Holiday Inn under fire for hosting Winter Wickedness Event

Every year there are over 200 BDSM events held across the US, and most of them go unnoticed. This weekend though, certain religious groups have noticed this “freakish sadomasochistic perversion-fest” (Peter LaBarbara of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality) and they are publicly asking people to call and pressure the hotel to cancel the event.

They have a right to do this, but those of us who support other people’s freedom no matter what our personal views on the issue are should express our support for the hotel’s willingness to stand up to these groups.

Personally I am not a fan of BDSM, but I do not believe that my personal or religious views should prevent consenting adults from getting together to discuss the things they enjoy.

I hope you feel the same and that you visit the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom for phone numbers and advice on what to say to the Holiday Inn.

Hey There Cthulhu

I meant to post this video a couple of months ago when we were doing Cthulhu Carols on Mill Avenue for the Solstice, but I forgot to post it then, so here it is now.

If you don’t understand what the song’s talking about, it’s probably because you aren’t familiar with the Cthulhu Mythos created by 1920s horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. If you don’t already know it, and you like weird myths and horror, then it may be time to familiarize yourself with his work.

Here’s a bonus live version of the song too, in case once wasn’t enough for you. I know it wasn’t for me!

Westboro Protest Report – 1-30-2009

Westboro’s protests are a little annoying to deal with because they bounce around from place to place like crazy, only staying for about 45 minutes in each location, but we’ve kept up with them fairly well so far.

After hitting the consulates of several countries and one soldier’s funeral, this afternoon we ended up at Desert Mountain High School in Scottsdale where the WBC was protesting for no apparent reason. I guess they just like stirring people up and wasting the time and money of the police departments who had several officers at each location, and I think dozens at the high school.

Fortunately there did not seem to be any real threat of violence from the hundreds of people gathered in front of the school, and I think it went pretty well. We brought out our speaker and let people use it to talk to the WBC since there was a barrier and some distance between us and them, and we played some music too including Never Gonna’ Give You Up, Imagine, Personal Jesus and I Kissed a Girl which a lot of the students sang along with.

Some people had a few harsh words for the WBC, particularly parents who didn’t want them at the school, but overall our side was promoting love and acceptance and having fun, not the kind of hate that the Westboro people are always spewing.

There’s still one more protest to go tonight, so I’ve gotta’ get back out there. They’re protesting at the Chyro Arts Venue in Scottsdale where a play called Closet Drama, which contains an unflattering portrayal of WBC, is being performed. I’ll post an update about how it goes later tonight.

Update:

I expected this last event of the day to be the biggest for them, especially because the play is partly about them and is sympathetic to the homosexuals they hate, but they actually didn’t stay that long. I’m not sure, but I think they stayed for less time than they did most of the other locations, and it turned out that the random high school protest was the biggest in terms of turnout and the length of time they stayed. That may have had something to do with the news cameras that were out there too though…

Still, they did show up to protest the play, so at least we didn’t go out there for nothing. I think 50-100 people were there on our side, and fortunately we ended the day without a single violent incident that I know of at any of the events. As tempting as it is to wish these people harm sometimes, I consider that a win.

I passed on the Luke Airforce Base protest today simply because they stay for such a short time and the time we spent there would have been maybe half the length of the drive. I think the airforce base can take care of itself, so we’ll see you next time Westboro.

Promote Evolution Weekend 2009

Being as involved as I am with Young Earth Creationist preachers, sometimes it is hard to remember that there are many churches out there whose pastors and congregations I have a lot more in common with. The upcoming Evolution Weekend event is a good reminder.

The weekend of February 13th – 15th, the clergy at thousands of churches across the country will be speaking up in support of evolution. If you are involved with a church or know people who are, please ask them to participate in this event. People should know that even if they do believe in the supernatural, they can still believe in science.

There is a pretty good article about the history of Evolution Weekend over at religion dispatches. Sadly the Young Earth Creationists let us know that they’re still all around us by commenting on the article and claiming that evolution is a religion and not science.

For those of you reading this who are in that camp, maybe a visit to one of the churches participating in Evolution Weekend would help you to open your eyes to not just the theory but the fact of evolution. Accepting it may change your theological views, but wouldn’t you rather know the truth than stick to what you believe now if what you believe may be wrong?

