Fake or Real? Answers to Yesterday’s Quiz Questions — Find Out Which Outlandish Religious Practices I Made Up

So here was the setup: Yesterday, I presented 15 brief descriptions of behaviors that were religious or spiritual in nature — some mainstream, some obscure. Three of them were fictional; the other 12 were real. Your job was to separate my fabrications from the things that people actually do to pay respect to the gods and spirits who, you know, rule their lives.

Some readers thought the 15 bizarre practices were all made up. Rather than give them an “F,” I’ll let the gods take care of them. Be rueful and very afraid, oh ye of little faith!

Others thought it was a trick question and that all 15 examples were real — and, to be honest, I’d toyed with that thought when I put the quiz together. In the end, however, it seemed more fun to concoct a few rituals of my own. So I did.

Now let’s go down the list.

1. During the yearly fall festival, taking enemas of lemongrass smoke, for purification.

Fake. I guess you could say I was just blowing smoke up your, um, backside. Although such enemas, in the good old days, were real enough, the smoke was produced by burning tobacco, not lemongrass, and it was a medical procedure to revive drowning victims, rather than a religious ritual. The always-interesting website Dangerous Minds has more.

2. Throwing a baby off a five-story building for good luck.

Real. Muslims and Hindus hold baby-dropping rituals in parts of India. The baby is caught in a taut sheet, and the practice is thought to confer good health and fortitude upon the infant.

3. Transferring one’s sins onto a condemned-to-death chicken.

Real. Welcome to Kapparot, a Jewish ritual in which a participant swings a live chicken over his head three times, transferring his sins to the doomed bird. It is then slaughtered and offered to the poor, who apparently delight in eating a drumstickful of roasted sin.

4. Regarding the marks in one’s underwear as a sacred symbol.

Real. Believed by Mormons. This is why it’s such a shame that Mitt Romney didn’t get elected president. Should we bomb Syria? Mitt would know just by looking for divine guidance in his underpants. We’re not talking about skidmarks, but about “sacred” signs that are sewn into the ill-fitting, uncomfortable, church-dispensed undergarments that committed Mormons wear every day until death.

5. Chopping up dead bodies and feeding the chunks to birds.

Real. This one’s not as rubbish as the rest. It’s an old Buddhist funerary practice in Tibet and Mongolia, where the absence of trees in barren regions makes cremating the bodies impractical or impossible, and where earth burials are out because the ground is too rocky or frozen. Hence, sky burials, in which the body is offered to wild vultures. Details of a sky burial vary: Sometimes, the corpse is laid out more or less intact; in other instances, the flesh is first stripped from the bones, and/or body parts are cut into smaller chunks.

6. Pulling chariots uphill with ropes attached to sharp hooks that pierce one’s back.

Real. Practiced by Hindu Tamils in India and elsewhere during the month of Thaipusam. Here’s a video. What started as a piercing of the tongue (a reminder to stay silent during meditation) has been transformed in an orgy of oneupmanship and increasing religious fervor.

7. Spitting on a newborn baby and telling the infant how bad it’s being.

Real. It’s how the Maasai, in Africa, greet a family addition. The Maasai are enthusiastic spitters, but for them it is a mark of respect and communal connection. It’s tradition that a father spits on his daughter’s shaved head and breasts for good luck when the girl gets married. The berating of the infant seems to come from the belief that evil spirits won’t come after the baby if they hear everyone talking about how bad and worthless the child is.

8. Sucking the freshly-cut, bloody penis of a baby boy.

Real. It’s a circumcision ritual called metzitzah b’peh. A staple of Hasidic Jewish culture in Israel and Brooklyn and other places, “the direct mouth-to-bloody-penis sucking [is performed] by many mohels (and almost all hasidic mohels) just after cutting off the baby’s foreskin and ripping off the membrane under it,” Shmarya Rosenberg of the indispensable Failed Messiah blog reminds us. At least two Brooklyn infants have died after they apparently contracted herpes from the mohel.

9. Ingesting several pounds of pebbles or shells before a ritual swim in a holy lake.

Fake. Made it up. This is as good a time as any to share the joke my eight-year-old daughter told me recently: “Daddy, have you seen the movie Constipation? No? That’s because it never came out.” Followed by uproarious laughter.

10. Eating a cracker in the belief that it is the actual body of a tortured half-god.

Real, although some insist that it should properly be called a “wafer,” and that Jesus, the tortured man, was an actual God rather than a demi-one. This is the kind of stuff over which religious people have been known to start wars, so in the interest of avoiding bloodshed, fine, you’re right. Catholic transsubstantiation, according to Wikipedia, is the doctrine that “the bread and the wine used in the sacrament of the Eucharist is changed, not merely as by a sign or a figure, but also in reality into the substance of the Body and the Blood of Jesus.”

11. Fanning perfumed smoke onto a car to bless it.

Real. Rituals to bless cars and other vehicles, sometimes with the use of holy water or fragrant smoke, are common from Thailand to Bolivia to the United States.

12. Running naked through the streets while inviting thousands to play tag.

Real. This grabfest takes place during Shintoism’s Hadaka Matsuri festival in Japan. According to this travel website, “one volunteer is randomly selected to be the Shin-otoko, or Naked Man.” After he undergoes a purification ritual in the local temple, “he appears before an invited group of local VIPs and temple benefactors, who are allowed to touch him before he’s released to the masses.” After that, Shin-otoko plays tag with as many as 9,000 sake-besotted men in loincloths. All this fun was conceived 13 centuries ago as a way to ward off the plague.

13. Sticking one’s hands in gloves filled with large predatory ants and enduring their immensely painful bites.

Real, and practiced by a Brazilian Amazon tribe called the Sateré-Mawé. It’s a coming-of-age ritual that supposedly bestows bravery and good fortune on the boys in question. Hundreds of large, venomous bullet ants, whose bites are excruciating, are placed or woven inside of the gloves. After the adolescents endure the pain of the bites, the ordeal may continue for days, as the ants’ neurotoxins frequently induce paralysis, fever, hallucinations, and convulsions.

14. Pleading for fertility by sneaking up behind a male cloven-hoofed animal and licking its testicles.

Fake. At least, I’m not currently aware of any people who swear by the spiritual benefits of teabagging a bovid. Let me know if I’m wrong, though, I’ve heard stranger things.

15. Taking sacred instruction to relieve the sorrow and anxiety caused by disembodied alien souls.

Real. According to the Church of Scientology, 75 millions years ago, the galactic overlord Xenu took care of a nasty overpopulation problem by bringing billions of his people to our planet, where he stacked them around volcanoes and blew them up with hydrogen bombs. Their alien souls still infest Earth and are the cause of — well, all that ails us spiritually, really. But fear not: by giving the church ever more money, you can learn how to fight these fiends and become “clear.”

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Going through the comments, it seems that only reader badgerchild correctly identified the three fake rituals, although technically s/he deserves just a touch of celestial punishment for breaking the rule that quiztakers shouldn’t read the comments, or use The Google to confirm hunches.

Hope you all had fun, and thanks to everyone who played!

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder and Main Mischief Maker of Moral Compass, a site that pokes fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards.

  • 3lemenope

    Some readers thought the 15 bizarre practices were all made up. Rather than give them an “F,” I’ll let the gods take care of them. Be rueful and very afraid, oh ye of little faith!

    I think you misunderstood. What they meant by “they’re all made up” is that, because they are from religions, they proceed from the imagination of humans rather than anything more concrete. It’s not that they aren’t real practices, it’s that there is no magic behind the mumbo-jumbo.

    • Cake

      I got the implication that the author knew that. :)

  • badgerchild

    I didn’t read the comments before I picked the fake ones, lol. I definitely looked things up after that though! :)

    • Terry Firma

      Then you shall henceforth be known as His Holiness the Badger. It is so decreed!

      • badgerchild

        That’ll surprise my husband and my gynecologist, but OK :D

        Heh, I know you didn’t know. No worries.

        • Terry Firma

          What can I say. True to organized religion’s overall template, the Church of Terry is very patriarchal.

          • Emmet

            Don’t try and blame it on organised religion – aren’t you an atheist? Blame it on your own overall template.

            • badgerchild

              Emmet, now you’re just being silly.

              • Emmet

                Eh?

        • Quintin van Zuijlen

          If the Queen of Great Britain and Northern Ireland can be Lord of Mann, then surely there’s nothing wrong with Your Holiness’ title being exclusively masculine.

