those times in my childhood where religious moments occurred outside my family. Some of it was ok, like being a guest at a friend’s house whose family says grace before every meal, with or without you. Their house, their rules. I don’t recall anybody using it as an opportunity to convert me to their beliefs.

But there’s also the events that occurred at school. Around this time of year all these little bits of religious influence come out at once; the school Christmas plays, the school sing-a-longs. Some of it is the secular Christmas stuff – Santa, reindeer, sleigh rides, potential date rape1. But then there’s the Silent Nights and Away In A Mangers that are slipped into the the more secular carols.

I’ll never forget the time in fourth grade when my class was making Christmas decorations. I had run out of space on my card, so instead of writing “Merry Christmas” I abbreviated it to “Merry Xmas.” My teacher was livid. She yelled at me to do it again, spell it right. I didn’t understand why this was a big deal until my teens.

But what’s the harm? You turned out ok, enough. It’s just some innocent carols and decorations! Yeah, but it all adds up to an appearance of state sanctioned religious ideology, especially to six-year olds. If we’re truly about the separation of church and state, then we should consider that these kinds of activities favor one religion over others and favor faith over non-faith. It’s indoctrination of children2.

Still, I celebrate Christmas — not as a religious holiday, but as an opportunity to be with family and friends. I remember what Christmas was like when I was a kid, and if I were to have kids I wouldn’t want to take that away from them. We’d probably celebrate the Santa story until they got old enough, then I’d lay down the “some believe this, some believe that, some don’t believe in anything” talk and see what happens.

  1. Obligatory mention of Baby It’s Cold Outside
  2. It’s wrong to indoctrinate children! REMEMBER THAT!!