Tom and Jerry: Defenders of All Things Right and Good

Friday, October 06, 2006

Welcome "God Is For Suckers" blog commenters...

I happened upon an interesting web site today, a group of atheists who are rather, um, vocal about their hatred of Christianity and the profound stupidity of Christians. One post asked the question of "How was Jesus dying a sacrifice if He came back to life three days later?". Being too "enlightened", I suppose, to actually do any research into the question to determine whether to assent or dissent from the orthodox Christian viewpoint, they mostly offered third-grade level analysis and lots (and lots) of ranting.

Like a couple of months ago with the "Goddess Rosary" people, you know I couldn't resist. I posted the following comment on their "Response To Another Drive-By Xian" post:

Interesting site.

After perusing the various posts and seemingly endless comments (you have quite a following) on your blog, I suppose the biggest questions I have are:

How exactly do you hope to contribute to the realization of your utopia of a world without religion? What are your plans for people like me - degreed professionals who are also devout (Catholic) Christians and have not been at all persueded by the philosophically specious ramblings of (to name a few) Hume, Russell, Comte, Dawkins (an ethologist who thinks he’s a theologian/philosopher…how cute), etc.? Will you just continue to flame away at us on blogs, or do you have anything more concrete in mind?

Since some of questions you pose are ones that even a cursory search of the internet or local library would reveal are questions theologians and philosophers - real ones, not the fundamentalist evangelist du jour - have been wrestling with for centuries (the Problem of Evil, the nature and essence of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, etc.), do you have any interest whatsoever in what they have to add to the discussion? Or is any indication in ‘xian’ belief on anyone’s part enough for you to simply dismiss them out-of-hand?

Besides your experiences with a few fundamentalists, on what basis do you conclude that Christians do not appreciate this earthly life? Because we believe there is another one to come? If I know that I will have a ice cold, richly satisfying beer next Friday, does it necessarily diminish my enjoyment of the ice cold, richly satisfying beer I have in my hand right now? My experience says ‘no’; does yours say different?

Does “living life, and enjoying life and fully appreciating the awe and wonder of this world” necessarily include spending hours on a blog ranting against Christianity and anyone that dares to believe in it?

Just curious…


John G. Beckett

(I make it a policy not to engage in blog-comment post wars. I really don’t have all day to sit here and respond to every flame to follow, and believe that anonymous comments are not worth my time to read. However, if you would like to respond to anything I have written, I have included my blog address in the “Website” field to anyone who would like to respond to my comment. Also, in a show of good faith, I will include my email address Since I have not posted anonymously, it is not unreasonable to ask that any replies to me be done personally. Thank you.)

I know it was quite a gamble to post my personal email, but the posters and commenters on the site seemed to be such kind, loving, open-hearted folks that I couldn't resist....

If you're a guest from that site, welcome. I look forward to your thoughtful and respectful comments.


  • I'll take a crack at it. John, I have no problem with the personal religion of individuals. Yes, I think that, ultimately, belief in a supreme being is right up there with an adult continuing to believe in Santa Claus. But my disdain for the mental prowess of believers is no more time consuming than my disdain for University of Michigan football fans- as an Ohio State alum, until folks start to force that personal religion onto society as a whole- and myself individually.

    Over the last thirty years, I've watched christian activists rewrite history concerning the founding of this nation in order to lend credibility to their theocratic aims- and, in the process, undermine Jefferson's wall of separation.

    I've watched them try to thrust the laughable scholarship of Creationism- or it's "lipstick-on-a-pig" stepchild, Intelligent Design into our science classrooms.

    And I've watched with loathing as they've institutionalized the second-class citizenship of homosexuals, fueled by a few scraps of three thousand year old scribbling and pure bigotry.

    So, yeah, I do feel a bit of anger and frustration towards christendom.

    As for our site, it isn't there to talk anyone out of their religion, whatever it may be. It's a place for us to get together and share a laugh, commiserate about the abovementioned issues, and swat down the drive-by fundie troll- present company excluded, who fails to read our "On Commenting" section before opening his/her mouth.

    Debating the existence of your god, or engaging in some semantic wrangling and circular reasoning with another christian apologist doesn't interest me. Been there, done that, not impressed. Because, ultimately, a believer can not engage in a rational discussion of that belief without appealing to an authority I don't recognize.