          • Terry Firma

            Thank you Quintin, da’s erg aardig van je!

          • badgerchild

            I work in IT and have an ambiguous-gender first name. Believe me, I am steeled to it, lol… remind me to tell you about the time I had an engineer from Abu Dhabi work with me on a computer issue by e-mail until he called my voice mail, then called my boss to complain he’d been “tricked”. Biggest laugh I had that month. :)

  • L.Long

    Missed 14, thought it was real cuz it really sounded stupid but very desperate.

  • Mick

    I’ve been laughing at the thought of theists taking this test and realizing that they could easily finish up expressing disgust at a ritual from their own church.

    Atheists could poke fun at all of the rituals, but the poor old theists would have been treading on metaphorical eggshells as they tried so hard not to make a mistake.

    I’m also laughing at the theists who mistakenly thought a ritual from another religion was one of their own. They would have rationalized the ritual to the point where it made perfect sense and then – boom – it turned out to be nonsense after all!

  • Itarion

    Three! Three right. And none of them were one’s I was guessing was wrong. That is thoroughly disturbing.

  • ragarth

    I was wrong on every single account. Religion is crazy.

  • Susan_G1

    I have a question for you (collectively). It seems to be that you spend an inordinate amount of time defining yourselves as who/what you aren’t (which would be, as you say, theists), instead of who/what you are (giving examples of fine practices in your diverse culture). Do you not have any better things to do than laugh at theists, or is this your primary identity?

    • Lee Miller

      Most of us think that religion is not only ridiculous (as these and many other examples could amply illustrate), but also does immeasurable harm throughout the world . . . combatting the irrationality of belief in invisible entities (take your pick of which ones) is indeed a fine practice.
      And Susan, what are the fine practices in your particular culture?

      • h2ocean

        I’ll add to that and say that I find religion interesting from a psychological and sociological stand point. I enjoy learning about it, where it comes from, and the needs and motives that it satisfies.

        • midnight rambler

          Me too. In large part because I don’t understand it at all – why people are religious in the first place, what keeps them believing, etc. Unlike many atheists I’ve never been religious, and it makes no sense to me.

      • Susan_G1

        Well, they are not primarily dependent on holding atheists up to examination, for sure. H2ocean, learning the psychology of religion doesn’t result from finding examples of practices to hold up for ridicule any more than learning science by looking at various experiments. So your intent, if that is what it is, is not particularly well served by this approach, but might better be served (for yourself and others interested in the subject) by reading texts and journal articles in the social sciences on the subject of religion and blogging about them.

        The fine practices in my culture are not necessarily representative of all Christians (for example, I wouldn’t identify WBC as part of my culture.) In my smaller culture, we are looking for ways to better understand how to read the Bible, knowing that there is so much that we don’t know about it – who wrote what when, why, what literary devices were used, etc., to better understand what it was God was telling us about Him and us. That is one reason I read blogs on Patheos (where this post title caught my attention). I’m also interested in better understanding what Jesus wants from us, or maybe from me, as I do not subscribe to the interpretations of many Christian leaders (say, many reformed evangelicals). In the greater circle of my culture, we are trying to help our neighbors, especially those who are marginalized or even victimized by our society. We are involved in many things, but one that captures my heart is tutoring children from inner city public schools in reading and math, and I hope to be teaching in a new school we are trying to set up in an inner city neighborhood.

        Is there more you want to know? Do you want to know if I’m holier than you? No, I’m not. Do I ridicule people? Sometimes, but I feel guilty when I do. I think I’m not serving anyone well when I do that.

        Edited to add, h2o, sorry that I sound judgmental. That’s the educated snob in me. sorry.

        • DavidMHart

          “In my smaller culture, we are looking for ways to better understand how to read the Bible”

          See, that sounds like it’s a large part of your problem right there. Why are you dedicating so much time to reading the Bible, and not dedicating an equal amount of time to fine parsing of the text of, say, the Iliad, the Bhagavad Gita, the Popol Vuh, the plays of Shakespeare, Dianetics or the Lord of the Rings trilogy? The bible isn’t a particularly outstanding book compared with others – and even if it were, focussing so obsessively on it would still lead to you missing out on the scraps of insight that were in other books that the people who wrote the Bible had missed.

          As far as we can tell, the Bible is a long, sprawling mish-mash of history, legend, outright fabrication, philosophy, poetry and revenge fantasy, which contains moments of genuine insight, wrapped up in a whole truckload of ignorance, bigotry and brutality. Do you have any good reasons to venerate that particular book over any other books?

          I’m also interested in better understanding what Jesus wants from us, or maybe from me

          You do realise that the guy died, like, 2000 years ago, right? And that’s if he even existed at all – there’s still some debate in the scholarly community as to whether he was a real person about whom some myths were made up which got written into the Gospels, or whether he was entirely mythical to begin with.

          But the point, as above, is – why this one figure? Why should you be more concerned about what Jesus expects of you than what, say, Socrates or Mohammed or Confucius or Elvis Presley or your own friends and family want from you?

          And no, atheists do not tend to spend all their time ridiculing religions. But all religions contain elements worthy of ridicule, so you can’t reasonably berate us for doing so every so often. You’re welcome to point to the atheist/skeptical movement and laugh at aspects of what’s going on there as well :-)

          • Susan_G1

            You are making a great many assumptions about me. I not only read the Illiad, I have taught it as well in my Latin classes. I have read and studied Siddhartha Gautama, and still do from time to time. I have read lots of Shakespeare, and last year read Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear – the whole history of Scientology, from L. Ron’s childhood to what Davis Miscavage is doing until publication. Why have you assumed so much about me based on one fact? So, if you don’t mind, I won’t answer your questions because the intent behind them is not to know me, but to deride me. But I would like to know, how do you highlight (with a bar) portions of text? I am not very tech savvy.

            • DavidMHart

              Hey, I never said you hadn’t read them, I just said that you seem to be artificially de-prioritising them relative to one particular other book. I only make that assumption because you said

              “In my smaller culture, we are looking for ways to better understand how to read the Bible”

              and didn’t mention any other books alongside it.

              If you are, in fact, currently engaged in trying to persuade your smaller culture that they should take the Bible off its pedestal and devote equal amounts of time to better understanding how to read other comparable works of literature, then I apologise for making that assumption.

              But if you do in fact hold the Bible as somehow more important than the rest of human literature, as somehow a more noble guide to ethics than the best of our moral philosophers in the intervening millennia etc, then I don’t apologize for making the assumption that I did, because that assumption would be true.

              So I ask: do you agree that there is no reason to think that the Bible isn’t just another ordinary book written by ordinary human beings, like Dianetics and the Bhagavad Gita etc?

              The point is not to deride you for the sake of hurting your feelings, the point is to point out that what you are doing is silly (if you do in fact believe that the Bible is sacred in a way that other books aren’t), and that you would be far better treating it as just another book … and even if you already do consider it just another book, it still sounds like you may be pandering to those in your ‘smaller culture’ who do still hold to that weird belief, and I would suggest that it would be more honest to point out to them the same thing.

              And regarding the blocks of text, the html command you are after is “blockquote”. You put a immediately after it, and when you are done and want to return to normal text, you do the same again, except this time you put a / after the <

              Hope that helps.

              • Susan_G1

                If you are, in fact, currently engaged in trying to persuade your smaller culture that they should take the Bible off its pedestal and devote equal amounts of time to better understanding how to read other comparable works of literature, then I apologise for making that assumption.

                Thank you! (if that worked). In my smallest culture (my family) I am very much interested in broadening cultural horizons beyond what is in the Bible. We have also read/discussed Gilgamesh and Beowulf, zoroastrianism, etc. But not so much the far eastern stuff, sorry.

                So I ask: do you agree that there is no reason to think that the Bible isn’t just another ordinary book written by ordinary human beings, like Dianetics and the Bhagavad Gita etc?

                Hmm, that’s a tricky one. You have all of literature on one hand, and the Bible on the other? To me, they aren’t mutually exclusive, but, yes, I do think the Bible is a very important book in western civilization in general and to me in particular, perhaps the most important anthology ever assembled.

                • cyngus

                  Thousands of years of Christianity denying polytheism that Romans had, seem to make the Bible “very important book in western civilization”, then to you, as part of identifying with the totalitarian religion in which you were born.

