Friday, August 31, 2012


A couple of years ago I started to really look into the "Evolution/Creationism" debate. One of the things that I noticed right away is that very few people were in the debate. There are a few reasons for this. First, the argument is one-sided. The creationists make claims and challenges and scientists are forced to respond. Most scientists I have seen are annoyed by the wild claims and assertions from groups like Answers in Genesis, who created a museum in Kentucky displaying humans and vegetarian velociraptors living harmoniously together before Noah's flood. It seems that those who side with evolution just want the other side to go away since they haven't presented any convincing arguments for creationism (such is the problem of faith-based beliefs).

The second thing I noticed is that many on the side of creationism no longer call it creationism. The new(-ish) term is "Intelligent Design." The primary reason for this distinction is that creationism has been shown in a court of law to be religious--not science--and therefore, cannot be taught in science classrooms in public schools. There are some other minor differences between creationism and Intelligent Design. For instance, ID does not really make any claims, but rather focuses on holes in evolutionary theory. After enough gaps have been punched in, they then say, "See, doesn't it makes just as much sense that a Supreme Being created everything out of thin air as evolution?" Of course this is just another incarnation of the "god of the gaps" logical fallacy, but the interesting thing about this is that it is merely an argument for deism, not theism.

Groups like the Discovery Institute seek to give ID credibility through science. Most often they do this by grasping at the straws of Irreducible Complexity, which they claim would prove the necessary existence of a deity or prime mover. But, as you might have guessed, every attempt they make at showing how irreducibly complex a chemical process or biological system is, it is met with overwhelming evidence by dozens of reputable scientists that this is not the case.

One of the most compelling displays of this "David and Goliath" battle of wits is the Kitzmiller v Dover trial of 2005. So great was the intellectual arse-pounding given by Scientists such as Ken Miller (videos below) to the ID supporters trying to get their religion into public schools via legislation, that the Discovery Institute failed to show up as originally planned. Let that sink in for a minute. Furthermore, the judge at the trial (who was a Bush-appointed conservative) was so disgusted by the ID supporters and their lack-luster arguments that in his 139 page ruling denying the teaching of ID in public classrooms, he stated that ID was just another name for creationism and was, therefore, religious in nature and not scientific.

As you might imagine, when I found out about this trial I was tickled pink. But as I continued my research, I stumbled upon a site which tickled me even pinker. But first, some background. Also in 2005 (it was a good year for science), the Kansas School Board was trying to pass similar legislation to allow the teaching of ID in public schools. One day they received a letter from a college student named Bobby Henderson offering support for their efforts. After championing their cause he adds the following:

"Let us remember that there are multiple theories of Intelligent Design. I and many others around the world are of the strong belief that the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster. It was He who created all that we see and all that we feel. We feel strongly that the overwhelming scientific evidence pointing towards evolutionary processes is nothing but a coincidence, put in place by Him."

"It is for this reason that I’m writing you today, to formally request that this alternative theory be taught in your schools, along with the other two theories. In fact, I will go so far as to say, if you do not agree to do this, we will be forced to proceed with legal action. I’m sure you see where we are coming from. If the Intelligent Design theory is not based on faith, but instead another scientific theory, as is claimed, then you must also allow our theory to be taught, as it is also based on science, not on faith."  [emphasis added]

Brilliant, simply brilliant.

As I have said before, if one religious view is supported by the government, then all religious views must also be supported. Mr Henderson went on to found the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, which is one of the best things I have ever stumbled upon on the Internet. Seriously, check it out. And just in case you get the impression that it is an atheist fan-boy site, Mr Henderson says the following: 

"Let me make this clear: we are not anti-religion, we are anti- crazy nonsense done in the name of religion. There is a big difference. Our ideal is to scrutinize ideas and actions but ignore general labels."

To close, I would like to bear my testimony of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, sauce be upon Him. For I have been touched by his noodly appendage and look forward to the day when I shall see him in heaven amid the stripper factory and beer volcano.



