Mack Wolford – Needlessly Dead at 44

The crueler part of me wants to make a joke and be done with this, but I think that there is an important message to get out in the wake of Mack Wolford’s death by snake bite.

Mack Wolford, like his father who also died from a venomous snake bite, was a Pentecostal Pastor who handled snakes to show is faith. He had been bitten before, trusted in God and prayer and had come through. This time however, the Yellow Timber Rattlesnake injected more venom than his body could handle, and after 10 and 1/2 hours of agony, he died a needless death, one day after his 44th birthday. He made it 5 years longer than his father, who he saw die the same way.

It is always somewhat inspiring to see someone carry their beliefs through to the bitter end, but he was not dying by the oppressive hand of a government that he sought to overthrow. He was not even a religious martyr in any real sense. He simply let himself die for misplaced faith; just like members of Heaven’s Gate, or the followers of Jim Jones, who had the ultimate faith in false beliefs.

If you’re reading this then you probably already know my views on faith in general, but that is not what this is about. This man, and perhaps even his father, should be alive today. With timely medical care, they probably would have survived their envenomations.

No matter what you think of prayer, the evidence is clear; in most (and I believe all) cases, medical professionals will do more than God to intervene and help a person who is sick or injured. If seeking medical help shows a lack of faith, then it is a lack of faith that is well warranted, but I believe that it shows only a concern for a person’s wellbeing and has no bearing on faith.

The most important thing to let Pentecostals know about though is the fact that Mark 16:9–20, the verses that the peculiarities of their religion hinge upon, are almost certainly not original to that book. Not one of the oldest manuscripts in existence contains these verses, and there are multiple different endings that were added on later, including the one that we see in modern English copies.

As Wolford’s mother said in the With Signs Following documentary trailer above, "the word is still the word"; except when it’s not.

If these verses are later additions, which seems almost certain to be the case, then it leaves even faithful Christians with no reason to believe that handling venomous snakes or drinking poison is a good idea. So please, don’t do it, and if you are envenomated, seek medical attention at least as quickly and fervently as prayers.

Welcome U of A Students

A couple of our members followed traveling university preacher Brother Jed down to the University of Arizona yesterday, and they passed out some of our tracts while they were there. If you got one and you’ve made your way here, feel free to post comments, join the forum, or just read through the archives to get an idea of what we’re trying to do here.

There is a particularly busy thread of comments on our post refuting silly Creationist theories about the Recession of the Moon, and if you post a question in the forum then we’ll make sure to give you some answers.

This has been an odd week, and we haven’t kept up our post-a-day pace we’ve had since the beginning of the year, but we should be getting back on track and putting up some good new stuff next week, so please come back and check it out, and participate if you’ve got anything to say.

Last chance to see Normal Bob Smith

It’s been a pretty fun week so far with Normal Bob Smith, Brother Jed and a few of the crazy local preachers thrown in for added ridiculousness, but sadly Normal Bob has to go back to New York this weekend and he won’t be here for the last day of Jed’s stay.

Tomorrow though promises to be a crazy day, much like today. This time Jed’s wife “Sister Cindy” and two of their daughters were out, and Cindy is just as crazy as her husband. Between them and the locals, there was pretty constant action all day, and although we had a pretty good crowd dealing with them, these people can’t have too many hecklers. So if it sounds fun or interesting to you then tomorrow would be a good day to show up.

One of the most amusing events of the whole week happened today, and may continue tomorrow. One of Brother Jed’s own converts (who seems to have surpassed Jed in his study of the Bible) got into multiple animated close-up shouting matches with him, to the great amusement of the masses. We’ll try to get some video of the events posted soon for those of you who missed it, but you may still have a chance to see Jed get the smack-down for his “porno preaching” from Monty if you come out tomorrow.

15% Non-religious? Let’s pretend they believe!

I just watched a segment of Lou Dobbs Tonight talking about the decline in religious belief over the past decade or more, and I am very annoyed with the guests who were chosen and what they said.