    Thanks anyway.


    By Anonymous Raindogzilla, at Friday, October 06, 2006 9:57:00 PM  

  • RDZ,

    What authorities, if any, do you recognize?

    By Blogger Tom, at Saturday, October 07, 2006 12:15:00 AM  

  • I left the following response to Raindogzilla's comment over on his "God Is For Suckers" blog:

    Raindogzilla (RDZ) -

    Since you showed me the courtesy of responding in a comment on my and Tom's blog, I thought I would show you the courtesy of responding in the comments section of yours. Despite our diametrically opposed views on the existence of God, we do have something in common...our dislike of the U. of Michigan fans.

    As to the rest of your comment content, I too do not really appreciate zealots (anti-religious ones, in my case) repeatedly trying to foist their version of reality onto society as a whole, and yes, myself personally. However, since you stated in your final paragraph that you have no interest in "engaging in some semantic wrangling and circular reasoning with another christian apologist" (without, of course, citing anything I wrote that remotely qualified as such), I suppose discussion of your comment is neither desired nor welcomed. Oh well....

    OK, I get it: you folks want to have your own little campfire to commiserate on the evils of religion, mockingly offer junior high level theological speculation, and have anyone that would challenge your non-belief either tread meekly or shut up and go away. Wonderful. Have at it. I won't bother you anymore. In closing, though, I will offer an observation: After spending a couple of hours reading the listed posts and archival posts, I have never heard, in over 20 years of religious study and with religious communities, atheists talked about or talked to in the vulgar and unquestionably hateful way the posters and commenters on this blog talk about and to Christians. And don't point your fingers at the manners of the "drive-by" fundamentalists as the cause - I grew up Catholic in the Deep South and had more than my fill of their shrillness without resorting to the unbridled nastiness displayed on this blog. Whatever your beef with religion or religious people, it is really indefensible.


    John Gerard Beckett (Jerry)

    By Blogger Jerry, at Saturday, October 07, 2006 6:42:00 AM  

  • I recognize the imperfect authority of the State as it pertains to regulating behavior- laws and taxes, Caesar, if you will. More importantly, I recognize the authority of peer-reviewed, scientific consensus, whether it's on a heliocentric solar system or the Theory of Evolution. Even that is subject to change, however, as our collective knowledge increases and our methods of observation refine.

    In general, though, I recognize no Ultimate authority. I don't see the bible as any more credible than the Iliad or the Epic of Gilgamesh.

    I didn't mean to lump your comment in with the reference to semantics and circular reasoning, just that any debate on a god's existence tends to come down to that.

    It seems we agree that having the views of others forced upon us is no good but we are the ones who have it done to us on a daily basis. Whether it's the Focus on the Family crowd, or a President claiming that god talks to him, Behe and the ID-iots, or Ken Ham's 25 million dollar Creationist Museum just across the river from me, I can't escape it.

    All I'm asking, John, is that people keep their personal relationships with whatever deities they recognize to themselves- and confine the public expression of it to the appropriate places of worship. As a Catholic, would you really want to live in a Falwell or Robertson-flavored, evangelical protestant theocracy?

    By Anonymous Raindogzilla, at Saturday, October 07, 2006 10:54:00 AM  

  • RDZ,

    Is there any higher authority than science and the state? Certainly, the state is an imperfect authority. The fact that our constitutional government based on liberty allowed slavery for the first 100 years of its existence demonstrates that fact pretty clearly. Science certainly offers authority to describe the natural world around us. But, science only tells us the “what” and “how” (the material and efficient causes) of the natural order. It does not tell us “why” (the first and final causes). Its does not tell us our purpose. That has to come from somewhere else. What, according to the atheist perspective, is the meaning of life?

    I am not trying to get into an apologetics debate with you, but I would like to understand your perspective.

    I do have one more concern. We live in a free country where freedom of speech is a right. Doesn’t the first amendment apply to all expression, including religious expression? I know you disagree with belief in God, and you may even be offended by it. Does the fact that you are offended nullify the first amendment? I can appreciate not wanting government institutions to endorse a particular religion, but the organizations you took exception to in your last comment are all private. Why shouldn’t they have the same access to the public square that every other citizen of the United States enjoys?

