Sunday, May 10, 2009

Atheists are not only okay, we love them

For one thing, I'm not about to stop loving my sister. Or any of the other nonbelievers I know. Well, not unless I didn't love them in the first place, but only if.

My beef with faith-bashing lies with the current fad of characterizing all believers as ultra-conservative hypocrites with no concept of what's currently cool. Yes, I fit that last part perfectly--I wouldn't know current fashion if it ran me over with a team of horses. I'm not, however, a conservative. Nor, hopefully, a hypocrite. Except when I say one thing and do another.

Yes, a high percentage of believers (who make for quite a large and diverse group) are okay with terror-suspect torture to one extent or another, but so is the entire population. Given that believers are a majority, those two observations are pretty much the same thing. Believers, as a demographic, are no more or less conservative or liberal than the body politic. There's money to be made in suggesting otherwise (ask Pew or Huff-Po), but the faithful aren't some alien segment of our population, no matter how often that meme (I've always wanted to type "that meme") is presented by Bill Maher, Richard Dawkins, Family Guy, or NPR.

That is, my beef isn't with people who don't believe--please, by all means, don't-believe with all your heart (just make sure it's what you really and truly don't believe). In my book (The Book of Lee), we're all children of the universe, we all have equal worth, and whatever's coming to us is coming to everyone--fate plays no favorites. Or so the Book of Lee maintains. For what it's worth, I don't believe in a prayer-granting, controller-of-the-elements God who gets back at everyone who fails to follow this or that version of the Truth--I imagine God has little use for our various portrayals of his will, plan, etc. It's fitting that we try to understand (and choose to accept or reject) God in terms of ourselves--i.e., as if God were an extension of humanity. But only so long as we realize we're projecting ourselves onto God/no-God. And only so long as we realize that humanity is one more detail in the cosmic mix, no more or less important than any other. Well, okay. More important than rap music, Ellen's awful TV show, or Elvis-invented-rock-and-roll mythology.

I comment on the faith-bashing trend because it's become huge, and because it's been part of the entertainment blogosphere since I arrived here in 2005, and probably before. I figure that, if it's acceptable for believers to be portrayed as comical throwbacks in evolution, then I can be allowed to offer a word or two in rebuttal. I didn't raise the issue, after all. Of course, a number of on-line atheists have me almost convinced that I'm at fault for existing.

On-line atheists, please note--not all atheists. I'm not equating the two. In fact, probably most of those involved in the neo-atheist fad (as I call it) are believers upset with "organized" religion (read: traditional church services). It continues to weird me out, but many of the idea-carriers for Richard Dawkins and the rest are people who, in fact, believe in God. Ah, but it's their God, not the evil organized-religion God. Whatever. As a group phenomenon, that branch of bashing takes the cake--church-going, before the Gen-X revival, was like Borg society, only worse. According to them. Unlike old-church types like me (organ preludes/interludes, sermon, collection plate, announcements, etc.), the new-church types have figured out that God is within them. What a novel thought. They've discovered a personal God. Far out. I can't wait for them to discover the wheel, indoor plumbing, and the fact that men and women view sex differently. Stay tuned.

No, I'm not referring to all Gen-X'ers. I'm too close to one myself, after all. Depending on where you consult, I'm either a Boomer or a Gen Jones. I'm probably the latter, given that I was never a hippie, didn't protest the war (too young), and only vaguely remember the social and political issues of the (echo chamber) SIXTIES. My version of the Sixties was Batman, The Outer Limits, and Famous Monsters. I was a kid.

In conclusion, atheists are fine. The only folks in that demographic who irk me are the on-line sorts who, on one hand, condemn anyone who believes the Bible literally and in full and, on the other, condemns anyone who doesn't. They belong to the James Randi school of treating the Bible like a Sears catalog--one that you'd pitch out for being out of date and, therefore, invalid. And Sears catalogs, like the Bible, make lousy science texts.

As for the younger people of faith who refuse to become a mindless faith robot like me, well--good for them. Maybe they can introduce me to their personal God, who's probably way better than my version, who loves everyone and simply wants us all to participate in the celebration of being.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

110 percent of Christians approve of waterboarding

Okay, it's only 90 percent--according to writer, actor, comic, musician and radio DJ Paul Day, who is so furious, he can barely type. In a piece categorized under "Blatant Assholes," "Christians," and "Vomiting in My Mouth," he writes:

"I guess if you base your religion on the torture and death of an innocent man then you probably shouldn’t have a problem with torture and death. Still, when 90% of your followers believe that waterboarding is ethical, then Jesus need to come down and kick some serious ass.