                  What else can you say after your parents, grand parents, grand-grand parents, etc were brainwashed in a monotheistic religion like Christianity or Islam?

        • allein

          H2ocean, learning the psychology of religion doesn’t result from finding examples of practices to hold up for ridicule any more than learning science by looking at various experiments.

          Perhaps not for the sake of ridiculing them, but I think it very much does help us learn to pick out examples of specific practices and look at how and why people follow them. (And for the record, I don’t believe H2ocean was on the original quiz post’s comment thread. I was, but I don’t think I wrote anything that could be construed as ridicule.) I also find religious topics interesting (mostly from a view of history) but outside of commenting here (and occasionally some other places) I really don’t define my life in terms of atheism. Most people don’t even know I am one, and that’s not because I have any particular fear of social repurcussions if I were to be more open about it. It’s just really not that big of a deal in my everyday life.

          • h2ocean

            Hi Susan, I do read the research and I am also a researcher myself, contributing to the literature and publishing my research in peer reviewed journals. But I also enjoy coming to websites like this that contain ideas, things that inspire new research and hypotheses to be tested, and generally illustrate way in which religion influences people’s behavior and the world. I don’t think it is any different than someone who studies economics or finance but still considers themselves a liberal or conservative and thus visits like-minded blogs, or a biologist (such as Jerry Coyne) who is interested in biology, but also in religion, intelligent design, creationism, and the incompatibility of evolution and science. My research doesn’t aim to show that religion is stupid or ridiculous, but that it is important to people and shapes their behavior, and how different situations motivate people to being in God. None of it suggests that anything in religion is true or not though, but is consistent with the idea that people created gods to believe in in order to satisfy psychological motivations (e.g., not my research, but that of others showing that people have egocentric beliefs about God, and use their own beliefs to inform what they think God is and what he believes; Epley et al. 2009, “Believers’ estimates of God’s beliefs are more egocentric than estimates of other people’s beliefs”, PNAS, vol 106)

            I think in forums like this, religion is worthy of ridicule for a number of reasons:

            - Illustrated above, at least 3 of the examples of real practices above have reasonable potential to cause harm to people. Like I said in an earlier comment, I think the feeding of bodies is a harmless and if anything poetic way to go. Others are harmless and a bit strange and not actually rooted in any evidence. Others are harmful.
            - it makes claims about the world and influences policy without evidence. This is a potentially dangerous way to shape our world, and is an affront to scientists who would prefer to see policy based on evidence.
            - I think religion has motivated a lot of good and helps people, but I think other things based in reality can provide as much help, and it is also the source of a lot of bad things, while being shielded from ridicule and its role in those things.

            It is the beliefs that I think are strange, not the people.

            • Susan_G1

              Thank you, h2ocean, for your detailed and thoughtful reply. I too was a researcher, in molecular biology; interestingly, PNAS was my favorite journal. I’m kind of sad I don’t get it anymore. Those were good times.

              And thanks for the rest of your post. Frankly, I, too, think being fed to the birds (or other animals) after death is a poetic and satisfying way to be reunited with the earth, much more of a natural return to the earth/universe from which I came. I’ve told my family that I’d rather be buried in a linen shroud in the moist earth and let nature take it’s course than (the idea is not to my liking) being embalmed and buried in a casket.

              Anyway, thanks for your engagement.

    • midnight rambler

      For most of us, being an atheist is not a primary identity.

      • Susan_G1

        fair enough. But I see this so often on atheist sites. What is your primary identity? Is it something more than simply, say, human being/social being? Is it in your work, family, community?

        • midnight rambler

          TBH, I’ve never thought of “having an identity”.

          • Susan_G1

            really? That’s interesting. I’ve never heard that before. Do you believe anything about yourself? Because that would seem to be an identity. For example, does your life have meaning to people outside of your acquaintance?

            • midnight rambler

              What an odd couple of questions.

              Do you believe anything about yourself?

              Well, I believe I’m real and I’m not in some kind of Matrix-like simulation. I’m aware of my ancestral heritage, and my career and so on. But if a stranger were to walk up and say “Who and what are you beyond your name?”, I don’t think any one word/phrase answer is adequate.

              For example, does your life have meaning to people outside of your acquaintance?

              I don’t know, wouldn’t you have to ask them?

              • Susan_G1

                I thought you might know. For example, part of my identity is in providing medical care, so there are hundreds if not thousands of people to whom my life has meaning outside of my acquaintance. It’s just a question I’m interested in your answer to, and your answer is very interesting.

                • DavidMHart

                  The glib t-shirt answer is:
                  “Having an identity is a lot less fun than having a personality”

                  But the serious answer is that you seem to be trying to pull some subtle bait-and-switch with the word ‘identity’. It can mean simply your own mental model of yourself in your own mental model of the world, or it can mean a non-negotiable set of beliefs that you would be willing to defend no matter how much they obliged you to warp your mental model of the world.

                  In short, having a religion obliges you to believe things that are almost certainly untrue (if you think that is a bold and arrogant statement, then I would a: invite you to notice that you already agree with it when it comes to religions other than your own, and b: invite you to prove me wrong by comng up with good evidence in favour of the core supernatural claims of your religion, something no one has yet managed to do in thousands of years of trying).

                  That means that having a religious identity almost certainly means basing your identity on falsehoods. Why should anyone think that that is a healthy thing to do?

                • Susan_G1

                  “It can mean simply your own mental model of yourself in your own mental
                  model of the world, or it can mean a non-negotiable set of beliefs that
                  you would be willing to defend no matter how much they obliged you to
                  warp your mental model of the world.”

                  Yes, this is what I’m asking. But it has nothing to do with my religious beliefs. I am not trying to compare and contrast, at least that wasn’t my intent. I wondered if atheists ‘as a culture (or something you have in common)’ have an identity separate from holding theists up to ridicule, because when I visit blog sites like this, I find this to be very, very common. Perhaps I am not reading the proper websites.

                • DavidMHart

                  Oh, I see. Well, there is no reason in principle why people who don’t believe in gods should have any more of a common cultural identity than people who don’t believe in vampires, people who don’t believe in Bigfoot, or people who don’t believe in astrology. In principle, the hypothesis that gods, vampires, Bigfoot or astrology are real are all about equally ridiculous – there is absolutely no good evidence in favour of any of them.

                  But in practice, despite there being no more evidence for the existence of any gods than there is for the existence of vampires, religions seem to have more of a powerful grip on people’s brains than those other beliefs, and therefore people who don’t believe in gods must in practice group together to defend their right not to publicly believe in gods, and their right not to have laws and public policy warped by god-beliefs to a far higher degree than people who do don’t believe in vampires have to do.

                  In fact, I don’t know of anyone, anywhere who is having to mount any serious defence of their right to be treated as an equal citizen despite their non-belief in vampires. And yet atheists in many countries do in fact face both legal and societal bigotry, that they feel they need to speak out against. And as for ridiculing the contents of religion – well, pointing out the silliness of an idea is an effective way of taking away some of its power. It’s why dictators imprison cartoonists. If we can get people to laugh at religion (and there’s plenty to laugh at), then that rather breaks the spell of reverence and respect that religions tend to condition their followers to demand of everyone else. That’s worth doing, wouldn’t you say?

                • Susan_G1

                  …religions seem to have more of a powerful grip on people’s brains than those other beliefs, and therefore people who don’t believe in gods must in practice group together to defend their right not to publicly believe in gods, and their right not to have laws and public policy
                  warped by god-beliefs to a far higher degree than people who do don’t believe in vampires have to do.

                  Really? Do you feel, truly (I’m being honest here) that you are discriminated against on the basis of your absence of religion? I don’t think of myself as insulated, but it seems that atheists’ rights only come up in public when you/they are protesting something religious, like a nativity in a public square, or separation of church and state (which I believe in and support).

                • 3lemenope

                  Here’s a social experiment I never recommend anyone do.

                  Go on your Facebook account, or church bulletin, or mailing list, or whatever, and tell your community that you have decided you are an atheist. Try it for one month.

                  Watch just how fast people you thought were your close friends either disappear or turn downright vicious.

                  This is a story that I have heard personally (that is, not counting the Internet, but just from people I actually know) enough times to know it’s a thing. I’ve witnessed a bit of it myself in one close family relationship who was still in the church for a while. I’ve seen co-workers who I’ve known for many years and get on with quite well react with cold derision when the topic of atheism comes up even incidentally, so for obvious reasons my co-workers are generally not aware of my religious opinions.