    I do agree with you on one point. I would not want to live in a Pat Robertson theocracy. But I wouldn’t worry about that happening in our lifetime or our children’s. Even though the president says his prayers in morning and is not shy about his faith, that does not mean he is going to make Christianity the official state religion of America. Evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity are not as united as one might believe. They pride themselves on their independence from central authority. The Catholic church and its pope continuously advocate religious freedom as a fundamental human right. Do you know of any totalitarian Christian theocracies that have existed in the last 100 years? The most brutal regimes of the last century have either been atheistic (communism and fascism), Islamist or some other non-Christian sectarianism. The only possible exception that comes to mind is Milosevic’s Serbia, but I don’t think many people would call it a theocracy. His crimes against humanity had more to do with ethnicity than religion. If you are worried about theocracy, I would focus your attention on the radical elements of Muslim world. They are the ones converting people by the sword.

    - TOM

    By Blogger Tom, at Monday, October 09, 2006 2:11:00 AM  

  • Howdy, Raindogzilla,

    Glad to have you back. I apologize in the lag between your comment and my reply, but I was off doing what so many of your blog’s posters and commenters think my religious belief and faith makes me incapable of doing, namingly enjoying my earthly life (especially the part where I watch Notre Dame football).

    I noted on the most recent post on your blog of the loss of “Sean” (I don’t believe any last name was given). My condolences.

    A couple of administrative things first, OK? Since you did not print a copy of your above comment on your blog, I won’t post my forthcoming reply there, since your compatriots at your site have made it clear that I am not welcome there. In searching for your above comment on your blog, I did respond to one commenter’s entry, but that was the one exception to my "no responding to anonymous posters" rule that I will allow myself. I enacted that rule (in the past on other blogs as well as now) to save myself a load of time crafting responses....that and the fact that most of your commenters are not as charitable and respectful as yourself. I have never thought being referred to as a "fucking moron" was part of respectful exchange between adversaries, and I still don’t.

    So, what I’m saying, in my usual long-winded fashion, is simply that if you post your comments here and also on your blog, I will do likewise unless you ask me not to; if you only post it here and not there, I will only respond here. Sound reasonable?

    Secondly, in no way do expect any response to match my comments in terms of length. I prefer to fully flesh out my arguments. Enjoy.

    OK, onward...

    Since the first two paragraphs of your comment are in response to Tom’s comment, I’ll let him address those if he so chooses.

    As to the second part of your comment, will try to address your points...

    "I didn't mean to lump your comment in with the reference to semantics and circular reasoning, just that any debate on a god's existence tends to come down to that."

    Thank you for saying that, as I believe I detect a compliment in there somewhere. I do expend quite a bit of time thinking through and editing anything I post in the public domain (though apparently, as your commenter so graciously pointed out, not enough to catch every last grammar/spelling mistake), and attempt to put my own thought through my own wringer before I let anyone else have a shot at it. Again, the charitableness (if that is a word) of the above is noted.

    However, while we both agree that any debate on God’s existence tends to degenerate into semantic wrangling and circular reasoning, we would sharply disagree on which side does the majority of said semantic wrangling and circular reasoning. I don’t know if there’s enough ink (or bandwidth, if you prefer a more modern method) in the world to catalogue all instances of such in the works of atheism’s most recent public and vocal flag-bearers (yes, Mr. Dawkins, Dennett, Kurtz, and Stenger, I’m referring to you...I’m aware that there are others, but this foursome presents a rather good cross-section). Reading their books and regular magazine contributions (Skeptical Inquirer, Free Inquiry, etc.), I’m struck with the same thought that I get whenever I hear Sean Penn talk about politics – namely that excellence in one profession does not necessarily guarantee excellence in another. Dawkins is a terrific ethologist; when he tries his hand at philosophy, he starts to slide, and when he attempts theology or even critiques it, he’s a disaster. Dennett, a biologist, is no better. Stenger, a physicist (and an adjunct professor of philosophy, though without a single degree in philosophy from anywhere to his name), published one of the most unintentionally humorous books that has ever been gazed upon by my eyes in "Has Science Found God?" (the answer to him is, um, "no"), including a rib-tickling "experiment" he claims disproves the power of prayer that would keep any trained theologian or philosopher giggling to himself for hours. Kurtz is a philosopher and founder and chairman of the Council for Secular Humanism; like Stenger, he boldly proclaims scientific inquiry and religious belief are incompatible, which would be quite a surprise to Kepler, Copernicus, Pascal, Pastuer, Einstien, etc. and, to be more modern, Ken Miller, Stephen Barr, and the entire Pontifical Academy of Science. Watching otherwise brilliant people try to use science to prove (the ID folks) or disprove (the four I’ve mentioned, plus others) the existence of God is like watching someone try to nail jello to a wall. The tool (science, a nail) is simply a poor instrument for the task (proving/disproving God, affixing gelatin vertically) and the attempt does a great disservice to the jello (God), the nail(science) and the wall (humanity's understanding of either). Going back to past champions of atheism, like Bertrand Russell or Auguste Comte, only reveals that modern atheism’s arguments have not gotten any better, but their manners have certainly gotten worse.

