"It was just a normal day. I’d been out having sex with some girls, and then I saw Jesus."
A program in Phoenix called Project ROSE arrests sex workers in massive raids and brings them to a church, where they are held extra-judicially and offered alternative sentences without lawyers, judges, or due process.
Atheists and Christians Arguing About Nothing
Tonight, Bill Nye the Science Guy is going onstage at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, to argue about evolution with the museum’s founder Ken Ham, who is a young-earth creationist, meaning he thinks the world is only a few thousand years old. Nye is going to “win” the debate in the eyes of anyone who thinks that science is right about anything; Ham’s going to be similarly celebrated by a lot of hardcore Biblical literalists. The debate is the WWE for pseudointellectuals who spend too much time on Reddit, a made-for-YouTube event that will serve as a soapbox for Nye and Ham to stand on and shout.
Syria’s Christian Minority Are Fighting Back
The security office is so neatly tucked away into a small side street that it’s a little difficult to take it seriously as a threatening resistance operation. Inside, young guys are sitting around with rifles, some in uniform, others in civilian clothes. It’s a typical scene in today’s Syria, a country with more armed groups than is possible to count, except for the fact that the office is so clean you could eat off the floor, and most of the men are strikingly well-groomed. Also, the sign on the office wall is in a language other than Arabic or Kurdish, the two main languages of the region, and there is a cross in its center.
Sutoro, the name the organization goes under,means “police” in Syriac, the language of theAssyrian Christians of the area—the Hasakah Governorate in the northeast of the country. The group has been described as a Christian militia, but it’s really a neighborhood watch, albeit with arrest powers and automatic weapons. Its members patrol the streets of Qahtaniya, Al-Malikiyah and Qamishli, towns and cities where people—mostly Kurds, but also Christians and Sunni Arabs—are locked in a brutal struggle against Islamist militants, some of them with ties to al Qaeda.
Syria’s Christians—many of whom are richer and more comfortable than the country’s mostly poor Sunni majority—have mostly featured in the news as victims of the country’s civil war. The fightingbetween Islamist rebels and government forces in Maaloula, a Christian town north of Damascus where Aramaic, the language of Christ, is still spoken, has been widely reported and seen as another ominous development for a community that was, until a few years ago, thriving not just in Syria but also in Iraq. Since the conflict began, 450,000 Christians are thought to have left the country, more than a quarter of the original total. But some are now resisting.
The Stealth War on Abortion
While more Americans support upholding ‘Roe v. Wade’ than ever, the Tea Party and the Christian right have teamed up to pass hundreds of restrictions eviscerating abortion rights in GOP-controlled state legislatures across the country.
How to Make Atheism Less Awful in 2014
Atheism never meant much to me growing up. The first time I ever used the word was while filling out some school form, wondering whether I should put “Church of England” when I didn’t actually believe in God. My mom, without trying to push me in any particular direction, explained that “atheist” was the option that meant not believing in a god, and so at the flick of a biro I became one of those, and didn’t think much more of it for at least another decade or so.
Then 9/11 happened, at the start of my second year in college. The horror triggered a wave of condemnation of religion, leading to the rise of “New Atheism.” As much publishing phenomenon as political movement, the next few years would see high-profile bestsellers by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett among others (though it was these four men who became popularly known as the Four Horsemen of the Non-Apocalypse). With the long-term demographic shift away from religion, and public revulsion over the sort of faith-based extremism that led to terrorism, it felt like we’d reached a turning point in the never-ending battle for sanity.
Inevitably, though, things began to fray at the seams. Harris blundered into controversy over his apparent support for racial profiling; Hitchens passed away; and Dawkins joined Twitter, beginning an infuriating, endless cycle of controversy and bewilderment. Hordes of New Atheist fans began popping up on the internet and it turned out that a lot of them were angry pricks. Different fronts and factions emerged, each with their own ideas about what capital-A Atheism should mean and stand for. New Atheism has matured, and for some that means learning to hate each other in imaginative new ways.
At the start of 2014 there are four broad—and overlapping—schisms in atheism, which can be summed up as: Dicks vs. Cowards, Islamophobes vs. More Cowards, Misogynists vs. Feminists, and Americans vs. Europeans. We could also count Richard Dawkins’ Twitter Account vs. the Collective Sanity of the Internet, but that sort of falls under “all of the above.”
I Spent a Decade Working for Churches (and It Was the Worst)
Before I started doing comedy and writing full time, I spent over a decade working for churches. Let me preface this by saying that I am not an angry atheist, or even someone who bashes organized religion. There are so many churches doing fantastic work for their communities and truly helping people with little or no attention from the media. I’ve worked for some that I’ve seen firsthand do tremendous work and even helped me with difficult times in my life. With that said, I’ve seen some of the most repulsive, sickening behavior you could possibly imagine by men and women claiming to be representatives of God. I worked with organizations in the smallest of towns and I’ve worked with some of the biggest names in religion, so I know what I’m talking about. I’m not someone judging from the outside. I’ve been a part of it, which, at times, felt like the worst thing that could possibly happen to me.