I’m so furious I can barely type."

Wow--learn something new every day. Not only didn't I know that my religion was based on the torture and death of an innocent man, it stuns me learn to 90 percent of my kind think waterboarding is ethical. Paul's proof? A poll at OneNewsNow, where (when I checked, at least) nearly 85 percent of respondents disagreed with a "high profile Baptist leader" named Richard Land, who feels waterboarding is wrong. According to, Land is one of "a growing chorus of religious leaders" who do. But 85 percent of OneNewsNow respondents aren't with Richard. (I voted with the mere 9.16 percent who are.)

Is that 85 percent rate very surprising? Well, consider the Pew poll which revealed that 71 percent of the public is okay with torture to some extent. Kind of puts things into perspective a little, no? And consider the fact that "is part of the American Family News Network, an offshoot of the American Family Association founded by arch-religious right conservative Donald Wildmon," according to Would we expect a low rate of support for waterboarding at such a site?

And why would someone assume that such views are those of the Christian community at large, blatant assholes though we may be? Thanks, Paul, for presuming that my views are in alignment with people whose social and religious views differ from mine in any number of vital respects. But I guess Jesus is going to kick my ass along with the others'.

At any rate, I don't support waterboarding at all, ever. Not even for people who misrepresent my most cherished beliefs.

The blatant stereotyping of whole groups of human beings seems to be a trend, anymore, on the cyber-left, though I wish it weren't so. I wrote earlier about the Social-Darwinistic mentality of the neo-atheist crowd, in which their brand of "logic" and "reason" constitutes, in their humble view, the only path of hope for the species. Well, those folks seem to have taken over the cyber-wing of the Democratic Party. When it's not someone assuming I'm a fanatical apologist for Bush because I suggest that church/state separation still stands firm in spite of anything the guy did, then it's someone concluding I support public-school prayer because I point out that "no law respecting" means "no law in regard to."

Never mind that I gave neither person any reason to think I'm a Bush apologist or supporter of public-school prayer (and every reason to conclude otherwise)--apparently, anything short of a loud, lock-step party-line declaration isn't good enough.

Progressivism will cease to have a future the moment it turns into a series of pledges. Sameness of thinking shouldn't be the goal--uniting people around a common cause or series thereof, yes--but recited values are simply words. I'm beginning to think that the Internet is accelerating the devolution of our language into mere word units. Maybe it's the say-it-quick nature of cyber-writing, though I suspect it's context that loses its power on the Net, given the medium's unprecedented ability to slice and dice whatever tries to pass through it (text, picture, sound, etc.). Context is the glue that holds ideas together, that forms the basis for meaningful comparison and contrast.

Just as numbers, when divorced from Math, become magical symbols, don't words follow suit when divorced from the higher language of context? This may be what we're witnessing.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Lying, Part 2

In my Sunday rant, I forgot to mention that the big Huff-Po piece on the Peee-ew torture survey is titled Church Going Americans More Likely to Support Torture, which has nothing to do with the headline used by their source, CNN: Support for terror suspect torture differs among the faithful.

In other words, the study found a difference in support for torture among certain types of churchgoers--it's an internal comparison, not an indictment of believers vs. the body politic. But no matter--Huff-Po went ahead and announced that "church going Americans" are more likely to support torture, knowing that most readers would take that to mean "are more likely than the public at large to support torture."

For that to be true, support for torture among church going Americans would have to be greater then seventy-one percent. Was it? Nothing I've read so far tells me.

I always try to give the media the benefit of the doubt when it comes to misleading headlines--bad headline-writing is always a possible culprit. But it looks for all the world as if Pew wanted to find greater support for torture among the faithful and, when it didn't, went ahead and tweaked the data in that direction anyway. O, Lee of little faith? In this case, yep.

Integrity dictated reporting the data as is, not as Pew was hoping it would materialize. But integrity can't dictate anything unless it's there to do so.

Anyway, in this Internet-based era of misinformation as a matter of course, the only way to confront such lies is to do it aggressively. Which, of course, makes the confronter sound disingenuous or possessed of an agenda. The easier it becomes to state and spread a falsehood, the more the burden of proof shifts to those trying to convey the truth. So, the Internet isn't all good, by any means.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Sunday rant: How to falsely sell poll data, or, Peee-ew Research

Not content to distort the findings of this poll just once, both Peee-ew "Research" and the media decided to twice falsely sell it. Next poll, they'll go for a trinity.