                  For some reason, religious believers tend to react to atheists quite differently than people who differ from them on denomination or even on faith. Our very existence seems to threaten them, and they react as though we are a poisonous serpent or a leper.

                • Susan_G1

                  Heck, I don’t need to do that to lose friends. When I separated from my husband (my choice), I lost a huge part of my community.

                  FWIW, I have no such opinions about atheists. Your beliefs don’t threaten me. My brother is an atheist. I assure you, I took far more crap from him that I ever gave him. We live in harmony and mutual respect now.

                • baal

                  ” Do you feel, truly (I’m being honest here) that you are discriminated against on the basis of your absence of religion?”

                  I and many others of us here hide our identity as atheists since we have been given signs from our employers and family members that there will be consequences to us if we come out. You, as a religious person, might not ever be in a position to see those comments or you’re likely blinded to noticing them when they happen.

                • getz

                  Just let the atheists know why the theistic beliefs aren’t ridiculous. If you want to defend anything on the list, feel free. If you have any personal beliefs that are ridiculed, just show people how they’re true and the criticisms will lessen.

                  However, you have to understand that if you can’t show how the religious claims are true, then you aren’t providing good reason for them to not be criticized, as whatever flaws you failed to address will continue to be noticed and commented on.

                  Pointing out that people are commenting on them on atheist websites doesn’t really mean anything; they’re more than able to comment on them anywhere else. The fact that you have to have this conversation on a blog about atheism should be a sign that your projection of identity politics probably doesn’t match them as well as you think. As most people have pointed out, the notion of a primary identity is kind of silly.

                  If that’s how you view atheists, it says more about you than them. Whatever points you have to make there are also irrelevant to the validity of religious claims, of course.
                  So the problems with those those claims and any number of decisions that use them as a base will be pointed out. And if the main response to the examples provided on a site like this is “why are atheists so critical of theists?” rather than joining in addressing any problems like religious superstitious putting the health of babies at risk, then… well. honestly, that’s just another example of why atheists have to speak up.

                  The non-religious are the only people who can address the issues with religion on a fundamental level. When religious people try to do it, the best criticism they can muster is “that’s not how the magic REALLY works…”, “here’s what the gods really want…”; but, of course, when it comes time to prove that the gods really want something or that the magic really works in a particular way, they’ve got nothing.

                • baal

                  Ah, the point you’re missing is that ‘being an atheist’ isn’t a huge part of most of our individual identities. We simply don’t think that way. We do have identities but they usually revolve around our other activities. This is different than much of the christian teaching in the U.S. where you’re supposed to put your religious beliefs (and religion) first.

                • Susan_G1

                  Yes, I am understanding that now, thanks.

                • midnight rambler

                  It seems that there are a lot of semantics wrapped up in this discussion. Things that I have produced have been useful to people outside of my acquaintance, though of course I’ve only found out about this after they came into my acquaintance. I don’t think that’s the same thing as saying that my life has meaning to them, since beyond my book or whatever, they know nothing about me and are unconcerned with my life.

                • Susan_G1

                  Language is semantics, but I’m not trying to trip you up in it; I’d ask that you just take what I say at face value. I promise I have no intention to pounce on you. I accept your answer.

                • baal

                  Why does it feel like you’re fishing for us to say we exist beyond death or that we have ‘souls’?

                  We aren’t going to do that.

                • cyngus

                  You identify yourself with a function in society, but if you cannot do your function, how are you identifying yourself with?

        • Nancy Shrew

          Is being myself not enough of an identity?

          • Susan_G1

            It’s enough of an identity, but no man is an island, and I would wonder if there is not much, much more. But that’s me. My identity in it’s barest bones distills down to me, but… There is more.

            • Kodie

              We’re social creatures. Are you asking if we’re externally validated? Probably most of us are, at least some of the time. Mattering to other people or being depended on or sharing our lives with other people, I mean, what are you confused about?

              You seem to care a lot about how we define ourselves without a god to feel validated or meaningful in the world. As long as people like you are confused how we manage to live without an invisible friend (among other things), we will continue to find things to criticize about your beliefs. It is frustrating to be so continually misunderstood by people who ask questions but answer them with their own preconceptions. People are being patient with you and using small words.

    • flyb

      We are what God makes us. Our lot in life is to laugh at theists. God does indeed work in mysterious ways.

      • Susan_G1

        It does not seem like a meaningful lot in life, js. But humor is important, and maybe that is your lot in life. Not being condescending; it may well be.

    • RedGreenInBlue

      Yes we do, and no, this isn’t – as a cursory web search would have shown you.

    • http://lady-die.deviantart.com/ LizzyJessie

      I’m only an atheist when I post here.

      I’m a gamer when I post to gaming websites, an artist when I post to deviantArt, an asshole when I posted to 4chan, an armchair scientist when it comes to related science pages (I like anthropology, paleontology, and astronomy), I’m all of that and more when I post to my social network accounts. I have many facets to my identity.

      But mostly, I’m just some random woman on the internet when it comes to online interactions.

      • Susan_G1

        Thanks. I am not a gamer, but love science, art and humor, so I can relate.

    • Anna

      I wouldn’t say being an atheist is a primary part of my identity. I’ve always been an atheist, so to me it’s like having brown hair. It doesn’t come up in my daily life at all. Pretty much the only atheist-related thing I ever do is read this blog. I spend most of my time on the Internet engaged in other activities. And I visit this blog because I like to keep up on what’s happening in the world, and it’s interesting to learn what people in both the religious and secular spheres are saying and doing. I also like the interactive nature of the comment section.

      • Susan_G1

        Anna, I thought I answered this; I see that there is no response now. Sorry.

        I am learning about identity, and have read responses very similar to yours.The responses are very interesting; I guess it would be akin to asking someone who is apolitical how much being political figures into their identity maybe? Asking how an absence of belief in something is an identifier? I hope I’m not offending anyone inadvertently.

        Thanks for answering.

        • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

          If you don’t mind my butting in, I saw this and was interested.

          I think it’s accurate to say that my atheism is only a big part of my identity because so many people make it be. Religion is all around- my family is mostly Jewish (one branch converted to Christianity), and my husband’s family is Christian. We get together for Christmas and Passover and Easter and Hanukkah every year; religious holidays all. Religion comes up a lot- where do you go to church/synagogue, etc. And the God stuff comes up a lot- people thanking God for things, praying, talking about how they hope God does something or other. It’s inescapably public, which means it’s inescapable that my nonbelief is meaningful.

          • Anna

            That’s a good point. I have the luxury of not having atheism be an important part of my identity simply because I’ve always lived in secular environments. If I had to deal with religion more often in my daily life, perhaps the atheist label would jump several places up the list of things that define me.

          • Susan_G1

            May I ask you, do you feel resentful of the questions and customs, or tolerant? Or other? I think your last sentence is eloquent and helpful (well, it all is).

            I read an article today on an atheist site (no, I’m not stalking atheists; the titles are all on the right hand side!) about public prayer being offensive. I thought this might be resolved with a moment of public silence wherein people of faith could pray if they wanted to, and no atheist would need to be subjected to prayer, but this didn’t seem to be one of the options considered.

            • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

              I don’t resent them, but I just wish they weren’t quite so … omnipresent, I guess? I also wish that when I make my unbelief known (I’m only out to about half of my extended family) it didn’t immediately become a Big Deal and I have to answer a lot of questions about morality and origins of the universe and origins of life and such. Come to think of it, I wish I didn’t have to worry about being “out” about my beliefs or lack thereof.

              I really truly don’t mind the customs- they are, after all, family as well as religious customs and it’s great to get to see everyone. The questions are a little more annoying- I didn’t change at all. Who I am isn’t different. Why does believing in a deity or not matter so much to everyone else? On the other hand, if I can dispel some myths about atheists and atheism, or just tell people more about how I see the world, that’s no bad thing. So I guess it depends on my mood, the intentions of the questioner (hostile or inquiring), and a fair number of other factors on whether questions make me resentful at all.

              • Susan_G1

                Your dilemma is understandable, and your questions are valid. I would think once people have heard you, really heard you, they wouldn’t bring it up again (that is how my brother and I get along; I know he is an atheist, and he knows I’m a theist, and we don’t fight anymore about it. Not that I ragged on him for it; he ragged on me. Kind of the opposite problem you have experienced.)