Here is Ken Miller explaining common ancestry:

And one more of Ken Miller debunking Irreducible Complexity:

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


“We want to help … strengthen them, to assist them with their problems and to help them with their difficulties. But we cannot stand idle if they indulge in immoral activity, if they try to uphold and defend and live in a so-called same-sex marriage situation. To permit such would be to make light of the very serious and sacred foundation of God-sanctioned marriage and its very purpose, the rearing of families.”
--Gordon B. Hinckley (former prophet, seer, and revelator of the Mormon Chruch)
"And again, verily I say unto you, that whoso forbiddeth to marry is not ordained of God, for marriage is ordained of God unto man."
--Doctrine & Covenants 49:15
I sometimes hesitate to use the word "bigot" to describe those who oppose gay marriage for religious reasons. The sliding scale of discrimination indicates that bigotry is a particularly fierce type of discrimination, which you can look up here. There are degrees of severity. For instance, not all racists think that blacks should be enslaved. Some might just promote segregated schools, or white-only drinking fountains, or maybe just higher wages for those with red hair.
In the early days of the abolition of slavery there were certainly many people who thought slavery was justified (as outlined in the Bible), and many others were opposed to it. Social change only happens when that big fuzzy middle ground consisting of the bulk of the population starts to sway to a new direction. It may have began with some viewing slavery as being exceptionally cruel, and deciding black people should not be enslaved. Later, they may see other manifestations of racism as unjustifiable until eventually blacks are given the right to vote and own property. Even after blacks were allowed to sit at the front of the bus, and businesses were no longer allowed to refuse to hire someone based on their race, some people in the middle still thought blacks were less intelligent than white people. Now, are these racist ideas as extreme as slavery? Does opposition of one aspect of black culture indicate bigotry? I don't think so.
Sure, technically it is racism, but it is not necessarily bigotry. This is how I see many conservative people who, rather than outright condemn homosexuality and gay marriage, promote "traditional marriage." The Big Middle is starting to shift. Even the most conservative churches are modifying their views on homosexuality. For instance, the Mormon Church has stopped trying to "cure" homosexuals, and instead are focusing on chastity before marriage. And for the Mormon Church this is progress. Unfortunately, what they fail to mention is that they are not merely advocating abstinence for everyone, but rather, they are saying heterosexuals should be abstinent before marriage and homosexuals, who can not marry, should be celibate. There is a subtle distinction here. It took me a while to really understand the difference between abstinence and celibacy, but I think I got it.
Let's start with abstinence, which is abstaining from sexual intercourse. In the Mormon Church this means no premarital sex. You can still hold hands, kiss, cuddle, and date, so long as these things do not lead to sex. Mormons, and other conservatives, also tend to include a prohibition on masturbation with abstinence, although, this is not always the case. In the end, the goal is marriage, where you can have sex as much as you want. This is important, as this makes abstinence a temporary condition with a clear end-game.
Celibacy is quite different. Celibacy does not simply prohibit sex. It takes abstinence to a further extreme. Not only can you not have sex, but you also can not date, hold hands, kiss, cuddle, or do anything which would lead to sexual arousal in anyway. Furthermore, while abstinence has a clear goal to get married and start having sex, celibacy is a life-long commitment. No marriage and no sex for your entire life--not even masturbation. This is how the nuns and priests in the Catholic Church live, and many in the Mormon Church have openly criticized them for this practice. Yet, this is exactly how homosexuals need to live in order to remain in good standing with the Mormon Church.
Consider this quote from former president of the Mormon Church, Gordon B. Hinckley: "We love and honor [gays and lesbians] as sons and daughters of God. They are welcome in the Church. It is expected, however, that they follow the same God-given rules of conduct that apply to everyone else, whether single or married."
I had great respect for Mr. Hinckley, as he was the president of the church while I was on my mission. But this statement shows great ignorance on his part. The rules of conduct for gays and lesbians in the church are not the same as those for heterosexuals. He seeks to equate abstinence with celibacy, when they are clearly different. And this double standard in no way shows "love and honor" to homosexuals. He should have said, "Gays and lesbians are welcome so long as they act straight."
A few months ago a video came out by "an unofficial group of Brigham Young University students, faculty, and friends who wish to strengthen families and the BYU community by providing a place for open, respectful discussions on the topic of same-gender attraction," known as USGA (Understanding Same-Gender Attraction). This video seeks to shed some light on homosexuals in the Mormon Church. At first I was quite excited to watch it. But as I got to the end of the video I realized that they were not saying that "It Gets Better" for homosexuals in the church or that the church is changing its stance on homosexuality, but that there exist some members of the church who sympathize with gays and lesbians, most of whom are themselves gays and lesbians. They are not advocating change, but solidarity in affliction. And still, sadly, this is progress.
I will include some videos from the official "It Gets Better" campaign below, but before I get to that, consider the following video of a middle-aged man who spent 12 years in the Mormon Church's reparative therapy program (i.e. pray away the gay) called Evergreen (I know how much weight testimonies carry in Mormonism).
While I may not call individual members of the Mormon Church "bigots" for opposing gay marriage, the Church itself, which may be calling for the equivalent of segregated drinking fountains rather than slavery, is advocating discrimination as indicated by this quote from Mr. Hinckley (same article as as above):
"Some portray legalization of so-called same-sex marriage as a civil right. This is not a matter of civil rights; it is a matter of morality. Others question our constitutional right as a church to raise our voice on an issue that is of critical importance to the future of the family. We believe that defending this sacred institution by working to preserve traditional marriage lies clearly within our religious and constitutional prerogatives. Indeed, we are compelled by our doctrine to speak out."
I need to be clear here. Smiley-faced, Biblically-based discrimination can still be bigotry. But I think it is possible to have a good understanding of the nature of homosexuality, and in all other ways support gay rights, but still oppose gay marriage for religious reasons. This is still discrimination based on religiously-charged morality (a moral imposition in my book) and is, therefore, wrong, but I would not necessarily call this bigotry. OK, I'm done splitting hairs.


