The Rules Don’t Apply to Me

Last month, Senator Chuck Grassley asked six notorious preachers of the prosperity gospel to account for some highly questionable expenditures, in light of their ministries' non-profit status. So far, it seems that only one of the six, Joyce Meyer, has complied. Three others - Benny Hinn, Paula White, and Kenneth Copeland - have yet to respond. Now the remaining two, Creflo Dollar and Eddie Long, have announced that they will not cooperate.The letter from Dollar's attorney expresses concern … [Read more...]

Mitt Romney's Kennedy Moment?

Last Thursday, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney gave a speech in which he argued that his Mormon religious beliefs should not prevent Americans from voting for him.I do not define my candidacy by my religion. A person should not be elected because of his faith nor should he be rejected because of his faith.Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions... I will put no doctrine of … [Read more...]

Instruction Manual or Chronicle?

A few days ago, I had an epiphany that I think sheds considerable light on the difference between liberal and fundamentalist believers. This principle seems to me to be underappreciated, and if it was more widely understood, I think it might head off some of the misunderstandings which I've seen atheists commit. Here it is:Fundamentalist believers view their sacred text as an instruction manual; liberal believers view it as a chronicle of events.This difference is important in shaping the … [Read more...]

Theocracy Watch XIII: Fighting Prison Theocracy

Last year, in a previous installment of Theocracy Watch, I wrote about unconstitutional government-supported prison ministries which target a literal captive audience. Many Christian evangelists view these ministries as a great opportunity to preach to those who can't escape, as if the prisons were their own personal factories for churning out converts. Worse, the Bush administration has been all too willing to let them in, and has cooperated in setting up coercive programs that offer special … [Read more...]

Building a Secular Community

A recent column by Katha Pollitt, The Atheist's Dilemma, laments how atheists would like to take away what people value and offer nothing in return:But if all you can offer people is reasons to quit their religion—which also often means their community, their family, their support system and their identity—you're not going to have many takers. For every brilliant angry teenager you strengthen in doubt, there's a mosque- or churchful of people who'll choose the old-time religion if … [Read more...]

The Rise and Fall of the James Ossuary

In October 2002, a dramatic find exploded onto the scene in the field of Biblical archaeology. At a Washington press conference, Hershel Shanks, editor and publisher of the Biblical Archaeology Review, presented a large audience with what he called "the first ever archaeological discovery to corroborate Biblical references to Jesus." The find was an ossuary - a stone box used in the ancient world to bury the bones of a deceased person - with an Aramaic inscription reading, "Yaakov bar Yoseph, … [Read more...]

On Atheism and Hope

Pope Benedict has released the second encyclical of his papacy, a 75-page missive titled "Spe Salvi" (Latin for "in hope we are saved"). As was widely reported, this statement attacks atheism and calls people to convert to Roman Catholicism as the only hope for humankind. (Here's the text of the statement itself, if anyone's interested.) In this post, I'm going to offer some comments in response.The major theme of the encyclical is that only belief in a god - actually, in the Roman Catholic … [Read more...]

How to Think Critically IV

Falsifiability and the Burden of Proof"Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of … [Read more...]

New Post on Dangerous Intersection

For those of you who are interested in this sort of thing, I have a new post up on Dangerous Intersection, "Joe Klein is not a journalist". … [Read more...]

Immanence

Last month, while I was on vacation in Puerto Rico, I had a chance to visit the great radio observatory at Arecibo. That was one of the highlights of my trip, but there was another.Puerto Rico has the only tropical rainforest in the United States national park system. On the northeast coast of the islands, at the foot of the Luquillo Mountains, is the 28,000-acre preserve of El Yunque National Forest. Set aside in 1876 by the Spanish king Alfonso XII, El Yunque is one of the oldest nature … [Read more...]


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