Phoenix’s Visiting Preachers

Normally I don’t do a lot of public dissection of the individual actions of preachers I run into, but I decided it was time to write one when Amerist’s mild post elicited the following response from one of the preachers it talked about:

Thanks guys for all the compliments in your writings. Very weak journalism. Sad, your articles are not accurate at all. Fun to read though. I still love you guys! God bless- Jeff

Our articles are “not accurate at all?” I’ll assume he’s specifically referring to the one he commented on, but still that is a ridiculous claim. I was there, and I heard and saw many of the same things. If anything actually is wrong, Jeff, please point it out to us. If we believe it is actually a mistake then we will correct it.

For now though, I want to discuss what these kind and loving guys have been doing for the last several weeks while they have been here.

Local Amp Note

Just a note to the local preachers who may get ideas from this, although we do not want to get into a war of amplification, if megaphones of this volume continue to be brought out then we will be forced to follow suit, and the result will not be pretty.

The first time I saw any of them, it was when Shawn Holes showed up at the First Friday art walk in downtown Phoenix. Being a visitor from out of state, he came in acting like the preachers here used to. Essentially he tried to ignore us and yell almost non-stop into his megaphone. Unfortunately for us, the combination of his megaphone and his already loud yelling were actually physically painful directly in front of him, and he was often successful in drowning us out, at least enough that he could ignore us.

In the subsequent weeks we got to talk a little more to him, and especially to his woefully uneducated son. I feel particularly bad for the kid because he is being brought up to distrust both science and the vast majority of people in the world. He has been thoroughly indoctrinated to believe that the stories in the Bible are literally true, including the creation story, that evolution is a lie, and that all people are inherently evil.

This sick view of the world can easily breed a paranoid martyr complex and a significant disconnection from reality, and can ultimately lead to the disturbingly twisted views of right and wrong espoused by so many of the preachers, some of which will be discussed below.

After Shawn showed up, he was joined by Jeff Rose (an American who lives and preaches in Scotland) and his South African friend Vincent Piater.

Worse than Shawn who just tried to ignore us, Jeff and Vincent were relatively hostile, although Jeff generally tried to maintain a conciliatory tone while he needled us and said things like “I love you guys” which sound very disingenuous to me.

When Shawn wasn’t around, Jeff did most of the preaching. He didn’t seem to mind the challenge too much, but I don’t think he handled it particularly well. Not only did he fail to adequately respond to the issues we brought up, his tactics frequently devolved into childish word games and name calling.

“This is the Atheist Singles Club, none of them have girlfriends.” Jeff pulled that one out several times, despite the fact that many of us are in relationships and we told him so. “They just don’t want to come out here with you because you make them look bad.” He said something along those lines once he gave up on the Atheist Singles Club. I wonder where his wife was? Throwing stones in a glass house, huh Jeff?

Jeff was also fond of calling random people perverts and talking about their “depravity” and other nonsense like that. How can you say those things about people you don’t know anything about? You just have to believe that everyone is pure evil, which he seems to believe, and then you can spew any insults and unfounded judgements you want. Nice.

One member of our group, Joe, was explaining how DNA from two people of the same sex could be combined in a laboratory and grown into a baby, and Jeff decided that was enough to accuse Joe of being a homosexual and to go off on the all-too-common tangent along the lines of “you’re only doing this because you love your sin and you want to deny God so you can continue in your depravity.”

Joe posted a minor clarification in a comment below.

Essentially he would take any chance he could find to ignore the substance of our arguments and turn the conversation into an unfounded attack on one or more of us. As with so many preachers, he seems to like nothing more than tearing people down and making them feel like garbage.

This approach does have its drawbacks though. On Friday night, when I wasn’t there, I’ve been told that Jeff made a very offensive comment to a girl and one of her friends pulled out a knife and threatened to cut the cord on his megaphone, and then even threatened him.