And now REAL "It Gets Better Project" videos.
Adam Savage:
President Obama:
Stephen Colbert:

Sunday, August 26, 2012


A while back the Pew Research Center conducted a test on general religous knowledge, where, according to this test at least, atheists were deemed more knowledgable about religious topics than people who actually believe.

I scored 31/32...

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


In several of my posts I have used clips from the public access show "The Atheist Experience." I like the caller-driven format most of all, and they have hit pretty much every religious topic you can think of over their 14+ years on the air. But some people are put off by the (occasionally) abrasive way the hosts deal with certain (obnoxious) callers. So, I now present to you "The Thinking Atheist." This podcast and youtube channel have some great videos on many of the same topics as The Atheist Experience, but they are generally nicer about it. The host is a former Christian radio broadcaster, so he has keen insights into the Evangelical Christian world, and he has a soothing radio voice to boot. Here are some of my favorite clips.

After the Rapture:

Welcome to this World:

The Story of Susie:

Understanding Christianese:

Noah's Ark-God, Giraffes & Genocide:

And a special podcast on Christopher Hitchens:

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


This is a quick post of a video from comedian Julia Sweeny. It's been a while since I last listened to her story of leaving the Catholic Church, but I recall it being very clever and fun to listen to. Enjoy.

Monday, August 20, 2012


"I shall cast terror into the hearts of the infidels. Strike off their heads, strike off the very tips of their fingers."
--Sura 8:12 (Quran)

"America is all about speed. Hot, nasty, bad ass speed,"
--Eleanor Roosevelt, 1936 (from the film, "Talladega Nights")

People like sound bites. Witty quotes and catchy sayings make us feel like we know what we are talking about, by borrowing the certainty of others. It is a form of the age old logical fallacy: an argument from authority. As a society we value those who can convey ideas better than ourselves. But do big words or poetic rhythms a true statement make? How about proclamations by famous people?

A couple of weeks ago I engaged in a long conversation with a person who did not know I had left the Mormon church. At least, for the first 3 hours or so. After hitting a few preliminary topics like gay marriage, masturbation, and social services within the Mormon church, we finally hit the topic of reconciling religion with science. This is sort of a pet topic for me as I have written about this numerous times and is one of the things which led me to atheism. The person mentioned a few things which I want to discuss here. First, as philosophers like Friedrich Niche (an atheist) have asked, "What does society do if there is no god?"; science is a belief system, just like religion; and most importantly, they admitted to not being able to reconcile religion and science completely, but they believe in god anyway.

About the first point: asking the question "What does society do if there is no god?" assumes that religion fills some kind of social need. We didn't get into what that need is exactly, but often times this argument leads to the argument of objective morality. So, perhaps the question should be rephrased, "From where do we get our morals, if not god?" This question is as common as it is important. My stance is that morals are a result of empathy for our own species. This deals with the evolutionary development of human psychology. Species which tend to look out for each other will tend to survive more easily than those which isolate themselves (compare the populations of deer, seagulls, baboons and ants with tigers, lions, bears, or sharks). It can be mutually beneficial. As a social species, humans empathize and seek out interactions with other humans. This is where morality starts.

In a broader context, this leads to bigger questions which affect society as a whole. Or it can affect interactions between societies. Either way, this informs social norms. And, as we can see through any number civil rights campaigns over the last century, social norms can change. Furthermore, those who claim to get their morals from god, often have conflicting morals. Just to name a few modern-day examples of such conflicts, we can look at religious divides with regards to gay marriage, feminism, abortion, welfare, contraception, abstinence, pornography, prostitution, and premarital sex. And these are just in America. Extend this to religions like Islam in the middle east and we can include things like witchcraft, blasphemy, and apostasy--all of which call for a death sentence.

