30 September 2008

Alpha Course - see it again, for the first time

Don’t laugh: After years of heckling, belittling denigration by me on the subject, I have reluctantly agreed to accompany my wife to the Alpha Course. Tonight is the first night, an introductory dinner, so nothing will be too painful. Yet.

Before anyone says anything about me being whipped1, I’d like to say that I’m not actually vehemently opposed to going to Alpha. After mocking the course repeatedly (just click on the Alpha Course tag below to see examples) I’d really like to see just what the hell they are teaching beyond what can be gleaned from the textbook and talking with my wife. So I am interested – really - though probably not in the way Alpha organizers hope I’d be interested. Well, there’s that and the free dinner that’s provided. Bribes certainly help.

Actually, the free dinner is the cause of the third reason why I’m going; my wife managed to convince a couple of her friends to go too (both irreligious) due to the food bribes. I feel the need to protect them since, although they are currently skeptical, I don’t understand their thought processes well enough to know how well their Bullshit Detection Kits2 are working, and I want to do something to protect them, just in case.

So with that in mind, I intend to be fully argumentative and bring my reasonably extensive scientific, historical, and biblical knowledge to bear. I’m not exactly sure how confrontational I’ll be since I don’t think I can be an absolute dick and still be an effective debater - or even tolerated at the table, for that matter – but I’ll try to sow some doubt and try to ensure that those who weren’t Christians before won’t become Christians after. I guess the questions are how confrontational can I be and how will it affect my marriage?

Will King Aardvark be sleeping on the couch?3 Stay tuned over the coming weeks and find out…

1 I likely am.

2 Carl Sagan called it the Baloney Detection Kit, but that was in the ‘90s and we’ve progressed linguistically since then.

3 It’s actually a pretty nice couch, so I can swing that if necessary.

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29 September 2008

Stretched Tie-ins to Pop Culture: Church Peeves Part 5

Church Peeves: Part 5

This is the fifth in a 5-part series of things about church/churchgoers that piss me right the hell off that are of little or no consequence whatsoever:

5) Extremely stretched tie-ins to popular culture

Is it reasonable to talk about the gross stuff you saw last night on Fear Factor as a prelude to a sermon about Acts of the Apostles?

How about spending five minutes talking about watching Canadian Idol with your wife just to introduce the topic of idolatry? Yes, it has “idol” in the title, but it’s just a freakin’ talent show.

Here’s a hint for all the preachers out there: admiration for Sam Roberts as a musician does not equal idolatry either. We know that you’re just attempting to ride the coattails of a successful popular culture figure in order to hook the audience into listening to you.

And you know what? It’s lame and ineffective. Please cut it out. You’re only embarrassing yourself.

One time, we had a pastor who was a huge hockey fan. He introduced his sermon with a few slides discussing the rather silly Vote for Rory* campaign, where NHL fans tried to elect the unworthy defenseman to the NHL All-Star Game. I have no idea how the Vote for Rory campaign even tied into anything the pastor was saying. I would like to say it was something like “Jesus is voting for you even though you don’t deserve it,” but that wasn’t it. I can’t even remember what the sermon was about anymore since the tie-in was so loose. It hurt my brain, not only as a church-goer but as a hockey fan.

Few things are more mentally painful that an awkward, desperate tie-in. Yet time and time again preachers try and stretch to connect the fad of the day to whatever Jesus topic they were planning on speaking about.

I don’t think they can be that clueless as to how bad their connections are. My guess is that it’s one of two things, possibly both, depending on the person:
1) preachers have no shame and are willing to tie anything to anything else to try to sell their product
2) newbie preachers/speakers have been told that pop culture tie-ins are a great way to engage audiences, so they use them, despite knowing that they are clueless about doing it properly

* FYI: In the NHL, the starting lineups for the all-star game are decided by online fan voting. The ballot has options for voting for the most likely star players at each position, but write-in votes are allowed. Back in 2006-2007, fans started a movement to try to elect Rory Fitzpatrick, a journeyman defenseman with no standout qualities, to the starting defense. The movement took on a life of its own and Rory just missed out on the all-star selection.

Ps. Yes, I voted for Rory a bunch of times.

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25 September 2008

Hard-Ons for Jesus: Church Peeves Part 4

Church Peeves: Part 4

This is the fourth in a 5-part series of things about church/churchgoers that piss me right the hell off that are of little or no consequence whatsoever:

4) Hard-ons for Jesus, yet anti-gay

It’s true: a good number of the men who go to church have literal hard-ons for Jesus. Want proof? Okay:

Think about how many times you hear a guy speaking at the church who says things like he “loves Jesus,” or is “in a relationship with Him,” or “desperately needs Him,” or is "passionate with Jesus" and the like.* For those of you who haven’t been to church in a while, I’ll give you a hint: it’s a lot. And these are self-proclaimed manly men – the type that would never admit to having loving feelings towards male members of their own families. Ergo, we have to assume these yearnings for Jesus have some homosexual undertones.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. I know from the Kinsey studies that people are on a sliding scale from fully straight to fully gay with most people in between. Their hard-ons for Jesus are purely natural, considering how wonderful Christians believe he is. Definitely mancrush-worthy if you like the skinny bearded type.