Now, be sure to check the link above, which goes to a pie chart that shows the poll results in question. Note the heading: "Total U.S. population." Note the breakdown of responses, wherein a whopping twenty-five percent of respondents said no to torture. Note that four percent didn't know or care, or else hung up the phone. Notice that this leaves a large and (in my view) scary percentage of folks who think torture is justified to some extent or another: seventy-one percent. That's 71 out of every 100 folks, people. I mean people, folks.

So, of course, all around the Net you'll find discussions of that seventy-one percent figure. Yes? Well, not exactly. Rather, you'll encounter people discussing one of two press articles--the one which has the population pretty evenly split on the issue (!!) and the other, more famous one, which links rate of churchgoing to willingness to condone torture! At Huff-Po, well over 4,000 comments have appeared at the site's main religion-responsible-for-torture post, and most of these are variations on or exact repeats of the same ol' Why Don't Religionists Go Back to Religion Land Where They Came From? corn. People of faith can't think, we have no morality, we live in the Dark Ages, we don't even try to crack wind quietly, etcetera. (What do you mean, all true??)

How did the fact that 71 out of 100 citizens support torture become a population evenly split and/or a matter of church attendance? Because Peee-ew and the press have the combined integrity of a bubblegum molecule left on the surface of Mercury for 500 years and then stomped on repeatedly by an angry bull. On a good day, that is. On a bad day, considerably less.

The pretty-much-evenly-split lie was easily accomplished: Pee-ew and/or the press combined the "never" and "rarely" responses. Sweet, no? Never mind that those who think torture is justified "rarely" are advocates of torture. Never mind the fact that, in a pro/con poll, "never" means no but "rarely" still means yes. Too nuanced for Pee-ew, I guess.

The swipe against religion was also easily managed: Pee-ew and/or our alleged press simply broke down the data according to religious groupings. And what's wrong with that, you ask?

Plenty. Namely, there was no reason whatsoever to introduce the poll findings to the public in a manner that indicts religion when the main poll (from which the religious study was derived) indicts 71 out of 100 citizens. When seventy-one percent of the darn population is pro-torture, it isn't a matter of religion. Or car ownership. Or where you live. Or what bus you take. Nearly 3/4 of the public IS the public. The body politic is the culprit, not people of faith.

Of course, both Pee-ew and the our alleged press wanted to soft-pedal the bad news, and so why not in a way that caters to the prejudices of the primary consumers of data? I refer, of course, to the secular left, as it's called (which, technically, I'm a part of). To be sure, the main deifiers of data are liberals who simply "know," owing to their superior intellect and education, that data is never wrong, that whatever is computed from a poll is the truth, whole truth, and nothing but the (Peee-ew) stinking truth. Funny how those who worship at the altar of Data have the nerve to ridicule those who worship a human-style God. Anyway....

Please note that I didn't say all liberals are this stupid when it comes to data, though I am convinced it's most of us. Everybody's dumb about something, and the left's main area of brain-shutdown is data. Statistics. Study results. Ooooo-woooo! Study results!!! Data! Figures!!

Ahhhh.... Cigarette time.

Did I mention that most of the data worshipers at Huff-Po apparently failed to follow the links to the pie chart--the one which clearly lays out the figures? The reason they didn't is because, unlike me, they smelled nothing fishy about the poll reports, such as the fact that the two main reports didn't gel. You see, that's always a clue that things haven't been reported correctly--when two big stories turn out to be at odds with one another. Just call me gifted, that I'm able to pick up on such subtle and obscure clues.

Even after I pointed people to the link, no one could fathom what I was complaining about. Too abstract, I guess. I mean, here we have a main poll that indicts 71 out of 100 respondents, yet the results are being touted as a virtual tie between pro and con, and/or another example of why religion is evil and smelly and just so un-HBO. It's almost as if... as if... dare I say? Almost as if the peddlers of the data intended to cater to what their data consumers most want to hear. Which, of course, isn't the truth (something no one wants to hear, anyway).

I guess it's an aberration of the Information Age that data has become a church--I can't see people in the days before computers investing all of their trust in figures on a piece of paper, though there must have been some people so inclined. Anyway, we have three reasons to not feel at ease here: 1) A bunch of people are reading an awful lot into results from a for/against poll; 2) no one notices or at least cares when it's demonstrated that the data has been misrepresented; and 3) pollsters and the press seem to have no moral reservations about shaping data to the expectations of their core audience. Which raises the obvious question: why don't they simply make the stuff up in the first place? Why even go to the trouble of collecting it?

Fabricating it from the get-go would be a lot easier, but, hey--maybe they like the challenge.

What would Jesus conclude? That the credulity of data consumers stems from wishful thinking and vanity. Like so many human evils. That's my guess. Actually, I don't know what he'd say. "Dimwits," perhaps.