So, to answer the question, "What does society do if there is no god?" The same thing we have been doing all along. We will continue to discuss and discover our own morality and use this to build our societies.

About the second point: This person believes that science is a belief system, like religion, which puts the two on equal footing with regards to determining truth. This is based on the idea that religion is subjective, and science, although attempting to be objective, is a result of collective subjectivity. The problem with this is, of course, that it is false and absurd. Science is a process. That's it. Nothing more. Science uses observation, it is true, and this is likely where the idea of "collective subjectivity" comes from. But each observation is tested and challenged by others.

If I measure the length of the first digit of my left index finger to be slightly less than 1 inch, others can also measure it and we can compare the results. Let's say 100 people measure the digit on my finger. Some may measure the same as I did, and some may get results which vary, but most of them get results close to 1 inch. Suppose one person measures my digit at one mile long. And another measures it at one millimeter long. Clearly an error would have had to occur in the face of the overwhelming evidence by the other 98 people that the digit is only about an inch long. This is not subjective.

The essence of subjectivity is that it is personal and cannot be demonstrated to others. Conversely, objectivity can be demonstrated, which makes it falsifiable. Science uses this as a way of determining how the natural world works. This makes it useful. At best, personal experiences only concern those who have experienced them. A person may claim to have been abducted by UFOs, but without any evidence to support the claim, it is useless to anyone else. This is why we do not convict people of murder based solely on eye-witness testimony. Objective evidence is always more compelling than subjective experiences.

Science is a self-correcting process. Claiming that it is a belief system shows a lack of understanding of what beliefs actually are. Beliefs are unsubstantiated truth claims, which means a system based on beliefs is also unsubstantiated. They may have some supporting evidence, but not enough to justify a statement of certainty. Yet, religions are quite certain about a great many things for which they have no evidence. Science does not deal with truth claims--at least, not in the same sense--and can always be challenged and corrected by anyone so inclined. The reason some ideas are accepted in the scientific community over others, is because they have undergone this process of scrutiny. There is no dogma in science, and no sacred cows. If someone presents evidence that evolution is incorrect and that another theory better explains the diversity of life, everyone in the scientific community would drop Darwin's theory for the superior one. This might take time, but if the new theory truly is better, then this would happen. This is exactly what happened to Newtonian Physics when Einstein presented the Theory of Relativity. Science is as much a belief system as mathematics.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate the difference between science and religion is how they make determinations. Science makes observations, collects and analyzes data, and builds a theory based on this data. Religion makes dogmatic claims of truth (i.e. god created heaven and earth in six days) and seeks out information which supports these claims. In other words, religion is rife with bias, while science seeks to eliminate it.

This leads me to the third point: belief in god despite having no evidence or evidence to the contrary (I know, I rephrased it). The reason I rephrased the point is because this is where our conversation eventually led to. You see, after I gave my own story of trying to reconcile my religious beliefs with what I had learned through science, and how this lead me to atheism, the other person admitted to being in a similar intellectual place, but still held on to their beliefs because of personal experiences which they can only explain through god.

Maybe I should have challenged this idea that personal experiences prove the existence of anything supernatural, but I decided to stay more on the point of reconciliation. You see, both of us acknowledge the conflicts between religion and science. And we both understand that in order for a given religion to be true it must coincide with science. The problem, though, is that only one of us sees that holding a belief in conflict with science is irrational. Or, at least, one of us is not willing to hold a belief on faith and despite having no evidence.

What really spurred this discussion was this person's claim that Richard Dawkins is a "militant atheist." Militant atheism is a vague term which is often used by theists for anyone who publicly challenges the idea of faith or irrational beliefs. I would hope everyone would be a militant atheist based on this definition. But the derogatory nature of the term makes many people apprehensive about accepting it. I get it. And really it doesn't bother me that people don't like it. I see a bigger problem with people who call vocal atheists militant, but call those who act out violently in the name of religion simply "fundamental."

Thursday, August 16, 2012


"Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects?"

"The Bible is not my book nor Christianity my profession."

I don't quite understand why some people oppose the idea of a separation of church and state. From what I have read by the founding fathers, as I have said before, the intent of the establishment clause in the First Amendment is to protect religious beliefs. As Thomas Jefferson clarified, this protection occurs through a wall of separation between church and state. Without this wall, the smaller fringe sects can fall victim to the whims of the beliefs of the majority. Sure, Fox News tries to paint the picture that Christianity is under attack, but every time I look closer I only see a minority protecting themselves from a majority.

