Pastor’s Daughter: His Beliefs are a Mental Illness

I think I’ll just let this quote, from the daughter of Elizabeth Smart’s kidnapper, who is a street preacher, speak for itself.

The shackled 57-year-old Mitchell was present in the courtroom and sat singing throughout the reading of the verdict. He sang about Jesus Christ on the cross and held his hands in front of his chest as though he was praying.

Mitchell’s former stepdaughter, Rebecca Woodridge, told reporters outside the courthouse that she didn’t know how jurors could not find that her stepfather was mentally ill.

“He honestly believes God tells him to do these things,” Woodridge said. “He’s upset and frustrated that the Lord is making him go through this.”

Full article on

What’s the Harm? Installment #3033: Exorcisms

Exorcisms, which are incredibly still practiced by the Catholic Church and by some Protestant churches, hurt people who are either

  • In need of serious medical or psychological attention, or
  • Gay, and in need of nothing more than being left the fuck alone about their orientation.

I don’t know which is worse.

Craig James has more on this incredible Medieval vestige.

The Evils of Flossing

Did your great-grandparents floss?

Of course not. So why is the dental profession pushing flossing on innocent younger generations?

We don’t know if it’s a conspiracy. But we do know we cannot trust scientists, who lie to us about everything from global warming (liberal conspiracy) to evolution (Satan’s lie that we are animals). Who or what is about to stop them from scaring us about plaque?

These “scientists” warn about plaque and gum disease. If plaque is so scary, why does my (soon to be former) dentist’s wall have plaques on them? A bit hypocritical for someone so scared silly of gum disease, don’t you think?

And what on earth is gum disease. What a cop out. It doesn’t even mean anything, no more than leg disease or neck disease! Real diseases have real names: Lung cancer. Hypothermia. Liberalism.

It’s all a schtick designed to get our kids hooked on flossing. Look, they even give our children free samples, hoping flossing becomes an addiction — sorry, I mean a “habit”!

I say we return to the traditions of out forefathers: boldly eating what we will and ignoring the self serving interests of the floss-peddlers. Clearly George Washington felt this way. He believed in the tyranny of prescriptive oral hygiene so strongly he choose wooden teeth before he would surrender.

My children and I will not be flossing, I promise you that!

The preceding was a parody of the radically conservative mindset.

Call for Contributions

I am putting together a collection tentatively entitled Street Preachers: An Exercise in Critical Thinking. It’s going to be a collection of short stories of encounters with street preachers and other conversion efforts, with perhaps a few short dissertations on the topic.

If you can write a compelling contribution, I’ll include it in the book. I’ll split the royalties 50-50 between myself and all the contributors.

If anyone interesting in contributing could get in touch with my by November 15th, 2010, that would be best.

Thanks, and please consider letting others know about this opportunity!

S.E. Cupp, The Atheist-Hating Atheist?

“I really aspire to be a person of faith some day.” (12:32)

Does that sound like an atheist to you?

S.E. Cupp made a fall 2009 appearance on CSPAN. “Skip to 9:46,” she said.

“You say you are an atheist,” notes interviewer Brian Lamb.

“I am,” Cupp acknowledges. “But I’m not a militant atheist. I’ve never understood the angry atheist.”

Oh, right, of course, S.E. The militant atheists ruin everything with their countless dogma-inspired wars.

Now never mind that your hero George W. Bush (no, really, she says so in the video)’s worthless Iraq War seems to be partially inspired by his Christian beliefs — I’m sure it’s a significant group of atheists whose beliefs cause violence.

Never mind, as well, that failing to give science and reason a voice harms those who would be misled about evolution and coerced into donating to a man who lies to a trusting flock every Sunday. Never mind that keeping one’s lack of belief “under a bushel” makes it that much easier to consider our country a Christian nation, that much easier to write off atheists as people with a fundamental problem, even if they are your own son. Never mind that complete deference to the religious gives parents a right to deny their children access to real doctors, settling instead for fatal faith healing.

No, Cupp isn’t an angry atheist. Not like those of us who hate God. Seriously, she said that to Bill Maher!