The problem is that the man love that these guys embrace does not extend to men other than Jesus. You’d think that this man-man common ground would lead to a positive understanding between Christian men and homosexuals, but strangely it does not.

* re: the “loves Jesus,” “desperately needs Him,” etc. It really is like the South Park episode where Cartman starts a successful Christian music act by taking fluffy pop songs and replacing the ‘girl’s and ‘baby’s with ‘Jesus’

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22 September 2008

Your Use of the English Language Sucks: Church Peeves Part 3

Church Peeves: Part 3

This is the third in a 5-part series of things about church/churchgoers that piss me right the hell off that are of little or no consequence whatsoever:

3) Your use of the English language sucks

Did you know that “the resurrection” is not an event, it’s a person? Me neither. Of course, this was said in my wife’s church referring to Jesus. So Jesus isn’t just man and God, he’s also an event, too? Jesus is a freakin’ Swiss Army Knife.

I’m not sure if that works. Can I just claim an event for myself? As in “the passing-of-gas is not an event, it’s King Aardvark?" Does that make sense? It’s not like it’s Jesus’ boxing nickname (Jesus “The Resurrection” Christ would work, though we saw how bad he was at boxing in South Park).

I think this is all part of a ploy to break the audience’s brains so they’ll stop thinking and just suck everything in.

Another thing that bothers me is the capitalization of anything remotely to do with God/Jesus. You don’t write, “Where is KING AARDVARK going in His Car? Is He going for pizza? KING AARDVARK, You have stated it is the Truth that mushrooms are your favourite topping. It is an example of Your Wisdom.”

You don’t write that, yet somehow this has become the preferred style when writing about God.

One more thing: How come when members of the congregation get up to lead a prayer they start speaking with archaic ‘thee’s and ‘thou’s and ‘verily’s and the like? Dude, who the hell do you think you are? This isn’t 16th century England, you’re not a Shakespearean actor, and the Bible you use is the freaking New International Version, for crap’s sake.

To summarize: having obnoxious word/capitalization usage doesn’t make you look pious; rather, it makes you look like a giant douchebag who has been drinking too much douche-flavoured Cool-Aid and fell out of a douche tree, striking every branch on the way down. Please speak/write like a normal human being, ya douche.

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18 September 2008

Palin for President

I’m getting on the bandwagon. There is a Palin out there who is a much better candidate for leader of the free world:

Not only is he worldy, well-educated, and probably the nicest guy on the planet, he’s also a lumberjack and he’s okay.

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16 September 2008

Secular Advice? Nope, it's God's: Church Peeves Part 2

Church Peeves: Part 2

This is the second in a 5-part series of things about church/churchgoers that piss me right the hell off that are of little or no consequence whatsoever:

2) Secular advice? Nope, it’s God’s

a. Question: when does a church sermon actually feature a useful message?
b. Answer: when that message is a mundane secular message.

There was some good advice at a church service I went to the other day. It was all about taking one day off a week just to refresh by not thinking or doing anything about stuff you consider to be work. I like that advice. In fact, I try to have several days a week like that; however, annoying things like my job or my wife (just kidding) do all they can to get in the way of that. The pastor talked of his early ministerial life where he felt burned-out continuously because he never took a day to himself and eventually the senior pastor had to force him to take Mondays off. This is all good advice.

Of course, I could have given you this advice without having to create something called a Sabbath, tying it into a story in Genesis about God “resting” on the seventh day - not because he was tired but to serve as an example for us, and causing some poor guy picking up sticks on a Sunday to be stoned to death:

32 While the Israelites were in the desert, a man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath day. 33 Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and the whole assembly, 34 and they kept him in custody, because it was not clear what should be done to him. 35 Then the LORD said to Moses, "The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp." 36 So the assembly took him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as the LORD commanded Moses.

Apart from sabbathing, I’ve heard other good sermons about marital relationships and conflict resolution, the benefits of hard work even in poor circumstances, charity, and striving to push yourself beyond your comfort zone. They all had tenuous ties to the Bible and the secular advice was pretty spot-on, though some of the more firm ties to the Bible were pretty sketchy in advice quality (see the stoning of the dude in the Sabbath story – stoning people isn’t typically considered good advice under any circumstances in this day and age).

I really wish I had read the pamphlet entitled, “God-Centred Approach to Job Loss.” That could have been enlightening.

One last thing: even though a secular advice-giver will give all this good advice as well as any other, for some reason many believers won’t take this good advice to heart unless it comes by way of a minister and a tenuous connection to the Bible. Trying to help people these people is frustrating.