Take, for example, the case of Santa Monica, California last December. In years past, various Christian groups were allowed to display nativity scenes in display cases along the beach. This is public property, so some people complained that Christian churches were being favored by the local government. In an effort to compromise, the local officials decided to hold a lottery where any church or non-profit could "win" the use of a display case for a few weeks prior to Christmas. At first everyone seemed fine with this. That is, until they realized that half of the displays went to non-Christians--including atheists (dun-dun-duuunnnn). So great was the uproar about the atheist displays that many are calling for the lottery and general use of the displays to not happen this year. And it seems they will get their wish.

Take another case. In the 90's, Evangelical Christians lobbied local governments to allow them to hand out tracts and fliers for various youth groups held at local churches to students at public high schools. Being the Bible Belt, there was little resistance and the motion passed. What the ministers did not count on, however, was that a local Wiccan group also wanted to hand out fliers at the high schools. Once it was realized that the Pagans were proselytizing to the youth, a new motion passed to remove the previous one, and now no one can hand out fliers.

There are other examples of similar events. The important thing is what they all have in common--as soon as you remove the wall of separation of church and state, those in the majority cry foul on the minority. This means that if left unchecked, the majority could very likely oppress the minority. Christianity is not under attack. They are simply being put in check. They have enjoyed a privileged status for decades (thanks to McCarthyism), and now that the minority is speaking out and applying the First Amendment properly, they are losing their privileges. This, understandably, makes them uncomfortable; hence the backlash.

Whenever I am confronted by someone who denies the separation of church and state, or who says "This is a Christian nation, founded on Christian principles," I wonder if they really understand the implications of what they are saying. First, the statement is factually wrong. The United States is the first nation to use a secular constitution. This does not mean 'without religion' or 'atheistic.' It simply means 'religiously neutral.' Going back to the previous examples, separation of church and state only means that all religious groups are held equally. If one church can use a public display or pass out tracts at a public high school, then ALL religious groups have that right. The fact that local governments have had to stop allowing tracts or displays is not the application of the First Amendment; it only reflects the need for such equality in the first place, as it became necessary in order to keep the peace. And in every instance, it is the majority that cries foul when the minority is given equal ground in the community.

In 1971 there was a court case between Lemon v. Kurtzman, during which the issue of the separation of church and state became very important. I won't bore you with the details of the trial, but out of this case we now have what is called "The Lemon Test" which is often used to determine whether a law follows the First Amendment or not, when religion is involved. It goes as follows:

  1. The government's action must have a secular legislative purpose;
  2. The government's action must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion;
  3. The government's action must not result in an "excessive government entanglement" with religion.
Point number one, I think, is the most relevant to the establishment clause. In order for a law to be fair for all members of society, regardless their religious affiliations, it needs to be religiously neutral. This is what is meant by "secular," as I said above. Another way of looking at it is if the only reason for a particular law is religious, then it can not be ratified--there has to be another reason for the law. If this were not the case, then it would necessarily favor one religious belief over another.

This is exactly what is happening with the "Gay Marriage" debate. I have written about this numerous times. As far as I can tell, the only arguments being presented against gay marriage are based solely upon religious convictions. Therefore, according to the Lemon Test, laws prohibiting gay marriage are unconstitutional.


Here is Bill O'Reilly on the "War on Christmas"

And here is Al Sharpton attacking the "War on Christianity"

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


Just a quick post about the Chick-fil-a debacle a couple weeks ago. Mr. Deity has created a great response to both the "traditional marriage" crowd and their current sacred cow, Chick-fil-a.

First, traditional marriage:

And now, a (satirical) Chick-fil-a commercial:

Monday, August 13, 2012


This weekend has been good. I was a groomsman for my little brother's wedding. The weather, the decorations and the food were all great. My favorite part was just after we had started the wedding ceremony (located on a public beach), as an older gentleman walked up to the edge of the ceremony, paused momentarily, and then continued walking right passed the groomsmen and the groom himself towards the beach. All-in-all, it was one of the best wedding ceremonies I have ever attended, and yet, it almost didn't happen.

Perhaps I should clarify, the wedding was going to happen no matter what, but that small ceremony of close friends and family almost didn't happen. You see, both the bride and the groom are active Mormons, and, as per Mormon tradition, had originally planned to get married in a Mormon temple. The problem, though, is that no one on the bride's side of the family is Mormon and would, therefore, not be allowed inside the Temple for the ceremony. Needless to say, this outraged the bride's family and some made it clear that they would not attend the reception if they could not go to the wedding. And I completely understand their position.

(Just to be clear, in the Mormon church, when people are married in the temple, only adult Mormons with a "temple recommend" may attend; if a couple chooses to have a civil ceremony before a temple ceremony, they have to wait several months before they can be married in the temple. Furthermore, this is primarily an American policy within the church; in many other countries, the church allows civil and temple ceremonies to be conducted on the same day.)