The comment seems to have been something about her dead babies being in Hell, but Jeff flatly denied it on Saturday. Since another of the girl’s friends who was there told us what Jeff had said, and because it seems very much in character for him, I’m inclined to believe that he did say something pretty cruel. Sadly this type of event plays right into the martyr complex, and probably made Jeff feel good about what he’s doing, but it shouldn’t. The guy with the knife was way out of line, but it sounds like Jeff was too.

Overall these loud, obnoxious, insulting preachers seem to create a more hostile and potentially violent atmosphere. Before these guys showed up we hadn’t had any serious threats of violence against us or the local preachers (as far as I know) since Halloween when some of the thugs from The Door church tried to start something with us. On Saturday though, a group of “brodogs” who agreed with Jeff lined up on his side and kept insulting and threatening people.

To his credit Jeff did actually ask them (and us for no apparent reason) not to get violent, and strangely he asked them not to make personal attacks on us when he had been doing it too. Maybe he just wanted to reserve that privilege for himself?

Either way, those and other incidents testify to the hostility that they breed on both sides. We much prefer calm, civil debate, and I am convinced that it is better in many ways for both sides and for everyone else around us. I hope that preachers who read this will keep that in mind in the future.

Vincent didn’t talk as much, but he did manage to make some pretty offensive comments too. The worst one I remember from him was about whether or not it was right for God to decide not to reveal himself to people and then send them to Hell for not believing in him. “So what!?” Vincent yelled, expressing the common belief among the preachers that God made us and we can’t judge anything he decides to do even if it is by our standards profoundly immoral.

This is a very disturbing idea to me. If you can convince yourself that anything done by God is acceptable, it is not much of a stretch to say that anything done for God is acceptable. They already show by their antisocial evangelization tactics that they believe it’s okay to go well beyond what a normal person would say to strangers if you’re doing it for God. If it’s okay to malign anyone and anything that disagrees with their interpretation of the Bible, and to automatically reject any idea that doesn’t fit with their beliefs, what might people like this do if they can be convinced that they’re doing God’s work? Maybe the better question is what wouldn’t they do?

I do believe that they have all convinced themselves that their methods of evangelization are just fine. They may not even think that they’re being malicious, but they are. They denigrate every person in the world, with particular animosity reserved for those who oppose them. Animosity in love’s clothing is still animosity.

I am perfectly willing to be civil with these people, and I am not a violent person, but I do not “respect their beliefs”. I respect their rights to hold bizarre and unfounded beliefs in bronze age mythology, and even the extremely outdated creation story that comes with it, but I openly scoff at the content of those beliefs. An intelligent and thoughtful child can see through them, and the only things that keep these inane beliefs alive are the twin abominations of faith and indoctrination.

I have tried to be nice, but the continued lies and abuse hurled by these “servants of God” against my friends and me, all while calling us liars, has provoked me to respond with more venom than I normally direct at preachers.

So why didn’t I respond directly to these people individually in private rather than calling them out here? I don’t think that there is just one single reason, but there is an appropriate Proverb that I learned from a Christian friend which sums it up pretty well.

Open rebuke is better than secret love. – Proverbs 27:5

If they want the secret love then they’ll have to go tap their feet in public bathroom stalls like the all-too-prevalent homophobic-homosexual preachers and government officials.

No More Years!

Moments ago, Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States of America. Many of you love him, many others hate him, and some of you are probably ambivalent like me. Whatever you think of him though, at least we can finally send Bush back to clearing brush on his ranch and we can only hope that he won’t find a way to do any further damage in the world.

Having passed the first hurdle, with Obama not coming out in his speech as a Muslim intent on instituting Sharia law or destroying the US, I think that even the conspiracy theorists can start to calm down, at least a little. The fact is, he is a man like any other. A politician, yes, but not a demon, and he probably is what he appears to be. He will not fix all of the problems of the world, but he won’t bring about the end of the world either.

Fortunately, I don’t think that most people believe the worst about him, but I do still see too much distrust and fear of Obama and the election process. I was a little disturbed this morning when I heard a couple of people, people who had voted for Bush in both of his highly questionable elections, saying that this election was flawed or rigged.

Perhaps they couldn’t believe that a black man could be elected in this country? Maybe they finally see the danger in the haphazard and untraceable election systems we have scattered throughout the country? I’m afraid that is probably not the case, and it was just a couple of bitter old Republicans angry at their party’s loss of power. If we’re lucky though, thoughts like these (however unfounded they may be) will motivate more people to ensure that future elections are fair and trustworthy.