Now it doesn’t take much wisdom to understand that it doesn’t make much sense for someone to hate a person they don’t believe exists. I expect even Christians with an IQ above 65 to grasp this concept. It’s a goddam given that atheists get it. There are many reasons for atheists to be upset with religion (not somebody’s fairytale god). So for Cupp to spout off with this nonsense is just unbelievable. She can’t possibly be an actual atheist, can she? At risk of bumping into the True Scotsman territory, I’ll say she’s certainly not like any atheist I’ve ever met.

I’ve been an atheist for quite a while. I was fascinated by religion at a very young age and my parents always encouraged me to explore my religious inclinations. I went to a Catholic high school and I just decided, early on, that I didn’t buy it, it wasn’t for me, but I’m envious. I’m envious of the faithful, so I defend the faithful at every opportunity I get. (10:25)

Cupp repeatedly uses the word “yet,” as in “[faith] hasn’t found me yet.” For someone who is, by definition, pretty sure that religions are untrue, this is a very curious thing to say. How is she possibly an atheist?

S.E., the supposed atheist, notes that religious people are not deluded on Bill Maher’s show. What?! Do I even need to add any commentary here? Heck, Protestants consider Catholics deluded for thinking they can pray to Mary — but Cupp doesn’t think any of the myriad (an SAT vocab word she just loves to use to make her look smart along with those “geeky” glasses) religions out there are founded on delusions? “I understand the appeal [of religion],” she says. Okay. But the appeal of a religion and its truth value — whether or not a believer is in fact deluded — are completely orthogonal (a synonym for “unrelated” that Cupp may not have reached in her SAT prep book yet).

I’m sorry. I may have implied she hasn’t gone to college yet. That’s just not true! Cupp frequently mentions — in both the videos I link to — that she’s undergone a rigorous education and is working on her Masters… in religious studies. So you know she’s a pro! If she says religion is Good and we should be envious of those who have it, well, who are we to argue with edumacated larnin’s?

But wait! Cupp hates those liberal educated academic Christ-hating bastards! Really. Listen to why she prefers G. W. Bush to Barack Obama (13:40):

[Bush] had a conviction… that required him to answer to someone else when he went to bed at night. Not to the State, and not to himself.
I don’t see the same kind of reverence in some of our other recent Presidents. … I also think Barack Obama… doesn’t have a lot of his own convictions. I think they’ve been informed by academia, and sort of the Chicago community organizing circuit, and so many different influences that I don’t think he has a visceral feeling on a great many issues. And that’s a problem for me. I think he’s easily influenced.

Hold on. Cup supposedly doesn’t have Bush’s religious conviction! There’s nothing stopping her from running around, raping, murdering, and lying in office! Oh, wait, Bush lied. I guess he still breaks commandments.

As an atheist, I could never imaging electing — voting for — an atheist president. (15:30)


Elsewhere, she criticizes Obama for acknowledging that atheists exist. I kid you not: “Obama delivered another slight to religious America when he became the first president in the history of the United States to mention atheists.” Holy shit. Let’s ignore for now that other Presidents have certainly mentioned atheists. How dare Obama not sweep S.E.’s own existence under the rug! She must be thrilled by the Senior Bush’s anti-atheist statement, “I do not consider Atheists to be patriots nor citizens of the United States. This is one Nation Under God.” Now that’s the way atheist political commentators like to be treated! Wait, no, that would be only impostors like Cupp.

I’m not getting into whether Bush or Obama are good presidents — I’m just saying that 1) it’s hard to argue religion makes for better rulers and 2) S.E. isn’t a real atheist.

I’m sorry for giving this troll any attention. I’ll strive to never to mention her again.

Moving on!

On Speaking Out

Implicit in the use of the term “militant atheists” is the assumption that, having no religion, atheists have no place discussing it. And nested in that assumption, Russian-doll style, is this one: It’s no use dissuading anyone from religion, because hey, what’s the harm?

But that’s where we run into problems. Religion kills.

I have begun tagging the problems with religion as “What’s The Harm”.