I worked with an organization called Master’s Commission, which is basically a Bible college that combines the educational part of ministry with actual hands-on work. I had been involved with the program in Cincinnati, Ohio, and in Orlando, Florida. A pastor in Louisville, Kentucky, named Tony had seen the work that Master’s Commission had done and contacted my boss in Orlando about starting one at his church.
The Best Little Hell House in Texas
Brother Thomas turns to me and says, “We’re shorthanded in the abortion room.” I’ve gone to work as a volunteer at a Hell House, an evangelical Christian haunted house in Cedar Hill, Texas, designed to scare kids away from sinning. “I’m either going to put you in the abortion room,” Brother Thomas says, “or the drunk-driving room.”
“The abortion room would be great,” I say, feeling mildly uncomfortable that I’m much older than the rest of the teenage volunteers.
“When the visitors come in,” Brother Thomas says, leading me to the room where a fake abortion performed by actors using grocery store meat to simulate a discarded fetus is supposed to scare kids away from premarital sex, “what I need you to do is yell in a strong voice, ‘Watch the steps!’ If we don’t say, ‘Watch your step,’ and they fall, we’re liable.”
At Hell House, Jesus steers kids toward the Lord. But he can’t prevent lawsuits.
What the hell is a “hell house”? If you’re not familiar, Hell House is a Christian alternative to the standard haunted house. Instead of Freddy Krueger, these costumed evangelists scare the holy Jesus into you—literally.
In this house of horrors, being gay results in dying of AIDS and premarital sex can lead the homecoming queen down a slippery slope of prostitution. Youth groups visit and are led through a series of “real life” horrific scenes designed to create terror and revulsion. Hell House outreach manuals include astute tips on creating authentic abortion room scenes, such as: Purchase a meat product that closely resembles pieces of a baby to be placed in a glass bowl.
Kansas Creationists Are Claiming That Science Is a Religion
You’ve really got to hand it to creationists. Say what you will about their unyielding ignorance, blind devotion, and shitty museums, but like an eager virgin on prom night, they never ever seem to give up. It’s almost embarrassing to atheists, including theassholes on the atheism subreddit, how hard these people campaign and twist to get their point across, while we sit here endlessly masturbating with our evolved thumbs.
This week in Kansas, nonprofit group Citizens for Objective Public Education, representing a handful of parents and their undoubtedly reluctant children, filed suit against the Kansas State Board of Education for including a science handbook as part of a nationwide refurbishment of the science curriculum, primarily because it includes sections on the dreaded scourge evolution. By itself, this is decidedly annoying; students have a hard enough time trying to grasp the core fundamentals of science without having an anti-intellectualist special interest group fucking with their bare bones public school education. But what is so deeply exasperating about this lawsuit in particular is their line of reasoning, namely that accepting evolution “will have the effect of causing Kansas public schools to establish and endorse a nontheistic religious worldview in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the US Constitution.”
I’ll let that sink in. Defining atheism as a religion in order to remove science and humanities, justified as separation of church and state in order to promote their own actual religion. I promise you that somebody fucked their wife in the missionary position to celebrate being so clever. If there’s anything that says “God’s Will,” it’s semantic loopholes and egomaniacal reappropriation.
The Religious Right’s Anti-Vaccine Hysteria Is Reviving Dead Diseases in America
I’ve never really understood the fear of vaccines, mostly because there’s no real, hard evidence linking them to autism, autoimmune disorders, sudden infant death syndrome, or anything else. The only thing you can really like it to is making sure you don’t get sick. But, like abortion, evangelical Christians have been using vaccination hysteria as a way to galvanize support, even after Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s landmark 1998 paper linking vaccines to autism and bowel dysfunction was roundly debunked as bad science.
To be honest, I get the religious argument against inoculation way more than the scientific one. I think it goes like this: even if vaccination is not compulsory, it is a sin to thwart God’s will—if He would strike me down, I would be stricken. If I believed in a pissed-off white-bearded dude in robes up in heaven with a lightning bolt gun, I wouldn’t want to anger him or her either. It certainly makes more sense than the new age version of vaccine refusal, where suburban yuppies just slide their kids another Kombucha instead of bringing them to the pediatrician.
If Fred Phelps wants to believe that vaccines violate the word of god, thats fine. It’s no skin off my back if the evangelical community wants to believe that god doesn’t trust them with their own bodies. The problem for me is that some day I plan on impregnating a woman with my penis. Nine months later, we’ll be blessed with a little wriggly child (preferably a boy), and I want to make sure that he grows up big and strong and doesn’t accidently contract an old disease—especially one that most doctors don’t know how to treat anymore—because my neighbors decide not to vaccinate their child.
Remember measles? That old-timey disease we officially eliminated in the United States 13 years ago? Thanks to the wonder of inoculation, measles should be entirely nonexistent in this country, but yesterday the Center for Disease Control reported 159 cases from January through August of this year. This puts our country on track for the worst measles year since 1996, when there were 500 reported cases—which is disturbing, especially because doctors and nurses aren’t really trained to look out for measles anymore, because of the whole “elimination” thing.