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Box of Apologetics June 8, 2017

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Rants, Responses.
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Every Monday I listen to the previous Sunday’s broadcast of The Atheist Experience.  And generally the show is a lot of fun, lots of promotion of critical thinking and jousting with theists.  My favorite host is Tracie Harris, who just hits it out of the park, and it’s pretty satisfying when Matt Dillahunty hangs up on an annoying troll.  But lately I have been getting frustrated when some apologist calls in with their favorite clever twist on some tired old apologetic, and they proceed to argue in endless circles, because they just have to “get the atheist to admit that they are right”.  These calls tend to go on way too long and almost never accomplish anything.

I’ve realized that if I were hosting the show and one of these guys got going, that there is something specific I would want to say to them.  But since that’s unlikely ever to happen, I’ll just say it here instead:

“Hey Mr. Apologist!  Before you begin on whatever clever argument for god you are about to present, I need to ask you three background questions.  So, for the time being, instead of discussing it right away, we’re going to put your apologetic in a box.

This Box.

“We’re not going to unpack it just yet.  Not until I find out a few things about the person I am talking to.  First I need to ask you when you first started believing in god.”

(A typical theist will probably tell me that they have been a believer their whole lives, or from when they were very young.)

“OK.  And when did you first learn this argument you are about to present?”

(Let’s assume they tell us about the book they read in high school, or the class their church had recently, or some such.  It’s not likely that they learned a complicated argument in their earliest Sunday School classes.)

“All right.  And finally, suppose that your apologetics teacher (or Pope, or whoever is an authority for your sect) came to you and said ‘Dude, we found a flaw in this particular argument.  It doesn’t actually prove the thing it’s supposed to prove.  You have to stop using it.’  If that were to happen, would you still believe in god?  Would you have to reconsider anything about what you believe, or would you still believe exactly as you do now?”

(I would expect that a typical True Believer™ would declare that their faith would continue to be steadfast in that case.)

“OK, so let me review what we’ve learned about the argument in this box.

  1. It’s not what initially persuaded you to believe, because you didn’t have it at that time.
  2. It’s not what’s keeping you in your faith, because you would still be a believer even if you lost what’s in the box. 

SO, what that tells me is that we don’t actually need to open this box at all!  The question for callers is “Tell us what you believe and why.”  And we have just established that the argument in this box is not really part of your “why“.  So we can throw out this box unopened.  It’s not relevant.

“Here’s the box we ought to open up:

“What we should be talking about are the real reasons that you believe.   What initially persuaded you to start believing?  What things are so central to your beliefs that you would have to rethink your entire belief system if they were discredited?   I don’t know what’s in this box for you.  Maybe it’s things like ‘trust in your teachers,’ ‘personal experience,’ ‘clerical authority,’ or ‘biblical infallibility.’  Maybe it’s something else.  We won’t know until we start unpacking it.” Those are the interesting and useful discussions to have, not these circular apologetic word games.

If I ever were in the position similar to the hosts on TAE, I think that I would have to label some real boxes to use as visual aids.  Because, unless a caller says that their argument was specifically why they started believing, or that their faith would collapse without it, there’s no way that I would want to waste my energy listening to their endless philosophical wanking.  I have better things to do, like watching paint dry.

“So You’re Going on a Mission!” Sell the product September 14, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Books, Humor, Responses.
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Continuing the series on the 1968 guidebook for prospective missionaries:

Chapter 13, Proselyting Care

(I still continue to find it very weird that this book says “proselyting” instead of “proselytizing” as most people do.)

So, we’ve been through chapters of advice on manners and laundry and packing and cooking, and all kinds of things that missionaries need to do, but we have finally come to the loooong chapter about the primary activity that the missionaries are supposed to do: sell the product.


Now, if you remember, right at the start the guidebook said it was not going address details of theology. So this chapter is about motivation and salesmanship.  And as usual, there’s a mix of actual practical advice (like learn from people that have already been doing this, or be patient, or tolerant of a less motivated companion,) but also some really over-the-top instructions.

So what helpful advice does our guidebook have?  It starts out this way:

“If you want to have a successful mission you must start out successfully.  The magic formula is successful W O R K.  Just as it is true that no one has yet devised a method for getting wheat out of straw except by threshing it, so it is true that no one has yet devised a method for baptizing people into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints without meeting with them and converting them.  Such a supreme accomplishment is impossible for a missionary who is easygoing or lazy, sitting in his room all or part of the day, or indulging in too much social activity.  The Lord has never said his work would be easy; he has promised that if you work, you’ll be happy doing what you came to do, while if you don’t, you’ll be nothing but miserable.” (pg 113)

So, right off the focus is work ethic, work makes you happy, don’t goof off.  Relaxing too much will make you unhappy.  What else does our author have to say about this work?