Let’s get started:

  • Wars, crusades, inquisitions, gunpoint missionaries
  • Faith healing, heartbreakingly forced upon children
  • Circumcision and genital mutilation
  • Separating families (heck, even Jesus advocating leaving your family to follow him)
  • Spreading scientific illiteracy and general ignorance
  • Exorcisms performed on victims who are simply either mentally ill or gay

Why speak out? For a better world.

What’s The Harm? Installment #566: Faith Healing

Here I begin to list just a fraction of the cases in which children have been hurt or killed by parents who trusted God to do all the healing.

  • Any child of a Jehovah’s Witness who died from blood loss. (Jehovah’s Witnesses believe the blood to be holy, and refuse blood transfusions.)
  • My own uncle, who died of treatable intestinal problems when I was 3 or so years old, because his parents raised him as a Christian Scientist. He was in high school at the time. (Christian Scientists, followers of Mary Baker Eddy, refuse all medical treatment, usually.) I have no memories of my uncle. I just know how hurt my father was by his brother’s death, and by his father’s refusal to hold a funeral (it’s not the CS way).
  • This 11-year-old-girl who died from juvenile diabetes, whose parents trusted prayer to heal her.
  • Many more…

See also:

What’s The Harm? Installment #7,582: The Iraq War

I don’t want to write on this topic at length, so I’m just going to leave you a few links to back up this claim:

The costly 2003–2010 US-led Iraq War was largely inspired by Christian beliefs.

  • Al-Jazeera piece claiming the war was at least partially religiously inspired

    Dr Muhammad al-Sammak … says “Most of the US presidents are very religious and George Bush is one of them. They definitely act according to their religious beliefs.

    “For example, the late US president Ronald Reagan predicted in a TV interview that his generation would live to see the Battle of Armageddon. This is very biblical. No person would use such terms unless he was supported by his religious beliefs.”

  • Rumsfield’s daily “Worldwide Intelligence Updates” from the Pentagon often had covers with martial Bible quotes and, at least sometimes, photos of soldiers in prayer. (Easier to send ’em to die if you know their souls are saved, eh?) This story was broken by GQ (Flash slideshow – HTML here) and covered in numerous outlets like HuffPo and the Colbert Report.

  • Consider the way Bush referred to the war on terror as a “crusade” and conflated Iraq, which had no connection to al-Qaeda, with the al-Qaeda terrorists who attacked on 9/11. Well, they’re both Muslim; I can see how Bush could have trouble keeping them straight. </sarcasm>

Militant Atheism

“Militant Atheism” is one of the most insultingly ignorant terms ever.

Number of wars started in the name of atheism: 0
Number of wars started in the name of a particular god: Unknown, probably a majority

Simply put, it’s wrong to call an atheist “militant” because they refuse to prentend to be religious, or because they decline to be reverent for superstition.

Consider this.

What do you call a vocal believer? A missionary or evangelist.

What actions denote a vocal believer? Visiting neighbors in attempts to convert them, passing religiously-based laws to restrict others’ activities (hello, Prop 8), and in many times and places in this world, possibly participating in – and certainly not protesting – conversions at knifepoint (e.g. many places in the current Middle East, or most of Dark Age Christian Mediavel Europe).

What do you call a vocal unbeliever? “Militant.” Yes, because of those bloody atheist inquisitions. </sarcasm> What might a vocal atheist do? I don’t see them knocking on doors. I suppose they might joke at the expense of superstitions, or criticize religion. In army uniform, apparently. Atheist color guard, march!

A Run-In with a Street Preacher

I ran into a street preacher, whom we’ll call Fred, a week ago. He dropped some pretty crazy gems that I just had to share. (Note I’ve tagged this entry with “Responses,” indicating it contains answers to common conversion efforts.)

Starting Off with Atheists in Foxholes

Fred begins by saying something generic and attempting to hand me a flyer for his church. “I’m an atheist,” I say, taking care not to begin with “Sorry” — I’m not going to apologize for my rationality!

“Oh, we’re all atheists!” Fred exclaims, then leans forward: “But if you jump out of a plane, who do you think you’ll be praying to?”

Never mind I’ve been skydiving, no gods involved. I play along. “Perhaps, but it wouldn’t necessarily be your god I was playing to.”