The two guests for the piece were blowhard Bill Donahue, President of the Catholic League, and Tony Perkins, President of the vile Family Research Council. Did anyone actually expect to get a good unbiased view of the subject from these guys? Donahue is an enormous ass on the conservative end of the Catholic spectrum, and of course Perkins is off the deep end, and both are very opposed to us and most of what we stand for.

Neither of them was anywhere close to speaking for the 15% of people who explicitly stated in the American Religious Identification Survey that they were not Christians and not religious. Apparently 15% isn’t enough to get a voice on television. There are enough of us to get religious people on to talk about us and dismiss us, but I guess it’s too much to ask to have someone who even remotely represents our views there to defend us.

Essentially both of the guests tried to downplay the loss of faith, attempting to claim the large number of non-religious people who aren’t ready yet to say that there is no “higher power” as their own, and claiming that due to the bad economy, terrorism and other problems, people are going to come crawling back to them.

Bibles don’t stop bullets

Where are the miracles? Really, on the same show I saw that a man in Illinois had walked into a church, talked to the pastor and then shot and killed him.

The pastor tried to block the shot with his Bible, but of course it failed. If God’s most devoted servants can’t hope for his protection in His own house of worship, then where can we hope to see a miracle?

Maybe we can’t expect to see them because they just don’t happen.

It’s sad that that point is somewhat true, but the fact that they not only admit that this kind of suffering and hopelessness is what brings people to their business but seem to be proud and smug about it is disgusting. It’s like an undertaker rubbing his hands with glee as he hears about a horrible disaster because it will bring him business.

Most personally annoying to me was the fact that they basically dismissed atheists and even agnostics as inconsequential, and they could do it because none of us were there to defend ourselves.

They may not admit it, but they must know that the people who have fallen away from religion may very well end up as atheists or permanent agnostics, especially if we are brave and open enough to present our side, and they should know that there are many of us out there.

If you are an atheist or agnostic, or if you have any other minority view on gods and the supernatural, please don’t keep it to yourself. The majority needs to be challenged, and the people who are on the fence need to be informed about the serious debate on these subjects, not just indoctrinated by a new church without ever knowing another way is out there.

Let’s show people like Bill Donahue and Tony Perkins that we actually are out here, and that we will not be ignored and stepped on by them and their ultra-conservative religious agendas anymore.

Teach-in Weekend Wrap-up

This has been a long weekend, and I’m a bit worn out, but I think it was worth doing. Now that I’ve attended the Local to Global Teach-in and I know what to expect, I think we can do more with our table next year, and we can run one or more workshops too, so expect to see us out there in greater numbers and with greater purpose next time.

Still, there was plenty of good material there this year. Being at the table a lot I didn’t get to attend too many of the workshops, but Ezra Niesen’s Planetary Biology and the Anti-Capitalist Revolution presentation was great, as was the Creative Tactics Training workshop by the Backbone Campaign.

You can find a lot of great information at backbonecampaign.org, and you can find Ezra’s books at newbookforanewworld.org. There were a lot of other workshops that looked interesting too, but sadly when you’re a participant and not just an attendee you have to balance your time between the two roles.

So if you missed this one, I hope you’ll come out next time, and we’ll keep our eyes open for other similar events to point you to in the mean time. If you already know of some, please share the information!

Jed Failure!

This morning Brother Jed was supposed to be at ASU, according to his own schedule, but the schedule was changed today. Now it says that he will be here on Friday, but not today or Thursday, so if you were going to come check him out you should wait until Friday.

Sorry, but Jed moves in mysterious ways.

Still on the fence about Jed?

For those of you who are still on the fence about coming to see Jed this week, here’s a video of one of his songs and a bit of extension cord sex demonstration. How can you pass up such great comedy? It’s like a caricature of Fundamentalist Christianity, but he’s serious!