“Are you a cheerful happy friendly person who can smile and keep a song in your heart even though slapped down periodically by discouragement? …  Remember a cheerful person is not one who has no problem; rather he is one who has made a habit not to wear his problems on his face nor reveal them in his tone of voice.” (pg 114)

“Can you jump in with both feet and forget yourself, your clothes, dates, friends at home, and personal pleasures, devoting yourself to your one purpose of fulfilling and honorable forceful mission?” (pg 114)

“HINT: If you don’t get going and do your job well, the whole district suffers.” (pg 115)

“Can you work as though the success of the whole mission depended on you but pray and have faith as though it all depended on the Lord?” (pg 115)

“Missionary work is a team effort from the mission president down to the greenest missionary.  Success within the team rests solidly on respect for authority. … Obey their rules.  Keep them whether you think they are important or not — even little ones.” (pg 115)

This is sounding more and more like a creepy cult.  Don’t show how you feel, smile all the time, forget your own life, obey authority, and everybody else is depending on your doing this. Yeesh.

And you know how impossibly upbeat and smiley Mormon missionaries always are?

“Hallmarks of success as listed in the handbook of the Central Atlantic States Mission are:

  1. Be affirmative in your thinking and speech.  Avoid negative words and phrases: “if,” “I hope,” “I’ll try,” and “I’ll do my best.”  Say instead “I’ll do it.”
  2. Smile.
  3. Look people in the eye.
  4. Be enthusiastic.”

What about relaxation?

“…in order to be happy and productive in one’s work he must not do it all the time.  Because this is true, missionaries are given time off each week to enjoy a change of pace.  … This does not mean, however, that you should ever pass up an opportunity to present the gospel message.   …. Every time you need toothpaste, purchase it at a different store and then, even though it is your diversion day, ask the Golden Questions.” (pg 116)

So a missionary needs to relax, but at the same time he’s never supposed to totally relax.

Some other great bits:


“Just because you have been ordained to teach the gospel doesn’t qualify you to tell people how to solve all their daily problems.  In the mission field as at home humility is always the supreme Christian virtue” (pg 114)

So knock on people’s doors, tell them their religion is completely wrong, tell them that they have to stop believing what they believe and start believing what you believe, but be humble!



“As Henry Ford preached all his life, ‘Whether a man says he can or he can’t, that man is right.’ “(pg 117)

Right.  Which is why you meet so many people who can fly.

Time management:

“If you take your clothes to a laundromat, memorize and review scriptures while your clothes are washing.” (pg 118)

“You can waste time reading cheap books, going to shows, getting together too often with other elders to eat or visit, going sightseeing every few days, socializing regularly at certain members’ homes, staying in your apartment for hours at a time performing accumulated trivial tasks, or shopping around every spare moment looking at cameras, tape recorders, radios, etc.  But again, what have you gained?” (pg 120)

Living your real life, that’s what you’ve gained, instead of wasting it trying to sell dogma.


“It has been said that even the most miserable-looking crow has a hunch he’ll look like a peacock and sing like a nightingale some day.” (pg 121)

“Discouragement is Satan’s most useful tool.  He uses it to pry inside your consciousness.  Once inside and in control, he can use you in whatever way pleases him.” (pg 120)

Satan?  This is the first mention I’ve heard of Satan in this book; I wasn’t aware that Mormons made a big deal out of the Satan thing.

“Have you ever stopped to think that even Christ didn’t convert everyone?” (pg 121)

Because apparently there are some things that are just too difficult for an omnipotent god.

“The Lord knows which people are ready to accept the gospel, because it is up to you to find them.” (pg 122)

Because even though you pray to god and ask him to tell you things, he’s not going to tell you anything that’s actually useful.


But, to be fair, there was one part in this chapter that I really did like, an example about quarry workers:

“When someone asked the first worker what he was doing he answered, “I’m cutting stone.”  The second worker when asked the same question said, “I’m carving a lintel.”  The third quarry worker replied, “I’m building a cathedral.” (pg 117)

That’s a good example about perspective, which I might apply to help with motivation in tasks that are a small part of a worthwhile endeavor.  Unlike preaching.