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14 September 2008

Sarah Palin: Hockey Goon; or, How Obama can avoid a trip to the penalty box

Sarah Palin worries me. She worries me because she’s a bible-thumping crazy who, if she attains power, will quite possibly take the world down in flames. She also worries me because, despite being a loud ignoramus, she’s been remarkably effective in drawing attention to herself and slandering Obama and Biden.

The hockey fan in me will now draw your attention to a new article on FiveThirtyEight.com explaining why she’s successful, not despite being a loud ignoramus, but because of it. You see, she’s not a hockey mom, she’s a hockey player: a 4th line agitator, a pest, a cheap-shot goon. And as agitators before her (eg, Sean Avery) have shown, she can be effective:

Watching Sarah Palin this week, and the reaction to her by both sides, and all the talk of hockey mommery, I realized that this is who she is. She skates into the corner, throws up an elbow, and the Democrats cry: "Foul!" Hey! She said Obama has never passed a major bill – this is an objective lie! Hey! She ridiculed community organizing the day after Service was the theme! Technically people should punish her by not voting for her over this infraction!

It’s whining, and whiners hit back second and go to the penalty box on top of it.

That’s right: the American public is like a hockey referee who hasn’t wised-up to the agitator’s antics. Palin can lie and slander all she wants; as long as she’s the agitator, any counterattack by Obama and Biden will come out looking bad.

In the old NHL, the way to handle a player like that would be to either send your goon out to pummel him into a fine paste or to do a nice two-handed ankle-breaking slash. Unfortunately, these options are no longer allowed - neither in the NHL nor in American politics.

The current solution in both venues is much trickier: you have to ignore them. Be it a punch to the head after the whistle or a blatant mischaracterization of your political history, you have to not respond to what they are doing and continue with your goals. Retaliate on the scoreboard, not on the ice.

For Obama and Biden, this means not giving the media a juicy retaliatory soundbites. The Dems have to keep on pushing their talking points and policies and avoid Palin’s distractions. They have to ensure the media presents them as all business while Palin is portrayed as a whiney hag. If they don’t, they’ll look haggier than the hag, and we’re all screwed.


Note: This actually ties-in pretty well with the debates between creationists and evolutionists (I hate using this term; it should say 'rational people'). On talk.origins you’ll often find mentions of the Gish Gallop, a "format of most debates where the creationist is allowed to run on for 45 minutes or an hour, spewing forth torrents of error that the evolutionist hasn't a prayer of refuting in the format of a debate." The solution is the same: don’t bother defending yourself. Stick to what you’re there to debate and take down your opponent on your terms, not his.

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05 September 2008

Church Peeves: Part 1

As an atheist who keeps up with the writings of PZ Myers, Ebonmuse, Greta Christina, etc. I am well aware of the damages inflicted to the human thought process by religion and the dangers posed thereof. But that’s not to say there aren’t things about church/churchgoers (not all of them, but a significant portion of them) that piss me right the hell off that are of little or no consequence whatsoever. And since I really need to vent, you’re going to read about them in a 5-part series. Here’s the first:

1) Bland Omni-Happiness

You know the type: the kindly middle-aged lady, the smiling and squinting old gentleman greeter, the pudgy junior pastor – all sorts of people at the church united by one common element – they are always, always happy-looking. You come in the door; they smile. You sit down next to them; they smile. You engage in half-hearted small talk; they smile. It doesn’t matter if times are good or times are bad; if it’s raining, snowing, or sunny; if a group of orphans just got run over in the parking lot; or if you’ve just insulted their stinky old grandmother with a limp: they keep on smiling that same soulless lobotomized smile. They are like freaking morning TV show hosts.

Here’s a news flash to all the smiley automatons of the religious world: it’s okay to show emotions other than bland omni-happiness. It’s what makes us interesting as human beings. If God* had wanted us to only smile, he wouldn’t have given us all these wonderful facial muscles that can make us look angry, bored, confused, frustrated, and (here’s one to try) genuinely happy – not the phony-looking blandly happy garbage that these guys put on.

That said, I’m sure some of them really are that happy; for some, they who have drunken deeply of the Jesus cool-aid, I’m sure that there is a genuine euphoric response to being holed-up church surrounded by people and things that have been Jesified. However, I’m also sure that some of them are fakers and just going along with the crowd.

Regardless, I badly want to kick one of these guys in the nuts just so they will express some emotion other than the bland omni-happiness. Even though it may not be “emotion” so much as it will be “agonizing pain.” I’m sure there will be other emotions in there such as confusion and anger even if you can’t quite tell by looking at them. No matter; at least the smile will be gone.

Scratch that, I’d bet some of them would merely wince and drop to their knees, yet maintain their smile and reach out, saying, “Isn’t it a wonderful day to be loved by Jesus?”

Grinning bastards.

* Note: not actual God, but it’s much easier than writing, “If evolution by means of natural selection had selected for us to only smile…”

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