Fred maintains his conspiratorial stance and shares his Secret with me: “Well, there’s only one God, you know!”

“But there’s no proof,” I say.

“Exactly,” Fred says in an attempt at argumentative Aikido. “That’s why it’s all about faith!

Being a guy who attempts to have rational beliefs this doesn’t sit well with me. But at least this guy knows, in theory, that faith a the lack of evidence… or does he:

“But if you look at all the prophecies…”

Not a Real Christian

One of my absolute favorite things to hear Christians say is “Oh, they aren’t real Christians.” (That’s the No True Scotsman fallacy, and for whatever reason, Christians, especially evangelists, love it.)

Our friend Fred doesn’t let me down.

After Fred encourages me to just take the flyer and consider converting, I mention that I was raised Christian, I know the stories, and I’m never converting, and he becomes a bit excited. “What were you raised as?” he asks. “Because I thought I was raised Christian too, but I wasn’t!”


“Me too!” Fred shares. “Well that’s something we have in common!”

“If Catholics aren’t true Christians,” I ask, “Tell me, what religion would you have been in, say, 1,000 A.D.?”

Fred didn’t have an answer, but religious fragmentation and the chronologically & geographically determined nature of faith are things I’ve thought about before.

The Loving God’s Hellfire

We discussed theodicy in an amusing way.

“If God loves me, as you say,” I asked Fred, “Why would he make me, knowing I, as a rational thinker, would have to reject Him, causing my damnation? Why would he make so very many people who would just go to hell? Heck, how could Native Americans go to heaven before Europeans came over?” I asked rhetorically.

“Well we have to choose. Do you want us all to be boring automatons?” Fred started. I could see where this was going already. The spectre of “free will” is always used as a counter to the problem of evil.

“Here’s the thing,” I say. “You clearly believe that for us to have free will, we have to be able to hurt each other.”


“Why is that necessarily true? Wouldn’t a perfect God be able to create a world with free will, without letting us hurt each other?”

Fred isn’t convinced — that isn’t, of course, how our world works, but if you’re an omnipotent, loving creator… “I don’t think so,” Fred says.

“But isn’t that what Heaven is?”

“No, everyone is Heaven is sinless.”

“Tell me, Fred. Are you going to heaven?”


“Have you ever hurt anyone?”

“Well, I’m sure we’ve all said some things —”

“So are you just going to be an automaton in Heaven, then? Or can you hurt people in Heaven? See how I just made you argue against yourself? It just doesn’t make any sense,” I say, referring to Christianity.

I consider this a slam-dunk argument against typical Christianity, proving my point about theodicy and free will and how a loving, all-knowing, all-powerful god can’t exist in this world. Yet our preacher friend is wholly unfazed, resolute in his mission to convince others that something he knows is unprovable is not only the Truth but also the Only Way.

“The Holocaust was God’s Plan”

“You know why the Holocaust happened? Because the Jews – well, most of ’em – refused to recognize their own Messiah, their own savior,” Fred shared.

I was so shocked by this claim of Fred’s that I have a hard time remembering what prompted it. Perhaps it stemmed from our discussion of why there is evil in the world.

“You know what I think? I think the Holocaust happened because this guy Hitler used the Jews as a political tool,” I counter. Never mind the role the Catholic Church played in this atrocity for now. Never mind that Hitler was a Christian.

“You’re thinking little picture, I’m thinking ‘big picture,’” Fred says.

“Oh, so what then, God leaned down — ” I cup my hands to my mouth and bend forward — “and whispered, ‘Hey, Hitler! Have you heard about these Jews? They’re really pissing me off!”

“Well, no, I don’t believe God talked to Hitler.” Of course not. Hitler couldn’t possibly be a true Christian, could he? It’s cognitive dissonance in action: Fred likes God and Christianity; he hates Hitler, thus he can’t imagine Hitler being Christian or supported by God, even when it logically follows from what he’s just said.

By now I’ve had enough of this offensively uncritical guy. “So God just caused the Holocaust indirectly, with magic? I don’t believe in magic. Have a nice night,” I say, walking off.