Either way, the election is over. Obama is our new president, and from what I’ve seen he won fairly in the least questionable election we’ve had since 2000. He’s not perfect, but he’s not the anti-Christ and he’s not likely to destroy the country. Even if he tried he would have a hard time doing worse than Bush did, so don’t you think we should at least give him a chance?

I don’t expect Obama to work miracles, and I’m sure that many people will be disappointed when they see that he can’t, but despite my inherent distrust of politicians, I am optimistic. We have a chance to turn things around and get back on the track to freedom, prosperity and peace, all three of which were trampled under the boots of Bush’s minions for the last 8 years. I hope that Obama really is dedicated to the goals of undoing as much of the harm that Bush caused as possible and moving forward to make the United States and the world a better place.

Good luck, President Obama.

The Murder of Rosa Luxemborg

Freedom only for the supporters of the government, only for the members of a party – however numerous they may be – is no freedom at all. Freedom is always the freedom of the dissenter. Not because of the fanaticism of "justice", but rather because all that is instructive, wholesome, and purifying in political freedom depends on this essential characteristic, and its effects cease to work when "freedom" becomes a privilege.

- Rosa Luxemburg

Class struggle: external peace, international solidarity, peace among peoples. This is the sacred slogan of international socialist democracy that liberates nations.

- Karl Liebknecht

90 years ago today, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were murdered by the German Freikorps in employ of their political opponents.

Although the two were Marxists fighting for the rights of the proletariat, and for their own political ideals which most of you probably don’t share, summary executions of people with different beliefs is the worst kind of intolerance and it is severely detrimental to society as a whole.

My favorite band, McDermott’s 2 Hours, has a song about Rosa. It’s more of a sad and slow song than many of their others, but it is a good song with powerful lyrics commemorating a brave woman we can all learn something from, whether or not we agree with her politics.


Rosa

Rosa dry your eyes, you’ll never lie where failure lies
Rosa, your love defies, the fight isn’t over

Did you see her working with the peasant in the field
Wiping the sweat from his brow
Charging at the bosses with a sickle and a shield
Crying, the fight is now?

Rosa dry your eyes, you’ll never lie where failure lies
Rosa, your love defies, the fight isn’t over

And did you hear her singing on the factory floor
Through the grind and the mill and the pain
Bringing out the women and the children of the poor

Crying, we’ll rise again?

Rosa dry your eyes, you’ll never lie where failure lies

Rosa, your love defies, the fight isn’t over

Wherever the poor and the powerless decline
There she will lie like a balm
She’ll put them on their feet and set them into line
Crying now shoulder arms

Rosa dry your eyes, you’ll never lie where failure lies
Rosa, your love defies, the fight isn’t over

The last time I saw her she was on the picket line
Wiping the blood from her hair
Pushing back the law and fighting for the mine
Crying, we’ll not despair

Rosa dry your eyes, you’ll never lie where failure lies
Rosa, your love defies, the fight isn’t over

- Rosa by McDermott’s 2 Hours

A Return to Good Old Testament Values

Yesterday I talked about some of the Christian cults in Africa, but what may be more shocking to many Christians is that we have them in the US as well. It’s not just Mormon polygamist compounds either, it can happen to even relatively mainstream churches such as the Calvary Temple, according to this article by The Washington Post from November 16, 2008.

Formerly part of the Assemblies of God, Pastor Star Scott dropped the denomination in 1986 and struck out on his own path as Calvary’s “apostle” and presiding elder, which has given him nearly complete control over the church’s considerable assets as well as its theology and congregation whose faith is increasingly leveraged against them.

Perhaps in an attempt to more fully brainwash future generations, Calvary runs its own school (K-12) which all children in the congregation are expected to attend, and no outsiders are allowed into. In this school children are still beaten with thick wooden paddles and subjected to other physical abuses, and I can only guess at what nonsense the children are taught.

A few of the other abuses of the congregation include heavy and mandatory tithing (sometimes well in excess of the traditional 10%), use of church money for Scott’s rather extensive personal expenses, and demands that those who leave the church be shunned.