                I wouldn’t enjoy having to have the same conversation over and over either. Maybe I’m doing that here?

                • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

                  Not at all. You clearly want to hear the answer and learn from it- not change your mind about anything, just learn more about the world around you. It is a sadly rare thing to encounter, so I really appreciate talking to you. This isn’t a conversation I’ve had very often, actually. I wish I had this one more often.

                  That, and I’m enough of an egotist to like talking about myself lol!

                • Susan_G1

                  Thank you. I hope people really hear you, as you have done so kindly with me.

            • cyngus

              Are you for public prayers, in the US, for the Muslims? If not, why. If yes, why?

              Christians don’t like to believe that their prayers are to be kept inside their churches, but also in public because they are used to proselytize, thus disrespecting the views of the public that is not interested in religion.

        • Anna

          Actually, that’s exactly how I would describe it! Atheism isn’t a big part of my identity at all. “Atheist” is just one word that describes me, and I wouldn’t consider it a particularly important one. I suppose this could vary among individuals, though. Perhaps atheism has more significance to people who came from religious backgrounds. Since I never had a religion to begin with, I rarely think about not being part of one. My atheism only comes into the front of my mind when I encounter the supernatural beliefs of others.

          • Susan_G1

            thanks, I’m understanding this better.

    • Agrajag

      This is a atheist-website. If you visit a website dedicated to ANY topic you’ll find a lot of people there who talk a lot about that one topic. It doesn’t follow that this single topic is their entire life — or even a significant part of it.

      Being an atheist isn’t in the top-20 if you look at what I spend my time on. It might be in the top 50, I’ve never attempted making the list.

      • Susan_G1

        thanks. That helps me to see you more as a person. But my question is why do atheists seem to spend so much time ridiculing theists? I would think (this is just me) that atheists might be discussing things particular to their beliefs (for instance, what do you tell your children when they ask about dying, evil, etc.. But maybe this is a given that no one struggles with.) I don’t mean for this to precipitate an attack on what I believe (I don’t *think* I’ve attacked anyone’s beliefs here, though I don’t know a lot about them.)

        I am simply wondering why, if I look at, say, the friendly atheist posts, so many are focused on ridicule of theists.

        • baal

          Because the theists continue to ignore the law and claim special privileges in ways that harm us (and other groups as well). When someone is spitting on you, you tend not to ignore it and you don’t spend much time saying what positive items you were other wise working on.

          There are a number of posts on community building and other blogs (such as dan finke’s and “temple of reason” (james croft)) that focus on philosophy and community building.

        • phantomreader42

          Why do theists spend so much time lying about atheists and fantasizing about murdering and torturing us?

        • Anna

          Susan, how much time have you actually spent on this blog? I’ve always found the posts to be extremely diverse. While some posts are just for fun, many are focused on exactly the things you mentioned: what binds atheists together in a religious society, how to deal with religious friends and family members, how to “come out” about one’s atheism, how to deal with children’s questions about religion, etc.

          From my perspective, very few posts are of the “point and laugh” variety. They don’t exist just to be mocking. I would say the vast majority of negative posts are in reaction to harmful actions by religious people. We do criticize those actions and (some of us) also mock people who use their religious beliefs to hurt others. Which is relevant here because several of the religious practices on this list are, in fact, harmful to others.

          • Susan_G1

            Anna, I started looking at this particular site about 8 months ago. Not often, but every once in a while, more than that recently. I first visited when it was mentioned (kindly) in another patheos post.

            I haven’t seen many of the posts you mention. I did see the post dealing with death just today which I thought was moving and interesting (and to which I contributed). I would have thought there would be more of these.

            There probably are blog sites devoted to mocking atheists; I’ve never looked for them because that’s not anything that interests me. But I’m on patheos often enough to skim post titles and, well, my experience has already been stated. But thanks for your answers. I appreciate their content and your willingness to engage.

            Edited to add: I re-read the 15 rituals, and while I find a few of the true rituals unpleasant (I wouldn’t throw my baby off a building for any reason), I don’t really see any of them as harming innocent people, except for the ritual cleansing after circumcision. Putting hooks into skin and pulling things has been done culturally in several countries, and it’s harm can be debated when younger people are pressured into doing so. It may have a western relative in people who do strange subcutaneous augmentations accompanied by piercings that look quite painful.

        • Agrajag

          The thing is, atheism isn’t a belief. Not unless you consider “off” to be a tv-channel or celibacy to be a sex-position.

          Friendly Atheist is USA-centric. In USA christianity is very dominant. You frequently see people in power utter hateful and disparaging comments directed at atheists. There’s a concerted effort to get blatant nonsense like creationism into schools.

          For example, Robert Sherman interviewed Bush and the following exchange took place: “Sherman: Surely you recognize the equal citizenship and patriotism of Americans who are atheists? Bush: No, I don’t know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots.”

          Read it again. This isn’t some nobody. This is a guy who was elected president by popular vote.

          Can you imagine anyone saying that about women, about blacks, about jews, and getting away with it ? And go on to be elected president ? “I don’t think women should be considered citizens” or “I don’t think afro-americans should be considered citizens” ? “I don’t think jews should be considered citizens” ?

          I think someone who uttered such a statement on the record would be finished as a presidential candidate. That the same kind of hatred towards atheists is acceptable, says a lot about the US, and not in a good way. (it would be unthinkable for i.e. a Norwegian or a German head-of-state to utter a similar thing)

          As for ridicule as a weapon of choice – we all need a laugh now and then. And reasoned critiques of religion has been made to the point where that’s all pretty much settled by now. There’s no need (imho) to offer additional arguments why creationism (for example) is nonsense. It is. And that’s been well established.

          There’s flat-earthers in the world too. Few bothers creating new arguments against their belief: it’s not needed. We bloody well *know* that earth is round. So instead we tend to treat them like a joke, to ridicule the belief. As it well deserves. Indeed “flat earther” has come to mean “person who rejects the blindingly obvious”

          Atheists are concerned with what christians say and do chiefly because they hold power.

          For the same reason, you will find that feminists spend a lot of time talking about “the patriarchy” and what men say and do — including ridiculing men who do silly misogynist things.

          • Susan_G1

            Thanks, these are good points. I’m shocked that Bush would say that, or even think that. I don’t know why he wasn’t held accountable for it. It’s incredibly wrong and insulting. I can relate to teaching creationism in schools; it’s… well, ridiculous. I’ve seen Christians calling each others flat-earthers as an insult as well, which I think is terrible. I was once called a flat earther in a Christian thread. I think it was right after being called ‘blazingly stupid’. I was pretty insulted.

            But, I’m a feminist. I believe in evolution in a community that largely does not. As I said above, I lost a large part of my community when I separated from my husband. I became a doctor in the days where female applicants were asked (in every interview), Why should we give you a spot when you’re likely to take time off for a family, while a man will provide service to the public those years? I was the first female physician many of my patients had. Before that, I was a cancer researcher. The good old boy network there made medicine look like girl scouts. So I am not unacquainted with discrimination. I just don’t remember mocking people for it.

            I guess I don’t notice anti-atheist sentiment because I don’t experience it. But, I will start looking more carefully for it and will oppose it when I do see it.

            So, thank you for your response. It’s really good food for thought.

            • Agrajag

              The shocking thing isn’t that someone would think or say that people of the wrong faith are lesser human beings — people who should not properly be considered citizens or patriots. The shocking thing is that a presidential candidate in a democracy, one that prides itself on separating state and religion, one that considers itself the epitome of freedom, would say it — and NOBODY WOULD CARE. What is shocking to me is that someone who says that, can go on to become the democratically elected president of the worlds one remaining superpower.

              Thing is, religious folks are used to holding all the power. Historically, they’re used to harsh punishments for those who even dare critiquing their opinions. But there isn’t and shouldn’t be a freedom not to be critiqued. If you believe the world is flat, and people laugh at you, that’s your own damn fault. Furthermore, the christian are being the bullies here. When christians do stupid shit (pardon my language), they deserve being called out on it. Even laughed at. If they prefer not to be laughed at, they should consider doing less stupid shit.

              You’re a feminist you say. I dare say, if you frequent feminist spaces on the web (I do !), you see plenty of critique and ridicule of certain aspects of male behaviour. The logic is the same.