Jed’s Gay Song

It’s not okay to be gay
It’s not okay to be a homo
You weren’t designed to be that way
God says that it’s a big no-no

It’s not okay to be gay
It’s not okay to be a pervert
It’s not in your DNA
What you need is to be converted

It’s not okay to be gay
It’s not okay to be a lesbo
You weren’t designed to be that way
God says that it’s a big no-no

Should we let Creationism into science classes?

For many years now I have been a staunch opponent of teaching Creationism (AKA Intelligent Design) in science classes, but I’m beginning to question that stance, and I’d like to hear some other opinions on the subject.

So have I given in to the “teach the controversy” crowd? Quite the opposite! In the US today, with our majority Christian population and unconscionably high percentage of people who already don’t believe in evolution, it is almost inevitable that children will be exposed to Creationism in some way. Why let it be on the Creationists’ terms?

Instead I propose that we actually teach children about the Christian Creation Myth in schools, but tell the truth about it. Don’t tell them that there is a serious debate in science about whether life on Earth got to its present state by means of evolution or by creation in its current form. Instead tell them that we know evolution happens, that even many Christians including Pope John Paul II agree that it does, and then show them exactly how literal Biblical Creationism falls flat on its face as science.

This would be a great educational experience in critical thinking, and a fantastic demonstration of how ancient unscientific ideas are eventually overtaken by good science based on observable facts. We still see the layperson’s side of this battle going on today since Creationists are much more tenacious than doctors who thought that “bleeding” people would cure them, but people should know that this debate is limited to laypeople and a few fringe scientists who have a lot of faith but little or no training in relevant scientific disciplines.

Instead of ignoring Creationism in school and letting kids be confused by hearing a basic version of the truth about the history of life on Earth in science class and then hearing confusing Creationist lies at home, on the street and in church, often without any arguments presented against it, the common Creationist claims should be debunked and it should be shown for the outdated, disproven, cynical lies that they are. We know that the Creationists are presenting their case, weak though it may be, and bashing evolution and science in any way they can. Why not fight back?

As I have seen too often in children and adults who believe in the Biblical Creation Myth, this and other related religious beliefs can destroy their trust not only in evolution but in all of science, even in anything secular, and then all they are left with is their religion. If we let people become so disconnected from reality and society as a whole, we risk losing them as members of our society along with anyone they manage to convert. This is a real concern since many of these people are evangelical and believe it is their mission to convert people.

So let’s cut this off at the knees. We can give the Creationists part of what they want and put Creationism into the science curriculum, as Creationism and not the “Intelligent Design” pseudonym so no one is confused about what the real issue is. Then we can teach people about the current controversy between fundamentalists and rational people in the laity, and let them know that the controversy in the scientific community between Evolution and Creation is long over and that the Creationists lost decisively.

Happy Birthday Darwin

Well Darwin, this year it’s been 150 years since your book On the Origin of Species was published, and we’ve come a long way. Scientists have a much deeper understanding of the relationships between all known life on Earth, and your ideas have even helped guide us to a world without smallpox and polio, a world where influenza can be prevented, a world where we can understand what we are and why we are this way.

Sadly in some parts of the world, despite enjoying the many benefits of our understanding of evolution, a large percentage of people refuse to accept the simple truths that the rest of us have known for a century and a half.

Do they reject your theory based on a mountain of evidence piled up against it? Do they reject it based on even one piece of solid evidence against it? No. Most of them reject it based purely on their religious beliefs.

Sure there is “Creation Science”, also called the “science” of Intelligent Design, but this is science in the same way that claiming birds are carried through the sky by a divine hand is science. As much as they want to pretend it’s science, it’s simply not.

I’m sure you would recognize the problems we’re having though, you had to deal with the same kinds of people 150 years ago. If only today’s creationists would look at how their predecessors have fared, every one of them trying to disprove evolution and not a single one coming close, the debate might finally be over.

For the book’s 200th anniversary, I hope I have some better news for you. With any luck, medical science will enable me to live at least that long, in part thanks to you.