This includes not only friends, but family. Spouses are to be divorced. Even children who rebel or reject Calvary are to be kicked out of their parents’ houses and cut off.

“Don’t be afraid of social services if you throw rebellious children out of the house, because you obeyed God.”

“Deuteronomy says if your kid doesn’t follow your God, kill ‘em. That’s what we do, but not physically. To us, you’re dead if you’re not serving our God.”

- Star Scott, Calvary Temple Pastor

Lest we think that Scott only applies Old Testament principles to his followers though, we have the fine example of his second marriage.

In 2002, 19 days after the death of his wife, 55 year old Scott announced that the next week he would be taking a 20 year old virgin bride from the congregation, just as widowed high priests in the Old Testament did.

He then proceeded to take her on the road with the collection of expensive racing cars and motorcycles he purchased, using church money of course, as part of an “Automotive Outreach”. A young virgin bride and fast, expensive cars paid for with other people’s money? It’s interesting how well God’s desires match up with Scott’s.

Pretending piety and obedience to Jesus, Scott appears more a self-serving cult leader who is not only abusing his own congregation at home, but shipping his cult overseas. Again, Africa is the lucky recipient of another one of the horrible fundamentalist Christian cults our more credulous and obedient populations seem so good at turning out. They already have dozens, possibly hundreds of churches in Africa, and they are still spreading.

If there is a god out there, then maybe Africa needs it after all, if only to protect it from the cancerous Christian cults spreading through its populations. This is one disease that condoms can’t stop.

Like they need a hole in the head

Recently Times Online columnist Matthew Parris, who is an atheist, wrote an article based on the idea that Africa needs the Christian god.

The compassion he feels, particularly for his boyhood home of Malawi, is understandable, and his desire for positive change on the continent is commendable, but his conclusion is flawed.

It is true that Christian missionaries do good and important work in many countries around the world, and that Christianity can lead to some positive changes in people’s lives. What Mr. Parris seems to be missing is that there is not simply a choice between doing nothing and promoting Christianity.

In his world, where this false dichotomy appears to be accepted as real, conversion to Christianity may seem like a far better choice, but is Christianity really what Africa needs?

  • Does Africa need disinformation about condoms in the face of an AIDS epidemic?
  • Does Africa need endless apocalyptic sermons from one of thousands of Christian-based cults giving them fear (or worse hope) that the world is about to end?
  • Does Africa need a Christian counterpart to its growing Muslim populations so that one day they can fight a holy war against each other?

While it is true that the majority of Christians in the world don’t preach about the imminent end of the world or disparage condom use, in Africa today there are disinformation campaigns and condom burnings being carried out by African churches and foreign evangelists, and Christian doomsday cults have become all too common.

Seeds of future religious conflict are being sown today.

Simply convincing people to believe in a god or religion or another is not enough. Putting an even higher but invisible and intangible authority over people does not teach them how to live happily and peacefully with each other, it simply gives their leaders a more powerful way of inspiring or cowing them into doing what they’re told. In some cases this includes suicide, war or other atrocities as horrible as any in the world.

Africa needs change, but like every other place it needs the truth. Of course each region of the world is best served by having things presented in the way that is most effective for its people, but ultimately the truth is the truth. To say that the people of one specific continent just can’t handle living without a belief system based on lies is to say that they are less than the rest of us.

The majority of Africans may not be well served by missionaries passing out translations of The End of Faith and The God Delusion, but hope, joy, self respect and knowledge of the importance and fragility of the world we live in and of the lives we are living now can all be found by looking at the world for what it is. We just have to find the right way to present our case to them.

As evangelical Christian warlord General Laurent Nkunda shows, conversion to Christianity does not necessarily change a person’s way of life. Converting portions of the populations to Christianity and Islam may lead in the end to nothing more than a new and even more bitter division for further generations of war and genocide.

In place of the traditional strong man, Africa does not need a new crop of the same people whose only real difference is that they’ve got God on their side. Africa does not need millions of deluded AIDS orphans fighting for scraps of food while they listen to preachers rant about the imminent end of the world and the evils of condoms, what it needs is self sufficiency and well educated populations who know the truth about the world.