          • Alaina Brooks

            I’m stealing your first comment about tv and celibacy. It’s perfect!

            • Agrajag

              You’re welcome ! I stole them from somewhere too, though I no longer recall where I saw them first.

    • Baby_Raptor

      You’re the shallow idiot trying to gauge an entire group by one person’s blog posts, and you have the balls to question us?

    • badgerchild

      Susan, we are many things. While I am posting on British expat websites, I am the wife of an immigrant. While I am commenting on law blogs, I am a law student. While I am posting on a knitting blog, I am a craftswoman. Nobody on those blogs and forums has thought to ask “Hey you spend a lot of time here; don’t you have anything better to do, or do you solely define yourself by your presence on these blogs?” It sounds very strange to me that you do, and it says to me that you see me as nothing but the fact of my posting presence here.

      Are you able to see us as people with lives, or is our presence here so overwhelming to you that you can’t see us as anything but disembodied voices with a viewpoint that you can’t accept?

      • Susan_G1

        well, your second question first: Your presence here is not overwhelming; I probably wouldn’t have posted if it were. Disembodied voices… that is a good point, because that’s pretty much what all comments are. But your viewpoint is definitely one I can accept.

        The first question: you reworded my question a bit. I wanted to know if atheists had an identifier outside of ridiculing theists. I said nothing about your presence on blogs or how that was to be viewed. I spend a significant amount of time on blogs; that doesn’t primarily define my existence, but it is a small part of my identity. I do not see you on other blog sites, so how can I know that aspect of you? But, you have already given me an answer to identity that I asked for. Thank you.

        • badgerchild

          Sure. I think you might really have been asking why this issue is so important to us that we spend so much time on it. Well, in my case I have an answer. Things that happen to us sometimes have lasting impacts. Think about someone who was told constantly as a child by their parents and other elders that they were worthless, ugly, and incapable of having an opinion that is taken seriously, who heard every day that there was no point trying to be good because they would always be bad inside, who was taught that the only way to be acceptable to the people they depended on for food, warmth, and affection was to admit every day that they were worthless and incapable of being good, and to thank the big people for their toleration and generosity. Would you be surprised if someone had to spend at least as many years in therapy to assure themselves that they are worthy, decent, and capable of living life without the oversight of Big People? Well, I was a religious woman until I was 35. I suppose I will stop hanging out on forums and posting on blogs and going to atheist meetings in about 25 years.

          • Susan_G1

            Your response is painful to read; I would wish that no one grew up that way. It reminds me of Rachel Slick’s experience, which grieved me deeply.

            I’m not questioning why you’re here. If you find happiness, community and support here, that is wonderful. I would wish that for you, as I would wish you had had parents who had loved you much better.

            I am sorry you had religion inculcated into you that way. But it doesn’t answer my question. My question is about ridicule. If ridicule helps you, then that is an honest and acceptable answer.

            • cyngus

              Yes Susan, ridiculing and laughing at religions is the perfect way to get freedom from under its abuses, intimidation and terror. Sure, some got burned at stake some are beheaded, still it is worth to have the freedom to laugh at Christians and Muslims.

              I felt, as an ex-Christian, and I feel in the real life that Christians have a forced laugh, nervous laugh and some righteous laugh, kind of “you’ll see after you die”, at the unbelievers.

              Religionists hate laughing, for it is the most serious part of being human. We got free from being scared by the natural world, and now, by laughing we get free from being scared by the supernatural world fabricated by religionists.

        • Terry Firma

          removed by author.

    • The Other Weirdo

      This is only entertainment for me. In my real, meat life, I am an Admiral of Terran Warfleet 15, sleeping my way across the universe with a bevy of bodacious alien babes and enforcing Terra’s diplomatic dictates from behind a fully charged phaser bank.

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      And yet here you are, spending your free time seeking out people so you can complain about how they spend their free time amongst themselves. That plank must be quite painful.

      • Susan_G1

        Of course I have a plank in my eye. I’d like to understand atheists in a better light. So far, the folks who have engaged me have helped me to do that, although I’d like to have a more rounded picture. Perhaps a blog site is not a place where I’ll get that picture.

        • phantomreader42

          Well, if you comment on a blog site whining about why people are commenting on the blog site you’re commenting on, then you’re not going to learn much because people will be too busy laughing at your hypocrisy for their own amusement. Of course, if you wanted to learn from people posting comments on a blog, then you wouldn’t start in by telling people they’re wasting their time commenting on blogs, because that’s a bit counterproductive, passive-aggressive, stupid, and hypocritical. So in that situation you deserve to be mocked for the entertainment of others, and you really brought it on yourself.

        • C.L. Honeycutt

          Do you not have any better things to do than laugh at theists

          This isn’t a request for clarification or an attempt to engage, though. It’s phrased as a complaint.

    • treedweller

      Late to the party, but I have an answer I didn’t see here.

      As others said, I am not actively atheist, but the point of this blog is to discuss issues relating to atheism, so it comes out more here.

      But when I do promote atheistic ideas outside this site, it is largely a self-defense measure, coupled with a desire to support others who may feel isolated and ostracized by their beliefs (as I have inthe past).

      As a former Christian, I know how hard it is to step,outside that mindset. I know how pervasive the negative attitudes against atheism can be inthe religious community. But it really shouldn’t be that difficult to see the difference between gratuitous mockery and assertions of one’s personal rights. Christians in this country like to think of public schools as “our” schools and councils/legislatures/etc. as “our” government. The fact is, there have always been non-Christians here, but the vestiges of witch-brining attitudes have cowed most of them into keeping quiet as an act of self-preservation. If you spend much time at this site, you will notice a recurring theme of people speaking out against a religious practice in government and getting insulted, threatened, and/or excommunicated as a result. I am in a relatively safe place by comparison, so I speak out against things that have “always” happened even though they were illegal. For decades, when an atheist asks a school to remove a prayer, the response is, “nobody complained before.” Well, I’m complaining. Or,the response has been, “if you don’t like our Christian nation, leave!” Well, this is explicitly not a Christian nation. I find that one of the wisest moves our founders made, and I will continue to support it. If Christians want to live in a nation that has an official religion, maybe they should leave. There are many options available to them. But the USA is not one. And we are tired of Christians trying to buffalo us into believing otherwise.

      • Susan_G1

        I don’t disagree with you at all. I strongly support the separation of Church and State, but, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere in this thread, not being an atheist, I’m not sensitized to the discrimination you feel at every turn. So I’m sympathetic and will look out for it more, and speak out. I personally do not believe we are a Christian Nation. And, “if you don’t agree, leave the country” was a very common and disgusting retort to protesters of the Viet Nam War. (Now you know my ballpark age, and maybe can guess where I stood on that war – my older brother was drafted, and I protested it.)

        You say, gratuitous mockery, and I think, then, that you must know how I feel about that, not because you were once a Christian, but because you labelled it the way I feel about it. I am a click away from it, but I used to get so tired of my brother blaming me for the Crusades and pedophilia in the Catholic Church. I’m not even a Catholic.

        Anyway, yes, separation of Church and State, and more respect. Thank you for responding.

        • Magitekwarrior

          The tone of your question:
          “Do you not have any better things to do than laugh at theists, or is this your primary identity?”
          - is one of rebuke to those who would mock. If you don’t agree perhaps you should have rephrased the question.

          To answer it:
          This is a forum where mockery is acceptable because:
          - Its justified since religious folk do silly things.
          - its a safe place to do so, without christians don’t do violence in response to valid criticism.

          Btw, I think you are a bit disengenious when dismissing catholicism,etc. Christians like yourself will always defend THEIR form of christianity by saying: “Yeh, people do crazy things IN THE NAME OF Jesus because they’re crazy..” But, as the great Christopher Hitchens always aluded to, most evil actions of the religious comes NOT from their overzealousnessness but precisely because of strict religious injunctions to commit horrible acts – like baby circumcision, like violence on the LGBT. These acts are COMMANDED.

          You may choose to ignore these injunctions because of your modern/western sensibilities, but that doesnt discount that they exist in the bible. [Read the story of Elisha and the bears to see the punishment for mere mocking]. This is exactly why we mock the religious – they hold most of the power and the muscle. And we, the “disciples” of Socrates retreat to the safety of satire and mockery because we don’t yet have the power to make the right changes..

          • Susan_G1

            Christians like yourself will always…
            Are you responsible for your own behavior?