The night before the wedding, I spoke with my brother about all the drama and I told him that their decision to not do a temple ceremony so that all the family members could attend was the right decision, and if I was in that most uncomfortable position, I would have planned on that from the beginning. Weddings are supposed to be inclusive for families, not exclusive.

The thing that really irks me is that the temple ceremony has nothing to do with the actual marriage. The government doesn't care about a religious rite; they only care about the signatures on the marriage contract. Everything else is up to the preferences of the bride and groom. As I pointed out to several people before and after the wedding, there is no reason why the temple ceremony and a civil wedding cannot be done on the same day, since they are legally unrelated. It is the Mormon church's choice to be restrictive and exclusive, and, frankly, it causes undue tension between Mormon and non-Mormon family members. So much so, that they even considered having a temple ceremony without ANY family members present just to put everyone on "equal" ground. (This, perhaps ironically, did not sit well with Mormon family members...) Seeing how stupid the other extreme was, they finally settled on an inclusive civil wedding. But now my brother feels like he is being punished for choosing to be inclusive and have a nice ceremony which everyone could attend, since the church is making them wait several months to have a temple ceremony.

I think my brother made the right decision and I commend him for doing so. I have seen others make the decision to just do a temple ceremony, and non-Mormon family members always feel ostracized and left-out. It is tragic that what should be a joyous occasion as two families unite, can become marred by the exclusionary policies of the Mormon church. And they call themselves a "family-centered" church.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


"When the masses become better informed about science, they will feel less need for help from supernatural Higher Powers."
—Fransico Ferrer Guardia

"The Music Man" is one of the few musicals I actually liked as a kid. As a budding musician, the song "76 Trombones" became very appealing to me. The story itself is about a man who travels the country scamming innocent people out of their money--a classic traveling salesman and con-artist. This is a common theme in various pieces of literature and film about that era. Remember, this was a time when science was not very widely accepted or understood, so anyone who dangled a cure for common or particularly serious ailments could very easily find someone willing to bite. Consider the following clip from "Sweeny Todd":

The claims offered by the young boy that the elixir could stimulate the growth of hair follicles is very appealing to balding older men. If it were true it is very plain to see the benefits of using it. But what if someone offers a cure for something that is not as apparent as baldness? Well, then the salesman would need to convince the audience that the ailment exists before they can proscribe a cure for it. This could be something seeming harmless, like a mole. But if that salesman is successful in associating fear with that mole, they can convince some that they need his elixir. This is precisely what conservative Christianity has done with masturbation.

When discussing pornography before, I briefly touched on masturbation at the end and mentioned a quote by Former Attorney General Joycelyn Elders, in which she advocated teaching people to use masturbation as a way of controlling sexual desires and STDs, etc. I also mentioned that she was subsequently fired from her position as Attorney General for advocating such a view and condemning advocacy and government funding of "abstinence only" sex education programs.

The apparent taboo in America surrounding masturbation most assuredly stems from the rise of conservative Christianity in the early 1900s. This was before pornography was wide-spread and Christian pastors needed something to blame for the rise of [insert anything Pastors don't like] in society. Scapegoating, it seems, is quite popular among religious folks; compound this with the innate desire to protect our children and pastors can get us to hate just about anything--even natural desires.

If you think about it, condemning something as natural and commonplace as masturbation is the perfect con job. Everyone has a desire for sexual release--this is the sex drive. If a church tells their congregants that such a drive is immoral, or that it leads to immorality, then they might instill in the minds of their followers a constant need to repent, thereby making the church absolutely necessary. It's brilliant. It's like an elixir which only cures baldness for a couple of days at a time, thus perpetuating the need to continually buy more bottles.

Aside from the obvious moral implications of such a farce, there are more practical concerns. What if your audience can't afford your elixir? What if it doesn't work for even a couple days at a time? Applying this reasoning to the condemnation of masturbation, what if someone cannot stop doing it? The message from the churches is that they are sinning and according to the Bible as well as the Book of Mormon, sexual sins are almost as egregious and damning as murder. This creates a cycle of guilt and shame associated with something natural, and, at least for some, nearly impossible to stop completely. Most people will eventually relapse, and when they do, they have to turn to the church to sell them more elixir.