    "It seems we agree that having the views of others forced upon us is no good but we are the ones who have it done to us on a daily basis. Whether it's the Focus on the Family crowd, or a President claiming that god talks to him, Behe and the ID-iots, or Ken Ham's 25 million dollar Creationist Museum just across the river from me, I can't escape it."

    Please do not kid yourself into thinking that atheists have some monopoly on having views diametrically opposed to their own foisted on them daily. Ask yourself how many times you see a religious person displayed positively in a movie or TV show vs. displayed as an ignorant, hateful nincompoop (or in the case of Catholic clergy, an ignorant, hateful, pedophile nincompoop – despite the percentage of Catholic priests being accused of pedophilia being about half that of the percentage of pedophiles among the general population). Instances of the former are legion, instances of the latter practically non-existent. The latest example is in this weekend’s otherwise terrific "The Departed", where there somehow, in a story about mobsters, cops, and undercover operatives, appears a pedophiliac priest. What it had to do with the rest of the story is beyond me.

    These gratuitous shots are constant and not confined to entertainment. The next time the Pope visits and draws a million or so, ask yourself why every news and magazine story includes a long commentary on everything that the church has “wrong”, from male-only priesthood to contraception. Flip around the channels, and ask why of among U. of Notre Dame’s distinguished faculty, the one with the microphone in front of him on every freakin’ network is Richard McBrien, a Catholic theologian that hasn’t met a Christian doctrine he assents to. To turn to more of an ongoing habit of the media, ask why the aforementioned pedophiliac acts of a small percentage of priests, a despicable violation of trust, got (and still gets) wall to wall press coverage, while the much, much higher percentage of pedophiliac acts among public school teachers, also a despicable violation of trust, receives Page 20 coverage. I could go on (and on and on), but in the end, you and I are in the same spot: the very act of living in a country with freedom of speech and press means we are bound to be subject to views that run contrary to our own. My TV has a channel changer, so I can turn the station; my feet work just fine, so I can walk away from views that I don’t feel like engaging; I’ve learned to filter out nonsense like what Mr. Scorcese felt the need to slide into an otherwise terrific "The Departed". I don’t like it, but it’s their right.

    As for Mr. Bush’s claim of God talking to him, when President Clinton, with furrowed brow, said that he "prayed very hard" before vetoing the ban on partial birth abortions, I don’t recall hearing a whisper of protest from the anti-religionists. I suppose there’s no problem with a President invoking God if you get the result you want. As for Mr. Ham’s museum, is there some law in Ohio that has forced you to buy a ticket and/or enter the building? While I certainly would not be interested in being a patron of the museum, it is a private enterprise not publicly funded, unlike Andre Serrano's "Piss Christ" or Chris Ofili’s elephant excrement-adorned Virgin Mary. While the Focus on the Family folks hound you, I get unsolicited email from the secular humanistic Center For Inquiry (although, if my knowledge of scientific method remains intact, it could hardly be called "inquiry" when you’ve made up you mind ahead of time what the outcome will be) telling me what fools religious people are. You talk to the CFI folks, and I’ll have a word with Mr. Dobson, deal?

    As for Behe and the ID folks, you previously mentioned your consternation at their attempts to get ID taught in "our" public schools. As I recall, they failed. "Fine", you say, "but what about the possibility of ID nonsense being taught in public schools? Shouldn’t that alarm you?" Well, I’m not in favor of it, but since you brought up public education, instead of fretting over what is not now in public schools, if we take a peek at some of the public "education" I received growing up and what is bandied around the halls of public academia today, we can see that anti-religionists have a pretty good say in the curriculum and that historical, scientific, and philosophical nonsense would be nothing new to public schools:

    Public School: The Inquisition killed millions for their beliefs
    Truth: The Inquisition killed somewhere between 3 thousand and 30 thousand over 3 centuries. By comparison, the atheistic Soviet Union killed 70 million over 75 years for their beliefs.