This is not something that can be accomplished over night, and it make take several generations to complete even if we make it a priority, but Africa is an important and all too often overlooked or abused continent. Again we have a clear choice to make in how we deal with the African people, and to look down on them as subhuman and incapable of attaining the levels of knowledge and understanding that we possess, as we did for centuries in the past, is to continue and compound those errors which were born out of racism and can only survive in the more subtle veins of racist thought that still creep into our minds today.

Watering Down “Hate Speech”

We have recently started a small advertising campaign for BetterThanFaith.com, and since our site deals with a controversial subject, I was neither surprised when we got positive responses, nor when a few people rejected our ads.

What did surprise and bother me was this message I received about an ad for our site being rejected.

Subject: Your bid is cancelled

I am sorry but [Site Name Withheld] does not support any form of hate speech regarding individuals of any religious affiliation, race, gender, or sexual orientation. Your website will no longer be permitted to advertise on this domain.

At first this may not seem to be a particularly harsh rejection, and I can understand that our ads are not something everyone wants on their site, but “hate speech”? To me this seems like severely diluting the meaning of the term, and this is particularly dangerous in a time when many countries and states have enacted or are attempting to pass laws against “hate speech”.

I do challenge Christian ideas, and I do have contempt for the god of the Bible, but I don’t hate Christians. I do my best not to malign the people themselves except in cases where the individuals have earned it, such as in the cases of Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church in general.

Being an atheist does not make me hate Christians any more than being a Christian makes people hate Hindus or Jews. In fact, given the intolerance built into many religions, I would say that atheists are less likely to hate people based on their religious beliefs.

Most of my family and some of my friends are still Christians, and while it may change some of our interactions, it does not make me dislike or disparage them as people. When I meet someone new I don’t hate them just because of their religion. As long as people are civil to me, I try to be the same.

If we are going to use terms like “hate speech” then we must distinguish between the bigotry that causes us to hate certain groups of people on sight, and the healthy expression of our disagreement with their ideas.

Without disagreement and discussion, our ideas get stuck and entrenched, and this can easily lead to true bigotry and hate.

Subjective Judgments

I have never been a big fan of the term “hate speech”. It is too much like “obscenity” and other very subjective terms which can be either completely ignored or used to abuse people with impunity because the accuser has staked out the “moral high ground” by claiming offense, usually using terms which few people would want applied to them.

Let’s look at a few situations and see what my view would be compared to what I believe an Evangelical Christian might say on the subject. We’ll call him Bob.

Situation I say Bob says
A naked person appears on my TV. Not obscene Obscene
A preacher appears on my TV ranting about how we are all horrible people deserving of eternal torture in Hell. Obscene Not obscene
Two women kiss each other in public. Not obscene Obscene
A baby’s foreskin is cut off for religious reasons. Obscene Not obscene
George W Bush gives a lap dance to an executed criminal.* Obscene Obscene
I criticize religion and call the Judeo-Christian god a monster. Not “hate speech” Hate speech
A religious group kindly lays out all of the reasons that God says homosexuality is an abomination and that not they but God Himself condemns gay people. “Hate speech”* Not hate speech
*I don’t think he ever did this, but he did make cruel comments about and mocked a woman who was executed while he was governor of Texas.

** I don’t like the term “hate speech”, but this is hateful garbage.

I may be accused of setting up a straw man here, but Bob the Evangelical’s column only contains things which I have heard from one or more Evangelicals.

The point of this though is not to say that all Evangelical Christians share exactly these views, and actually the fact that they probably could not get agreement on all of these issues even among themselves is just further proof of my point: These terms are very subjective.

Already we have laws against “obscenity” in the US, and many places around the world have outlawed “hate speech” as well. Despite my attempts to deal with issues and not present or incite hatred against religious people, I’m afraid that this site could still be condemned as “hate speech” depending on who was judging it.

Is it possible that one day even in the United States, long time defender of the 1st Amendment’s protection of free speech, the contents of this site may one day be deemed illegal?

Not if we stand up for our rights and the rights of even those who we disagree with. If such vague “anti-hate speech” laws ever come up in your state or country, please do what you can to stop them.