            So am I. I am not responsible for the behavior of medieval popes or present day pedophiles. Nor am I responsible for what is in the Bible.

            You are not responsible for the actions of Stalin, Mao Zedong, Mussolini, Pol Pot or Kim Il Jung. You are not responsible for what is written in the Little Red Book.

            Also, as a physician, while I do not advocate sucking on newly circumcised penes, circumcision is medically indicated; even the American Board of Pediatrics has quietly stopped discouraging the practice because of overwhelming data regarding illnesses caused by retention of the foreskin. Instead, they recommend circumcision with anesthesia.

            • Magitekwarrior

              To answer your question: I think that people are responsible for their own conduct. I apologize if it seems that I saying that are you responsible for those things. But you should acknowledge that the Crusades and things like that are done BECAUSE those people are christian. The Bible has specific injunctions to kill. Does that make you responsible? No. absolutely not. Just like the sins of Adam and Eve doesnt taint the entire world.

              Stalin and Mao did things because of their own agenda – being sadistic, sociapathic, power hungry dictators – NOT because they were atheist. If you say that they did these things because they were atheist, then you might as well say that because Mussolini and Hitler both had mustouches – that must be the reason they committed attrocities. Its a silly notion. That kind of silliness and the Elisha bible story shows you exactly why atheists use mockery. Would you send bears to maul those who mocked you?

              Again, you aren’t reponsible, BUT you accept the Bible. That also means, you tacitly accept the things it advocates. If you don’t accept everything the Bible says, then are you sure that you are a christian? Catholics accept the Bible – atrocities and all.

              Many christians don’t question things like the Elisha story because, more likely than not, they don’t know it exists. So, when atheists mock it, they think that this somehow disparages them – because the bible is part of their identity, because they BELIEVE its good/true. Its demonstrably not.

              What can atheists do when christians won’t examine something like the Elisha story – or won’t accept evolution because it contradicts Genesis.

              Most times, Mockery and Satire are the only weapons we can use. It has nothing to do with identity and everything to do with claims that have never been reconciled with reality.

              • Susan_G1

                I am sorry to disagree, but Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao all thought religion was poison, and started right off with the intent to destroy religion, killing the religious (priests, clergymen, buddhist monks, etc.). To say that you can’t kill in the name of atheism because you can’t kill for something you don’t believe is, in fact, untrue. If you do not believe in God, and you say, I’m will kill anyone who disagrees with me about what I think is the proper way to think about god, which is that there is no god, that is killing for the sake of atheism, not killing for the sake of having a mustache.

                If you don’t accept everything the Bible says, then are you sure that you are a christian?

                This highlights your underthinking of what it means to be a Christian. A Christian is a follower of Christ, not someone who believes all of the Bible. I believe, as is quite common in Protestant (ie, non-Catholic) belief, that Christ did away with the law, all of the law (even the ten commandments), when He came and fulfilled it, replacing it all with the Great Commandment.

                You should know what you’re mocking. I learned a lot by questioning here from the people willing to engage with *me*, not a preconceived notion of me.

                • Phasespace

                  In point of clarification, the Russian communists didn’t really think religion was poison. They were jealous of it. The reason they went after the churches is because they wanted people to worship the communist state, and they didn’t want any competition. They also had a bone to pick with the eastern orthodox church and it’s close ties to the czars. It wasn’t so much that they hated religion as that the dominant religion had become part of their view of who their oppressors were. I’d wager that Mao held a similar position. I’m not so sure about Pol Pot, but probably.

                  I’m not going to disagree with you that a person can “kill in the name of atheism,” I think you’ve made your point, but I question how often that really happens. Your examples aren’t very good ones on that score. There’s almost always more of an agenda than simply that.

                  Re: what it means to be a Christian… The problem here is that this all too quickly devolves into the No True Scotsman fallacy, and general incoherence about what it actually means. I’m not questioning your label for yourself, I’m questioning the coherence of it when you decide that there are parts of doctrine that you can rather arbitrarily disregard. It’s just a little too convenient and self serving for me.

                  In other words, I can read someone like Terry Eagleton or Karen Armstrong and agree 100% with their criticisms of someone like Al Mohler. At the same, I agree 100% with Al Mohler’s criticisms of Eagleton and Armstrong. To me, that’s a huge problem for Christianity at a fundamentally epistemological level, no matter how you define yourself within that milieu.

                • Susan_G1

                  Things are not as simple as they seem, though many atheists like to refer to the Crusades without the benefit of your charity.

                  Stalin was a follower of Marx, whose beliefs are known to all who care to read. His devotion to Darwinism (when he would himself profess his atheism) is also readily available. “Man is the engineer of the soul,” I believe is one of his sayings.

                  As to why some 50+ million people died under Stalin, I’ll let someone who lived through it give his opinion.

                  In 1983, Alexander I. Solzhenitsyn, winner of the 1970 Nobel Prize for Literature, gave an address in London in which he attempted to explain why so much evil had befallen his people:

                  “Over a half century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of old people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.”

                  “Since then I have spent well-nigh 50 years working on the history of our revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some 60 million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to
                  repeat: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.”

                • Phasespace

                  Sorry Susan, but what you have just written above makes absolutely no sense.

                  First you accuse me (or atheists in general) of being overly simplistic about…something. The Crusades, I guess, as if that subject has been breeched at all here. I’m not talking about the crusades, and I’m not about to bring them up. They are irrelevant. They are just as irrelevant as this whole business about the link between atheism and communism that you are trying to make, and I’m trying to get across to you, that you’re not making anything remotely close to a convincing argument in this respect.

                  Then you commit the very sin you accuse me of, by name dropping Darwin and impugning atheism as the cause of all the trouble in Russia, as though that is anything but simplistic, jingoistic McCarthyism.

                  I am well aware of Marx’s thoughts on religion. Are you aware of Lenin’s and Stallin’s?

                  Have you read enough Marx to know that he would have disagreed with what Lenin and Stallin (and Mao) did?

                  Do you know that Marx would’ve said that neither Russia nor China were ready for a communist revolution, and that these revolutions would be fomented in the industrialized west, not in societies that had largely agrarian economies like both Russia and China?

                  Do you know enough about Lenin and Stallin’s view of Marx to know that they knew they weren’t following Marx, but that they decided that they would keep a totalitarian gov’t in place until Russia was ready for one? And ironically, in deciding to institute their totalitarian gov’t by force they massacred huge numbers of people who, according to Marx, would’ve been their biggest supporters if they had been ready for “the revolution?”

                  And if you think the Russian people forgot about God during communism, then the Russian orthodox church wouldn’t have so quickly recovered since the fall of communism in Russia.

                  Overly simplistic indeed. But you’re the one guilty of it.

                  And for the record, I’m not defending Communism. I’m highly skeptical of all forms of utopian-style socio-economic ideology. Whether it is communism on the left or reactionary Randian libertarian conservatism on the right.

                  Frankly, I’d much rather see you address my point about the general incoherency of Christianity and how exactly you personally resolve it. Have you ever even considered that problem? Do you ignore it?

                • Susan_G1

                  First, please let me say that I was not implying Darwin was guilty of anything except being extraordinarily open-minded. I mention his name because these are direct quotes of Stalin on when he lost his faith.

                  Second, yes, I know quite a bit about Marx and the differences between his ideology and the twisting of it that produced tyrants like Lenin and Stalin. I took a semester on Marx alone, and have taught and read about communism significantly since then.

                  As to what subjects have been breached here, you would need to read more of the comments to understand that, it seems.

                  As to faith, there are problems with it, of course. Why would a good God create people who He knew would spend eternity in Hell? That was one thing that turned me away from belief for many years. So, have I considered Christianity’s claims? Of course I have. Do I ignore them? No, I keep looking deeper to seek to understand things I do not yet understand. But I started to believe in God when I was doing Molecular Biology in grad school. I remember a day when the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences came out with a sequenced genome of a phage virus, and everybody that day was so stunned that we were all saying, there must be a God. You had to be there, and understand the nature of what light was shed on to know how it felt. Here I was, in a National Lab, and we were all talking about a God for the first time in my adult life, because we could not understand the exquisite complexity before us in any other way. For some, that passed. For me, it was the beginning of the road, and I have not been disappointed.

                  There are many scientists who are Christians. Francis Collins, the head of the NIH, is a Christian who believes in evolution (as do I). We can sleep at night.