So, let's examine what the Mormon church has to say about masturbation and compare it to what actual professionals say. According to (an official Mormon website), this is what the Mormon church has to say about masturbation [emphasis added]:

"One example: masturbation is considered by many in the world to be the harmless expression of an instinctive sex drive. Teach your children that the prophets have condemned it as a sin throughout the ages and that they can choose not to do it. Throughout childhood, boys and girls have touched their own genitals frequently to wash and to dress. This is a behavior that usually has the same meaning as keeping one’s feet warm in the winter, enjoying a swim on a hot day, or scratching an itch. We ought to be friendly to our bodies and appreciate the body’s marvelous range of senses. This innocent touching is not the kind of behavior warned against by prophets through the ages. The sin of masturbation occurs when a person stimulates his or her own sex organs for the purpose of sexual arousal. It is a perversion of the body’s passions. When we pervert these passions and intentionally use them for selfish, immoral purposes, we become carnal.

"Masturbation is not physically necessary. There is already a way by which the male system relieves excessive spermatic fluid quite regularly through the nocturnal emission or wet dream. Monthly menstrual flow expels the female’s egg and cleanses the womb. For both sexes, physical or emotional tensions can be released by vigorous activity. Thus, in a biological sense, masturbation for either gender is not necessary. In a gospel sense, it is a sin: “Masturbation, a rather common indiscretion, is not approved of the Lord nor of His Church regardless of what may have been said by others whose ‘norms’ are lower. Latter-day Saints are urged to avoid this practice” (Spencer W. Kimball, Love Versus Lust, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year [Provo, 5 Jan. 1965], p. 22)."

Here is a health site which advocates healthy masturbation: "For many young people, masturbation is an opportunity for private sexual exploration before deciding to engage is sexual activity with another person. It is also considered the safest form of sex in the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)."

An article from Men's Health outlines 5 positive benefits from masturbation, and says the following about cancer (mildly graphic): "It prevents cancer. A 2003 Australian study found that men who ejaculated more than five times a week were a third less likely to develop prostate cancer. Disease-causing toxins build up in your urogenital tract and when you rub one out, you flush the bad guys out of your system, says Brame."

It is clear that the church sees masturbation as sinful, which to an active Mormon means more than a doctor advocating it. But because of the shame associated with masturbation and the cycle of guilt this causes, more Mormons are speaking out against the Church's official stance on the matter. Several Mormon health professionals have been particularly helpful in generating awareness of the problem.

Here is one I happened upon today which both condemns the shame culture the Mormon church has created, and addresses the apparent conflict she faces as a mental health professional with an obligation to treat patients according to the very best science, yet is told by her church that it is wrong. She says:

"Through the past 15 years, I have spoken to numerous bishops, stake presidents, relief society presidents, and high councilmen attempting to understand an official stance on this matter. What I have come to understand is the answers I received largely depended on which leader you approach and what their past experience has been with leaders of their own. This type of non-directive nuance on such an important matter is not okay with me. Especially when within the last 6 months I’ve known of two LDS adolescent boys referred to the addictions program offered by the church because they masturbate 1-3 times a week and three LDS adolescent clients tell me they believe their masturbatory behavior to be a sin next to murder!!! If this is what we are teaching our youth – then we are emotionally abusing them. And it needs to stop. I will no longer be a compliant witness to this type of psychological assault. I know my language is strong and I intend it to be. The numerous stories I could share about masturbatory shame run in the thousands and I find it unnecessary, harmful and life altering.

"...Sexual shaming has had a long history within religious paradigms – with disastrous results for many. I am no longer willing to participate in any way, shape or form with such shaming."

The Mormon church isn't offering a cure for a real disease. As with reparative therapy for homosexuality, they are condemning a natural urge and claiming they have the cure. No matter how much shame they dump on you, don't buy the snake oil.

Monday, August 6, 2012


"It says here you worship some guy named 'Stan.'"
"Oh, that's a typo. It should read 'Satan.'"
--Family Guy

Growing up, my siblings and I raised various kinds of animals. Dogs, cats, chickens, fish--pretty much anything to which our parents would say 'yes.' Although the list of the types of animals we were allowed to keep was short, we could have pretty much as many as we cared to feed. At one time we had 2 dogs, a litter of puppies, 2-3 cats, a litter of kittens, a 50 gallon tank full of fish and roughly a dozen chickens. We could easily accommodate so many animals on our 2 1/2 acre lot of mostly woods and an open field (large for a metropolitan area).

Every spring at least one animal would give birth, usually our golden retriever or one of our cats. This was great fun as a kid, as we were responsible for caring for the litters of puppies and kittens until they were old enough to be given away. This was before groups like PETA and the Humane Society influenced changes on how animals should be distributed, so we would just take a large cardboard box full of young animals to a local grocery store and give them away for free to anyone passing by. This made for a fun-filled afternoon. That is, until we met some woman who was paranoid of Satanic cults...