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“So You’re Going on a Mission!” Cleanliness is next to… August 2, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Books, Humor, Responses.
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Continuing on with the 1968 guide for prospective Mormon missionaries:

Chapter 6, Housekeeping Care


So these kids have been sent out to a faraway place where they are isolated from everything familiar, they are expected to spend grueling days on foot, out “spreading the word” for ten hours a day, six days a week, and they are expected to study constantly and shop and cook for themselves.  I can’t imagine that they are anything but exhausted from this routine.  So on top of this, they are expected to keep their quarters spotless and keep to a daily cleaning routine, because adding unrealistic expectations for cleanliness is just what these stressed-out kids need.

So let’s have a few quotes!

“Some elders leave for their missions without knowing how to … sweep, mop and wax a floor…” (pg 54)

Yes, I guess waxing floors was a thing in 1968.  (I don’t think I’ve ever waxed a floor!) But I don’t see that it would ever have been a good idea to make frustrated and exhausted teenagers wax floors.

They have a helpful numbered list of the reasons for their focus on cleaning, including,

“1. You cannot expect the Spirit of the Lord to dwell in dirty surroundings.” (pg 55)

So the all-powerful god, who will never desert you (unless you aren’t believing hard enough, see part 1), is going to desert you if your bed isn’t made.  How reassuring.

“2. If you are content to keep house in a careless, sloppy manner, this same attitude is bound to be reflected in you whole missionary outlook and effort.  Supervising elders, whose job it is to inspect the living quarters of missionaries, report that they can look at an apartment and just about tell what kind of total job its missionary  occupants are doing. (pg 55)

These kids are being judged not just on how well they preach, or how much of their free time is spent studying their holy books,  or how presentable they are on the job, but they are even having their rooms formally inspected.  And no matter how well they are doing at their “proselyting”, if they can’t at least fake being a neat freak for two solid years they will be found wanting by their supervisors.

“5. You never need to fear that a district leader will catch you in a mess and put you to shame by starting to clean up your quarters himself.”

Again, messiness=shame.

“6. One of your real assets is your landlady whose respect you must earn.  If you are strictly “top drawer” she spreads the good word at the grocery store; if you are careless and lazy, that is the image she will spread.”

Now I have this image of the landlady dropping in to the grocery store to catch up on the latest gossip.  Oh, and she’s totally going to badmouth her missionary tenant, who is polite, helpful, well-groomed, and pays the rent on time, but is a totally bad person because he sometimes leaves towels on the floor.  Shame, shame, shame!

cloroxThere is actually some useful advice in this chapter, apart from the constant judginess.  There’s advice on how to cope if assigned to an area with fleas or other pests.  There’s also some practical tips about washing dishes and tidying up messes as soon as you make them, and a recommendation for Clorox for cleaning bathrooms. Because a missionary wouldn’t want to face the ultimate humiliation:

“Your goal should be to keep your living quarters clean enough that your mission president’s wife could drop in unexpectedly without embarrassing you.” (pg 57)

Oh dear, let me clutch my pearls, the mission president’s wife might find dust in my room!  And once again, as in the chapter on homesickness, our author recommends housecleaning as a remedy for feeling depressed.

The last paragraph of this chapter is just so amazing that I need to quote it in full here:

“Living with Non-Members

Missionaries are usually urged to hunt for living quarters with non-members for three reasons.  First, members already know our Church  is true, and a missionary might just as well live with someone he can possibly convert.  Second, in accepting their calls missionaries have dedicated themselves to preaching the gospel.  It is too easy to become lax and take advantage of periodicals and TV and warm hospitality when one lives with or near members.  Third, members, thinking all missionaries are perfect, might become disenchanted if missionaries living in their home caused them to think differently.” (pg 57)

So they want missionaries living with non-Mormons so they can make a good impression on them.  And they don’t want them staying with Mormons, because they might make a bad impression on them.

But what’s  evident here is that they don’t want these kids finding any source of support and comfort during their two years.  The Mormon hierarchy wants these kids to be overworked, over-tired, uncomfortable, and worried about every little detail of everything.  Your home isn’t a place to relax and retreat from the cares of the day, it’s a place where you are supposed to antagonize your landlady with preaching (the same landlady whose respect you are supposed to earn), and you must keep it antiseptically clean, even if that’s not what you are used to or comfortable with.  Now smile and pretend to be happy!

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“So You’re Going on a Mission!” There’s no place like home July 25, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Books, Humor, Responses.
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Continuing series on the 1968 guidebook for prospective Mormon missionaries.


