Stay out of my kid’s cartoons, Christians!

January 15, 2011

My little guy has recently started watching a bit more TV (before you stone me, he takes breathing treatments that are about 20 minutes long, and it fills the time).  We’ve been watching a number of shows on PBS and another little-kids’ network, Qubo.

One of the Qubo shows is a silly sci-fi farce called 3-2-1 Penguins!  Simple premise – 2 kids have a toy spaceship and penguin dolls, and imagine adventures flying through the galaxy.  There’s always a nice message; yesterday’s show was about valuing people’s character more than their looks.  And there are a number of in-jokes for the parents.  So far, so good.

So imagine my surprise when, at the start of an episode, I overhear the little girl’s mother quoting the freaking Bible to her!  And then the show ends, and the two little kids are kneeling at their bedsides saying prayers that encapsulate the lesson of the show!

It’s not enough to keep us from watching, but seriously?!  You have to proselytize to children in a show about space-faring penguins?!   At least we’ve still got Dinosaur Train (with Dr. Scott the paleontologist) on PBS to inject a little reality.


Bringing the creepy

October 12, 2010

My Very Catholic Mother-In-Law sent me this gem earlier in the week.  And you thought a guy nailed to a tree was creepy…

From  one pumpkin to another!!!!!!!

A woman was asked by  a coworker, ‘What is it like to be a  Christian?’

The coworker replied, ‘It is like being  a pumpkin.’   God  picks you from the patch, brings you in,   and  washes all the dirt off of you.    
Then  He cuts off the top and scoops out all the yucky  stuff.  He removes the seeds of doubt, hate,   and  greed.   Then  He carves you a new smiling face and puts His light inside  of you to shine for all  the  world to see.’

This was passed on to me by another  pumpkin..   Now  it’s your turn to pass it to other pumpkins.

I  liked this enough to send it to all the pumpkins in my  patch.

Just a few thoughts:

1) “He cuts off the top”?!?!?!  I used to be a Christian, and I can’t find a theological analogue for what this is supposed to mean.  He removes your brain (with thinking for yourself being “yucky stuff”)?  A veiled reference to circumcision?  WTF?

2) He apparently is kind of sloppy with that spoon, because there are as many “seeds of … hate and greed” in Christians as there are in anyone else.

3) Personally, I like a few “seeds of doubt.”  They tend to make the world a little more palatable.  Especially when toasted in butter and sprinkled liberally on the spice cake of irrationality that religion feeds people.

4) “He carves you a new smiling face” puts me in mind of Heath Ledger’s Joker.

I’ll think twice before ever calling my kid “pumpkin” after this.

God, Grilled Cheese, and Glee

October 6, 2010

Fox’s hit TV show Glee waded into the fraught waters of belief and disbelief last night, with mixed results.  Three separate storylines focused on the faith or lack thereof of the characters.

Story #1: Most prominent was the story of Kurt, the gay son of an auto mechanic.  Kurt’s dad has a heart attack and goes into a coma, and we subsequently learn that Kurt is an atheist when his friends begin to offer religious assertions as comfort.

The Good: Kurt is unapologetic and consistent in his disbelief.  When challenged that he “can’t disprove God,” he gets in a zinger involving Bertrand Russell’s Celestial Teapot (although Kurt jazzes it up a bit by putting a dwarf that shoots lasers from its boobs inside the teapot).  The show closes with a great human moment when Kurt tells his dad that he doesn’t believe in God, but he does believe in their family.  I thought it was refreshing to have a character so openly profess his disbelief, and NOT be converted by the end (and I was nervous at a few points it might go that way).

The Bad: Kurt violates the Phil Plait rule, and sometimes comes off as a dick.  He calls the class “mental patients” for believing in God, and tosses several of them from his dad’s hospital room when they show up to pray.  (I defend him on this point, though.  If you make your views known and people shove their religion in anyway, I think you’re entitled to be pissed.)

Story #2: Finn, the dim but earnest football player, makes a grilled cheese and, due to a fluke of the George Forman Grill, ends up with Grilled Cheesus.  After carefully excising the half of the sandwich without the lord’s countenance (because Finn was, after all, really hungry), Finn begins praying for various selfish things: to win a football game, to get to second base with Rachael, to become quarterback again.  Every wish comes true, and every time Finn expressly gives credit to Grilled Cheesus.  It all unravels, however, when Finn realizes all that happened was for completely explainable reasons, and his newfound faith dissolves with a rendition of “Losing My Religion.”  And the consumption of Grilled Cheesus.

The Good: First, it’s just funny as hell to watch Finn pray to a grilled cheese.  Best line: “I never went to Sunday School, so I don’t know if you’re like a genie and I get three wishes.”  Also interesting to show a shallow but common form of Christianity, what Kurt called “Santa Clause for adults.”  Nice scene when Finn gives credit to god for his romantic success with Rachael, and is reminded that Rachael let him touch her, because she cares about him.

The Bad: Not much to complain about here.  Finn’s a nominal believer, then an earnest but selfish believer, then decides it’s all crap.  Works for me.

Story #3: Cheer coach and villain extraordinaire Sue Sylvester gets wind that the Glee Club is singing religious songs and takes Will to the principal’s office for violating the separation of church and state.  We also learn that Sue prayed as a child for her sister, who has Down’s Syndrome, to “get better,” and when her prayers weren’t answered and people treated her sister cruelly, concluded that “it wasn’t that I wasn’t praying hard enough.  It was that no one was listening.”

The Good: Sue is also unabashed about her disbelief.  And it’s one of the “sincere Sue” moments.