According to this well-dressed, middle-aged, rambling housewife, Satan is real and Satanic cults in the area collect animals such as ours for ritual sacrifices. Keep in mind she said this to a group of young children with a box full of kittens. We were more confused than afraid, and upon realizing that she wasn't going to leave until we did, we piled into our car and left her on the side walk. Needless to say, we stopped going to grocery stores and started giving them away at our home.

Fear of cults is nothing new, as indicated by this FBI report in 1992, which did an extensive study into cases of reported ritualized abuse supposedly associated with Satanic cults. Here is an excerpt from their findings:

"The amount of "ritual" child abuse going on in this country depends on how you define the term. One documented example of what I might call "ritual" child abuse was the horror chronicled in the book A Death in White Bear Lake (Siegal, 1990.) The abuse in this case, however, had little to do with anyone's spiritual belief system. There are many children in the United States who, starting early in their lives, are severely psychologically, physically, and sexually traumatized by angry, sadistic parents or other adults. Such abuse, however, is not perpetrated only or primarily by satanists. The statistical odds are that such abusers are members of mainstream religions. If 99.9% of satanists and 0.1% of Christians abuse children as part of their spiritual belief system, that still means that the vast majority of children so abused were abused by Christians.

"Until hard evidence is obtained and corroborated, the public should not be frightened into believing that babies are being bred and eaten, that 50,000 missing children are being murdered in human sacrifices, or that satanists are taking over America's day care centers or institutions. No one can prove with absolute certainty that such activity has not occurred. The burden of proof, however, as it would be in a criminal prosecution, is on those who claim that it has occurred."

Here are a couple clips illustrating this further. First is a clip from "Criminal Minds" (btw, that's Inigo Montoya from "The Princess Bride" in the back of the plane):

And one from "Penn and Teller: Bullsh!t" (explicit):

In fact, no cases of ritualized killings have ever been substantiated, as far as I can tell. I'm not sure if anyone has ever killed another human being in the name of Satan. Animals, maybe. But people? It doesn't seem so. According to some people, the human sacrifice rituals described in "The Satanic Bible" do not involve any physical harm, but rather inflict a hex or curse on an individual who "by his reprehensible behavior, practically cries out to be destroyed." This sounds similar to the use of Voodoo dolls as a means of punishing those deserving of punishment. It is nothing more than ritualized vigilante justice.

Here are a few more references on Satanic cults and violence:

Satanic ritual abuse (wiki)

Satanic Panic (book)

Let's shift gears a bit (you know where this is going, don't you?). In the New Testament, all 4 Gospels describe the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. I assume this is common knowledge, so I won't bother referencing the verses. The commonly accepted reason for such a sacrifice is to atone for the sins of mankind so that we may go to heaven. In the Jewish faith, according to the Law of Moses, the Israelites also atoned for their sins by sacrificing animals (i.e. goats, lambs). Furthermore, similar to Christianity, the Muslim tradition also stems from Judaism and accepts sacrifices described in the Old Testament, such as Abraham and Isaac (although, they would say Abraham and Ishmael). There are nearly 2 billion Christians, 1 billion Muslims, and 14 million Jews in the world today--all of whom accept some form of human or animal sacrifice. So, why are they opposed to other religious groups doing the same thing? Despite the fact that no Satanic ritualized killings have ever been substantiated, it would be hypocritical for Christians to oppose the practice if a case is ever confirmed, since their own theology demands it.

Consider this: according to Christianity, the only confirmed case of human sacrifice between god and Satan is that of Jesus Christ. Judaism has killed at least as many animals over the last few thousand years as even the most aggressive Satanic cults. Not even Anton LaVey, author of "The Satanic Bible," would have condoned the account of Abraham and Ishmael. It seems to me, at least with regards to the question of ritualized killings and abuse, Satanism is on better moral ground than all 3 of the great monotheisms. As I asked in a previous post, between god and Satan, how do you know god is the good one?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


This is just a quick post on the current "Chick-fil-a" scandel going on today. First, I think it is great that people are using free speech and discussing a topic that matters and affects lives. Second, never before has a fast food chain recieved so much free publicity (and customers) from voicing an opinion on a social issue. It's just too bad they are voicing bigotry and discrimination.

In response to today's "Chick-fil-a Appreciation Day" festivities (i.e. "lunch"), I found this video which nearly inspired me to actually go to the restaurant for the first time ever (skip ahead to about 4:22 to hear her grand idea):

And due to the overwhelming responses Ms Pearce got for her grand idea, she followed up with this:

That's it. I said it would be short.