On Desecration

I've resisted commenting on this until now, but I have to give in. I'm sure you've all heard the story of Webster Cook, an unsuspecting college student who got himself into a great deal of trouble because he took a consecrated communion wafer home with him from church rather than eating it. On cue, professional victim Bill Donohue of the Catholic League and his legions of squalling bigots descended on Cook's school, some demanding he be punished or expelled, others threatening his life.The … [Read more...]

A Moment of Levity

I usually talk about heavy subjects on this weblog, but sometimes it's nice to shift gears and have a laugh. Here's one of my favorites, from an old post on the Usenet newsgroup alt.atheism:While on a business trip to Rome, the CEO of Tyson Foods manages to be granted an audience with the Pope at the Vatican. After receiving the papal blessing, he says to the Holy Father, "Your Holiness, I've come with a business proposition for you. Tyson Foods is prepared to donate 100 million dollars to … [Read more...]

Words That Burn

The winter of 1777-1778 was a bad time for the American revolutionary army. General George Washington had encamped his army at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania - an excellent position tactically, but a source of terrible misery and suffering for his weary, poorly equipped troops. The Continental Army was assailed by bitter cold and plagued by chronic shortages of food, shelter and warm clothes. Almost a fifth of the soldiers died of frostbite and disease, and the survivors' morale sank to its lowest … [Read more...]

The Contributions of Freethinkers: Albert Einstein

In 1999, Time magazine named Albert Einstein its "Person of the Century". The choice was understandable: In a global society increasingly underpinned by science and technology, perhaps no one person has had a greater individual impact on humanity's understanding of the cosmos. Among his many scientific contributions, he discovered the special and general theories of relativity, proved light's quantized nature by means of the photoelectric effect, and offered important support to atomic theory … [Read more...]

Imaginary Crimes

One of the defining attributes of all the world's religions through history is that they create imaginary crimes; that is, arbitrary rules the obeying of which helps no person, and the breaking of which hurts no person. In the beginning, many religions start off as simple, humble affairs; some even have the audacity to insist that our only duty is to love one another. But as time goes by, those simple faiths inevitably become complex and elaborated.Clergy and theologians, who'd have a tough … [Read more...]

Is Evangelicalism On the Wane?

Is the power of the religious right declining in America? Several lines of evidence would seem to indicate so.Heading into the 2008 election, the evangelical movement is fragmented and leaderless, lacking a clear sense of enthusiasm or a preferred candidate to rally behind. Several important figures, including Jerry Falwell and D. James Kennedy, have recently died. Atheists and nonbelievers are growing in influence. And the religious right's public brand is badly damaged, viewed as … [Read more...]

The Uses of Pre-Scientific Cosmology

Before the dawn of the scientific age, humankind had only its unaided senses to examine the universe. Certainly, there were awe-inspiring sights, but those alone give little insight into natural phenomena. At night we saw the stars and the planets circle overhead; each season we felt the rains fall and the wind blow; and in moments of terror, we saw lightning split the sky and the earth shake under our feet. But none of these things gave any clue to what the true nature of the heavens might … [Read more...]

Strange and Curious Sects: Sabbatai Zevi

Past editions of Strange and Curious Sects have explored religious splinter groups that came into existence relatively recently. Today's edition will focus on an older cult that still has lessons to teach us: the bizarre story of the would-be Jewish messiah, Sabbatai Zevi.Sabbatai Zevi was born in 1626, supposedly on the anniversary of the Roman destruction of the Temple, to a wealthy Sephardic Jewish family in Smyrna, modern-day Turkey. In his youth, he studied the Talmud and especially the … [Read more...]

Noises in the Night

In the first chapter of her autobiography Infidel, Ayaan Hirsi Ali recounts some of the Somali folktales her grandmother taught her when she was a child. One was a story of a nomad, searching for a home for his wife and child, who mysteriously finds an oasis with a fine grass hut already built in the middle of the desert, and a smiling, friendly stranger who invites them to live there. Alas for the trusting nomad, the stranger was really "He Who Rubs Himself with a Stick," a monstrous … [Read more...]

Vignette from the New York Subway

Presented without further comment:Last night, when I got on the subway, I noticed an older, balding white man wearing a white T-shirt. The front of his shirt read, in multicolored block letters, "I'm so happy I'm saved," and the back read, over a backdrop of flames, "I won't have to spend eternity in the lake of fire. P.S.: There won't be a drink of water there!"As the train pulled away from the station, a young black man entered the car. He announced that he was down on his luck, was trying … [Read more...]


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X