Thoughts on abortion and euthanasia

With several “pro-life” rallies and demonstrations taking place at ASU recently, and with the other discussions on the subject that I’ve seen or participated in, it seems like a good time to give my current views on abortion and give you a chance to post yours.

by Leonardo da Vinci

First of all, I don’t like any of the epithets used to describe either side. People who don’t want to outlaw abortion are for the most part not “pro-death”, “anti-life”, or even “pro-choice” in all matters, and those who want to outlaw abortion are in my experience rarely “pro-life” or “anti-choice” in every way.

How can you be “pro-life” and still support cold blooded murder through the death penalty? I can see how people would think they were being “pro-life” in opposing euthanasia, and it is a dangerous issue, but even there forcing someone to undergo a prolonged period of suffering before an inevitable death is just cruel. “Pro-suffering”, if anything.

How can we in good conscience take people’s feeding tubes and IVs and let them starve to death just to avoid admitting that we are causing their deaths? I know some people would argue that they are giving time for a miracle to happen, but if there is an omnipotent god out there who wants to save these people then he can damned well intervene before the issue comes up.

It might be reasonable to temporarily remove the tubes, for a few hours or maybe even a day if we think there is a chance that they might wake up, but at some point it just becomes cruel and useless. If we really believe that they can recover then we shouldn’t be removing their life support no matter what the insurance companies want, but if they are really gone with no hope then it is kinder to end it quickly than to dehydrate and starve them to death.

Euthanasia and abortion are often made out to be black and white issues, but there are large grey areas in both. With euthanasia the issue ranges from the assisted suicides of apparently healthy people (although there are almost certainly mental health in these cases), to completely brain-dead people (not politician-brain-dead, but actually brain-dead) who are physically damaged to the point where we know they are essentially dead, and a lot of grey area in between.

Abortion is complicated too, but it seems a bit more straightforward to me. At the point when a fetus can survive on its own outside of the womb, I believe that aborting it is essentially the same as killing a newborn baby. There might be some few strange cases where a choice must be made between the life of the mother and the life of the baby, but in almost all cases at this stage of development I think that the baby could and should be taken out alive one way or another.

On the other extreme, taking “the morning after pill” the morning after a potential conception gives me no moral trouble at all. Although the numbers are disputed, a high percentage (possibly even the majority) of conceptions end in spontaneous abortion (miscarriage), usually without the mother even knowing she was pregnant.

In any case, hours after conception the embryo is still just a small mass of undifferentiated cells. There is no chance whatsoever that it can think or feel pain, and the only thing that really differentiates it from the the separate egg and sperm that combined to form it is that it is slightly further along on the road to potentially becoming a person.

Of course it is easier to simply say “life begins at conception” or “life begins at birth”, but neither one is a universally acceptable position, and many of those opposed to one or the other are vehemently opposed. I find the idea of killing an 8 month old fetus appalling, but I also find the idea of forcing someone to let a newly conceived embryo grow to term inside of them appalling.

Where do we draw the line then? I’m not sure. For most or all of the third trimester, I think that babies are developed enough to be removed alive if it’s necessary, and I don’t see any way to justify an elective abortion at this point. For most of the first trimester, I do not think that the fetus is developed enough to cause a serious moral dilemma. With every day that goes by though, the issue gets more cloudy, so I would urge anyone considering an abortion to make the decision one way or the other early on.

I believe week 10 is where the brain really starts to develop, but exactly what state it is in at that point, I’m not sure. I see this time period as the beginning of the real grey area though, and I think it needs continued study and thought.

In order to fairly consider the issue though, we must be willing to talk about it reasonably, without sticking dogmatically to whatever positions we may hold. Although the battles over such issues as abortion and euthanasia have been long and bitter, there is some hope of consensus if we can all admit that we may not be entirely right and we can manage to start a more sober dialog on these sensitive and important subjects.