Chapter 5.  Homesickness

So these missionaries are sent out for two years to be door-to-door salesmen for a bad product that nobody needs.  They are expected to do this six days a week, and the other day will be mostly consumed with getting their chores and errands done.    I’ve talked to some recent missionaries about how cut off they are from their families and previous lives during this time.  I found out that the rules they work under restrict them from almost all contact with the folks back home, and what contact they have is very carefully monitored.  No email, and no internet.  No phone calls to friends or family.  No TV, no radio, no movies, no unapproved magazines, no unapproved music.  Calls home might be permitted on christmas and mother’s day, but no other times.   And essentially no unapproved having fun.   The hazing that these kids are going through to gain future status in their church is being made ridiculously hard with these restrictions.

Given that, our author opens her chapter with this:

“Homesickness is a condition of spirit which comes over you when you are separated from all you love.” (pg 50)

Ya think?

As far as I can tell, the missionary rules are structured to deliberately separate these kids from all they love.  Should anybody be surprised that a lot of them suffer from terrible homesickness?

So let’s see what this book has to say about it.

First she talks about causes of homesickness, from missionaries that she interviewed for the book.  Among the causes listed were writing home too often, calling home, thinking about home too much, and goofing off.  And this might be my favorite:

“I suffered most on the nights when there was a full moon; then I let myself start thinking about the girl I left at home.” (pg 51)

That’s cute, but it sounds more like a song than like an actual case of homesickness.

But what advice does she have to help with this?

“…look in the mirror and say, “Am I working as hard as I can?  Have I really buckled down and learned scriptures and discussions, realizing that discouragement comes most often from not knowing the materials I must teach?” (pg 52)

It’s your fault, so beat yourself up, feel guilty, indoctrinate yourself more, that’s the answer.

But there’s this, too:

“Have I made a real effort to get close to my senior companion?… Perhaps we can console each other.” (pg 52)

I know where my mind just went, but our 1968 guidebook doesn’t acknowledge the possibility that the companions might be comforting each other in unapproved ways.

And this one made my jaw drop:

“Do I really believe that if fear, discouragement, or worry enter my mind I have the power to toss such thoughts into my mental wastebasket and forget them?”(pg 52)

Remember the video “Turn it off!” from Book of Mormon that I posted few chapters back?  I had thought that they were exaggerating when they said “don’t feel those feelings”.  Sounds like they’re not exaggerating so much after all.

There’s also advice to senior missionaries about how to assist their junior partners with homesickness.  And some of the advice given is actually pretty good.  Take a walk, visit friends, do something nice for people where you are, make some personal connections.  Not bad, until she says this:

“Most probably the best results will come from fasting together and talking about nothing but missionary work.”(pg 53)

Because when you’re feeling lonely and depressed, low blood sugar is just the thing to make you feel better?  Seriously?

And she gives us this gem:

“You might even suggest thoroughly cleaning your living quarters.  Sometimes a missionary can get depressed and feeling lonely just living in an unclean, unorganized apartment and it’s amazing what throwing away a three-month-old bottle of unrefrigerated mayonnaise can do for one’s morale!” (pg 53)

Yup, I’m sure that’ll do it!  Next time a couple of missionaries knock on my door, maybe I’ll ask them if they are lonely and would like to cheer themselves up by cleaning out my refrigerator!  It would sure help my morale, but I don’t really think that it would help theirs.  Unless they actually enjoy cleaning, which coincidentally will be the topic of our next chapter.

(I also need to point out that commercial mayo is very shelf stable, it’s a myth that it spoils quickly.)

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“So You’re Going on a Mission!” Planes, Trains, and Bicycles July 21, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Books, Humor, Responses.
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Continuing the 1968 guidebook for prospective Mormon missionaries:

Chapter 4. Travel Care

Like the previous chapter, this surprised me with the amount of good advice it contained.  Sure a lot of it was information about specific luggage weight allowances for different countries that’s now outdated, but a lot of it is helpful information for young people taking a flight or a train for the first time.  What to expect at the airport, how to deal with motion sickness, how to tip properly, how to pack your bicycle, remember keep your tickets handy, all very practical stuff.   And, of course, strict rules for polite behavior, because the missionaries are supposed to be perfect role models, not just normal teenagers.

But of course, there are still some wonderfully hilarious or head-scratching moments in this chapter. Amongst all the advice about how to behave and dress while travelling on a train, there is this:

“If you find a stranger sitting at the table with you, a word of greeting is all that is absolutely necessary, but the meal is sure to be more pleasant if you find some general topic of conversation to share.  Actually you’ll be missing the boat if you don’t ask him the Golden Questions!” (pg 40)”

Golden Questions?  What are those?  I went and looked them up.  Here they are:

“What do you know about the Mormon Church?”