The Bad: She comes off as a “bitter atheist.”  Her disbelief seems more of an angry reaction to her sister’s situation than a considered position.  Toward the end, she appears to soften toward belief for no other reason than her sister offering to pray for her, which again makes her disbelief seem shallow.

All in all, I think the show offered a mostly fair portrayal of atheism and atheists.  Despite his snippish moments, Kurt is sympathetic and grateful for his friends’ concern, even if he doesn’t share their beliefs.  Sue provides a genuine emotional critique of religion, if it is isn’t all that philosophically sophisticated.

And Finn? Grilled Cheesus.  Hee hee.

What, no guns?

September 27, 2010

Spotted in the window of a Philly bible bookstore.  Kinda speaks for itself.

Quote of the day

September 21, 2010

Ecklund’s big error is to suppose that religious people have unique and constructive insights into morality not shared by atheists or agnostics.  She doesn’t say what these insights are, and no wonder: there aren’t any. The moral insights that are unique to religion, as opposed to secular morality, are harmful and stupid.

– Jerry Coyne,, on a book arguing that scientists should consider religious moral insights regarding their work.

To a well intentioned Christian

September 16, 2010

We suffered a small tragedy in our household this week.  Our second pregnancy ended in a miscarriage after 10 weeks.  We’re sad but coping relatively well.  Raising a toddler we adore helps the healing process significantly.  Friends and family have also sent nice messages, including this one from my wife’s aunt.

Hi guys,
I got an email from your mom telling me about your baby. I am so sorry to hear this. Just know each baby is precious little works from God and apparently this little one was called home sooner. I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers and be sure to take good care of yourself.
Aunt Gertrude*

This is where I struggle as an atheist.  There is nothing but kindness intended by that email.  But that kindness is wrapped up in religious nonsense that I find downright offensive.  Without the third sentence, I’d get nothing but warm fuzzies.  With it, I get the churning heavies.

I drafted the following response, but am not sure I’ll ever send it.  Nevertheless, it does help me organize my own thoughts and emotions a bit.

Dear Aunt Gertrude,

Thank you for thinking of us with your email.  This is a somewhat difficult time for us, and we genuinely appreciate the well wishes of friends and family.

Having said that, I also have to tell you that we don’t agree with the religious content of your message.  It’s long overdue for us to say this clearly, but we don’t believe that God exists.  And we find the idea that God “called home” our fetus both silly and offensive.  (Please understand that’s directed at the idea, not you.  We know and appreciate that you’re responding out of love.  It’s the idea you’ve been taught by the church that we object to.)  It’s silly because, according to the doctors, our fetus stopped developing around 6 ½ weeks.  At that point, it was the size of a lentil, which looks like this:

Although the fetus was beginning to develop many of the features of a fully-formed human at that point, it still had a long way to go.  It looked something like this:

What possible reason could a god have to “call home” a fetus at that stage of development?  It hadn’t even formed eyes, let alone relationships or life experiences.  Even if you believe it had a soul, I’m trying to imagine what that soul would say in heaven.  “Well, that was an interesting 6 weeks.  Would have liked to try out seeing or hearing, but hey, those arm buds were pretty spiffy.”

It’s the standard religious answer to this question that is offensive.  If you’ll forgive me for a bit of mind-reading, I’m guessing your answer would be something along the lines of “well, we can’t always understand it, but God has a plan.”  And I respond with another question – what kind of God makes plans that include killing other people’s children?  That would be the height of cruelty.  I wouldn’t worship a god like that, even if I believed he existed.  Especially if the “purpose” behind his “plan” was to punish us, draw us back to him, teach us a lesson, or even to somehow make us better people.  If God thinks I’m lacking somehow, he could build me up in any number of ways that don’t involve snuffing out my children.  Send a stray puppy my way to teach me sympathy.  Burn Jesus into my toast to prove his existence to me.  Make me botch a contract to teach me humility.  The non-homicidal possibilities are endless.  But we’re asked by religion to accept that our suffering in this instance is actually for our own good.  Forgive my language, but fuck that.

The real truth is much more comforting to us.  Anywhere from 10% to 25% of pregnancies end in miscarriage.  For women between 35 and 39, the rate is around 20%.  That means there’s a 1 in 5 chance that any pregnancy will end in miscarriage in our age range.  What happened to us happens to many people.  And when it does, more often than not it’s because there was something about the pregnancy – a genetic problem, poor development of the placenta, something – that simply wasn’t working out.  That “precious little gift from God” was never going to be born healthy.  Unless you can admit that your God is even crueler, creating pregnancies (and their attendant excitement and hopes) that are doomed from the start, the most reasonable response to a miscarriage is to accept that it’s nothing more than an unfortunate but common biological event.

This kind of acceptance is not callousness.  It is not despair, or resignation, or nihilism.  It is acceptance born of understanding.  Knowing what we know about miscarriage, it’s easier to deal with the emotional ramifications.  Now we can heal, focus on taking physical care of her, and focus on our existing son.  I don’t know how we’d cope if we were sitting around wondering why God allowed/caused this to happen to us.

Thanks for reading this.  I hope you understand that we don’t mean to attack you or rebuff your sympathy, for which we’re very grateful.  But we’re so often confronted with religious statements that we felt it important to explain our very different perspective, and why those religious statements aren’t comforting to us.  We look forward to seeing you next time we’re down visiting.


* Name changed to protect the well-intentioned.

A month of nonsense in 4 panels

September 11, 2010

Leave it to Jesus and Mo to settle the hottest issues.