                • cyngus

                  “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.”

                  ===

                  Actually the atrocities happened NOT because men have forgotten God, but because men remembered God and went to commit atrocities. From the whole bulk of the Bible, it seems that just a tiny “Jesus is love” seems free of atrocity… until you find out that not accepting “Jesus love” gets you into an eternal trouble.

                  You are a “true” Christian, for as you say “A Christian is a follower of Christ, not someone who believes all of the Bible.” Indeed, a “true” Christian is one who’s cherry picking the beloved Bible and distancing himself/ herself from other Christians who believe all of the Bible, or passages you, as a “true” Christian, do not believe.

  • h2ocean

    Darn, I got 2/3 right! I thought spitting on the baby was fake and licking the testicles was real:

    1) Interesting. How sure are we that this is purely medical? In a lot of cultures, where medicine begins and religion ends can be difficult to determine.

    3) Darn I should have got this one. I think this is mentioned in some detail in the book “The Year of Living Biblically” by AJ Jacobs

    5) This at least seems reasonable given the lack of better things to do with dead bodies. It is quite a poetic way to discard of your corps. I think lot of otherwise non-religious people/atheists like the metaphorical idea of your matter contributing to the life of something else. Plus, if you think of birds as dinosaurs, it makes it cooler :)

    7) Interesting that it is only the daughters.

    14) Seemed realistic enough. Given that it has to do with fertility and perhaps an element of danger (e.g., getting kicked in the head) it seems like it could be a male rite of passage.

    Good job Terry!

  • pkgsf96

    FYI, it’s Maasai, not Massai.

    (fwiw, the spitty link writers couldn’t get it right, either :p )

    • Terry Firma

      Corrected. Thanks!

  • RedGreenInBlue

    I’m a bit disappointed in myself. I recognised nos. 3-6, 8, 10-12 and 15 as real practices (couldn’t remember where I’d heard about no. 12, although I knew that it was real), so my task was simplified: I only had six options from which to pick the three fakes. And still I got none right! Even if I had picked at random, the probability of that happening was only 0.05. I blame the high concentration of religious weirdness for that: it clearly warped the very fabric of statistics ;-)

  • Jen

    I laughed ridiculously hard at your daughter’s joke! Thanks a million!

  • captain_picard

    I think #8 has scarred me for life.

    • islandbrewer

      Literally or figuratively? My condolences either way.

  • Miss_Beara

    I really thought the baby dropping one was fake.

    • midnight rambler

      I got the impression that most people assumed from the description that the babies were dropped straight onto the ground, and killed.

      • allein

        I think you’re right about that. I had actually heard about it before, so I knew that one was real (hell, it may have been posted here..). I initially had 2 out of 3 right and then I read the comments and changed my mind on the one I had wrong. But that was against the rules so I lose anyway.

        • midnight rambler

          Same here. I knew about half o them were real, and was fairly certain about 9 and 14, but that last one was tough. I did correctly predict that 1 was either close to a real thing or a real but non-religious practice, so I think that should count for something right? ;)

  • GubbaBumpkin

    During the yearly fall festival, taking enemas of lemongrass smoke, for purification.

    That one was pretty obviously fake. Everyone knows lemongrass is more effective when administered in the spring.
    BTW, did you put in some research effort to ensure you didn’t accidentally stumble across any real rituals while making up bizarre shit?

  • Susan_G1

    I thought 2, 8, and 12 were wrong: 0/3. #8 is scary (the herpes thing). How sad to have a child die for a belief (is it supposed to decrease pain?) And, yes, I’m aware that children die from strange beliefs in Christianity as well, but I am not a Jehovah’s Witness or a cult-of-no-medicine-but-God member. So that is sad to me as well.

    Thanks to all who answered my personal questions with patience and kindness.

    • allein

      I did a google search for why they do this, and mostly what I got was stuff about legal cases and risks of infection. Wikipedia did have this quote: “the Talmud states that the rationale for this part of the ritual was hygienic — i.e., to protect the health of the child,” but that was the closest I could find for an actual reason for the practice, other than it is simply a requirement of the whole circumcision ritual.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brit_milah

      • Susan_G1

        ok, thanks! Maybe it was useful back when it started.

        • allein

          Apparently part of the practice involved taking a sip of wine and holding it in the mouth, sucking the blood off, and then spitting both out. Don’t know if the wine actually was in contact with the wound but maybe they thought it would cleanse it? There might be some merit to that, though it seems direct application without the sucking would be more effective. Sounds like it would sting, though. Poor baby :(

          • Susan_G1

            Yeah, it sounds very much like using wine as an antiseptic. It would sting like crazy. Too bad; they could have rinsed it and used honey instead. Would have accomplished the same thing with less pain.

            • badgerchild

              There’s no overestimating the importance of blood in Jewish mysticism. I can’t even think what, but there must be some idea that it is ritually purer or less dangerous for the blood to be handled that way rather that rinsed off into the earth directly. I can’t imagine a normal mohel relishing that part of the task.

  • allein

    Re: #12 (naked Shinto tag*) –
    “All this fun was conceived 13 centuries ago as a way to ward off the plague.” …seems to me that, “[a]fter that, Shin-otoko plays tag with as many as 9,000 sake-besotted men in loincloths” would be a great way to do just the opposite…

    *(I was going to say “coed naked Shinto tag” but it sounds like it was just the guys.)

  • John Small Berries

    But fear not: by giving the church ever more money, you can learn how to fight these fiends and become “clear.”

    Not quite correct. Scientologists aren’t told about Xenu and the Body Thetans until Operating Thetan Level III; they can’t begin the OT levels until they’ve achieved the rank of Clear.

    • WillThor

      It’s a Free2Play game that locks out important exposition until you open your wallet sufficiently wide. One could wonder why anyone plays it, yet they do.

    • Taneli Huuskonen

      Besides, the Body Thetans aren’t hostile, just permanently too shocked to do anything but mindlessly cling to you, causing you trouble simply by being there. On OT III, you contact the BTs telepathically one by one and audit them (Scientology equivalent of psychotherapy) until they kind of wake up and go away to mind their own business elsewhere. It’s a win-win for everyone.

      • The Other Weirdo

        Especially the people who get paid to shill this.

  • Michael Harrison

    Maybe not real, but the swallowing of pebbles reminds me of a story that described a fictitious ritual to become a divine avatar.

  • cary_w

    Congratulations everyone! Together we got the right answers! I only got one right on my own (14) but after reading all the comments and doing a little crowd sourcing, I feel the group of commenters as a whole got the right answer. After reading and tallying up all the comments, there was little doubt that 9 and 14 were fake and thanks to the knowledge of the obscure from badgerchild and Jim Jones, became clear that out of the other three most often claimed to be false, the real false one must be number 1.

    While it was fun to get the right answer, reading that list was really horrifying. There is only one practice that has any practical usefulness at all (the sky burials), or two, if you count deodorizing your car with perfumed smoke, I guess that’s at least not harmful to anyone.

    • guest

      I think you could argue that smoke inhalation is harmful over the longer term. It can lead to lung cancer and it speeds up the release of greenhouse gasses into the environment. But maybe I’m being picky…

  • Quatsch83

    Snarky atheist, maybe. Friendly atheist, not so much.

  • Heina Dadabhoy

    FYI a version of #5 is practiced by Zoroastrians.

  • kpax2012

    Wow. I totally got my three wrong. Religion is more fantastic than fantasy fiction.

  • Michael Pipkin

    A correction on #13: Bullet Ant bites are not venomous, but their stings are. The ants do have very large jaws – the tribes mentioned above will sometimes get the ants to bite around a cut, then twist the head off. The head will stay in place with the jaws clamped, forming a suture of sorts. However, the bites are a mere annoyance. The sting, however, has been rated the most painful sting among all hymenoptera in the world.

  • WillBell

    It seems after being told about #2 I had the rest correct. :)

  • John Evans

    Ragh! Matsuri means festival. This makes me as angry as people who say ATM Machine. (Hadaka means naked, btw)

    • Alaina Brooks

      Ha ha, about the ATM thing. Dimitri Martin (comedian on short lived show “Important Things” on Comedy Central) did a joke about that. I just say ATM -achine. You are probably like me and hate “de-thaw” and “irregardless” too.

  • Donovan W Baker

    Great job, Need to do this more often. Thank you.

  • John H

    #12 is awesome.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X