    Public School: Galileo was a scientist persecuted by the Catholic Church for his scientific findings.
    Truth: Galileo’s heliocentric universe had been discovered by Copernicus (a monk) a century earlier. While there was as yet no sufficient proof of the Copernican system (they simply did not yet have the instruments for it), no objection was made to its being taught as a hypothesis which explained all phenomena in a simpler manner. What was objected to by Church authorities was Galileo teaching something as "Truth" when he did not have proof. Even 19th century agnostic scientist Thomas Huxley, when examining the case, concluded that the Church had "the better of the argument."

    Public School: The Catholic Church is against science.
    Truth: Modern science arose among avowedly Christian clerics, theologians, monks, and professors of medieval and renaissance Catholic universities and monasteries.

    Public School: Darwinism proves there is no God.
    Truth: If you grant to every tenant of Darwinism the position of undeniable truth (even the ones that are as yet, or will never be able to be, proven), you have still not moved a fraction of a micron toward disproving the existence of God.

    I could go on about all the wonderful anti-religious fantasies was taught about the Crusades (though most modern scholars will admit they were a defensive war fought against Islam), the need of radical population control (though Paul Ehrlich and his ilk have been resoundly discredited), etc. ad nauseum. When this stuff begins to bother atheists, I’ll start to be concerned about the ID-ers, OK?

    "All I'm asking, John, is that people keep their personal relationships with whatever deities they recognize to themselves- and confine the public expression of it to the appropriate places of worship. As a Catholic, would you really want to live in a Falwell or Robertson-flavored, evangelical protestant theocracy?"

    I don’t relish an evangelical Protestant theocracy any more than you do. However, I don’t fear one either, because the chance of such a theocracy taking over the government is about the same as Shania Twain and Jessica Alba showing up at my front door in bathrobes demanding that I take a bubble bath with them. I don’t desire the former, would desire the latter (were it not for you, Lynda sweetie, of course), and have no chance of seeing either take place. It (the coming theocracy, not the bubble bath) is terrific rallying cry for anti-religionists to rally the troops, but when little Jimmy down the street is prohibited from bringing a candy cane to public school (a reality in Plano, TX) for fear that it might offend any non-Christian that sees it, when his older sister Sarah is not allowed to mention "God" in her public school valedictorian speech (her First Amendment rights be damned; it only violates the "Congress shall pass no law establishing a religion" clause of the Constitution if in some through-the-rabbit-hole interpretation "Sarah"= "Congress" and "mentioning God in a valedictorian speech" = "passing a law establishing a religion"), and no one can go to the movies or turn on the TV without being bombarded by negative religious stereotypes, you’ll forgive me for not being on the lookout for the coming theocracy. If there is a modern Christian theocracy to serve as a model, I am unaware of it. There have been modern states where atheism was the official religion; each one turned out to be a brutal, totalitarian state that murdered millions of its own people for their beliefs. So maybe you’ll understand why I cast a more wary eye toward the atheistic camp than a group whose colleges rarely even field a decent college football team (TCU notwithstanding).

    As for religious people keeping their beliefs to themselves, it seems a bit odd that in a country where we have free speech we’re constantly being told what we can’t talk about. The ideal of our country’s founders, as I read it, was to have a public square where all ideas and beliefs were welcomed, that debate and free exchange of thought was of tremendous value. Have we reached the point where the ideal is that everyone shut up so that no one else will be offended? I posed my initial questions on your blog in hopes that it might cause some of your posters and commenters to examine some of the stuff that gets tossed around there as common wisdow, especially the "xians don’t think or question" and (my favorite) the "religion prevents you from enjoying this life". Your thoughtful posts here are appreciated and welcome. My thoughtful posts there were decidedly not. Remind me again which side is betraying the ideals of the founders?

    Sincerely, (you’ve been upgraded from ‘Cordially’)

    John Gerard Beckett

    By Blogger Jerry, at Monday, October 09, 2006 5:05:00 AM  

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