And, regardless of the answer, “Would you like to know more?”

Oh boy.  These kids are expected to start right in on preaching at the poor unsuspecting random person sitting in the dining car with them.  If I’m trying to have a nice dinner on a train, and another person at the table starts in on this, I think my response is going to be “Waiter?  May I change tables please?”

And regarding airports, she starts off with this:

“There will always be people who have to run to catch a plane, but if you are on your courtesy toes….” (pg 45)

Courtesy toes?  Are these kindergarteners she’s talking to, or young adults?  Sheesh.


Her description of what the stewardess on a plane can provide makes me a little nostalgic for the bygone days of air travel:  Chewing gum, airsick pills, tranquilizers (really?), a pillow, socks, and the now-seldom-seen complimentary meal.  (Then I remember that smoking was allowed on planes back then, and I think I’ll stick with today’s foodless cramped steerage seats.  At least I can breathe now.)

But no relaxation for the young missionaries during their flight, nosirreebob!

“HINT: Flight time is valuable time for memorizing scriptures, doing further work on your discussions, or asking the Golden Questions.” (pg 46)

Great, if there’s anything worse than a preachy dining table companion on a train, it’s a preachy seatmate on an airplane.

Next up, what to do about homesickness. This oughtta be good!

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“So You’re Going on a Mission!” Packing and Shopping July 18, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Books, Humor, Responses.
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Continuing with the 1968 guidebook for Mormon missionaries:

Chapter 3. What to Buy and Why

This chapter was pretty long and rather of a surprise.  Most of it was actual good solid advice about how to pack for a long trip.  It talked about which kinds of fabric were better for what kinds of weather, and for laundering, and what things will be useful to bring and what to leave behind. It discussed the possible reasons to buy everything ahead, and when it might be better to shop after arriving.   It reminded me of a college packing list, except for the rules on how conservative and boring the clothes needed to be.

Mormon packing

Modern example of Mormon mission packing

It even had good advice on what kind of luggage would work best, and how to deal with customs inspections.

Apparently the boys were expected to wear suits, and the girls modest dresses with nylons, except on their one day off a week.  Absolutely no socks in “wild colors” for the boys, and no “flashy jewelry” for the girls.  There was a note that the boys might be excused from wearing suit jackets in hotter climates.  I guess they’ve either changed that rule, or I live in a “hotter climate” because I’ve never seen any of the missionary pairs in anything but a white shirt and tie, never a full suit.

But even with as practical as this chapter was, there were a few gems that stood out.  For instance, one of the reasons given that shopping before leaving is:

“7. In some missions it might prove to be an advantage to look “American” because it impresses the local people with your importance.” (pg 20)

Not “makes you interesting”,  it “makes you important”.  What a patronizing attitude towards the people they are sending these kids out to preach at.

Then there was this:

“…In many foreign missions you can even have a suit tailor-made from excellent material for less than it would cost to buy an inexpensive ready-made suit in the States.  HINT: Many times pants are made button front rather than zippered, so if you think you might have a suit made while on your mission, tuck an American zipper into your suitcase. Local zippers, if available, sometimes break easily. ” (pg 20)

Wait what?  I had to go back and read that again.  I knew about magic underwear and abstaining from caffeine, but no button-fly pants?  I had to go look this up.  Turns out that it was attributed to Brigham Young that he once called the newfangled button-fly jeans of his time “fornication pants”!  I wonder if they still have this rule.

A reminder of how outdated this book is can be found in the section on hats.  If a missionary brings a hat along, it should be a men’s business hat, not a “collegiate-looking porkpie hat”.  Porkpie?  Nobody in the 1960’s was wearing those.

Also, among the things they recommend as essential is a “pen, plus extra cartridges”  Cartridges? Like for a fountain pen that can leak all over your luggage? I looked up when the cheap disposable ballpoint pen became available in the US, and it was about 1959.  So this advice was already out of date when it was given.  And under “useful non-essentials” our author suggests “Frisbees (These are small plastic discs…”  I looked up when Frisbees first became popular, and sales took off in 1964.  Why does this author think that she needs to explain what a frisbee is to teenagers?  (That’s like thinking you need to explain to a modern teenager what an iPhone is.)

Who is this author giving advice from the 1940’s to teens in 1968? I looked her up:

Barbara Tietjen Jacobs

Barbara Tietjen Jacobs          1919-2010

Somehow this is exactly what I was expecting her to look like.  (How did she get her hair to be that tall?)  Her birth year makes her about 49 at the publication of this book.  I found her obituary, and her bio paints her as the perfect Mormon wife, raising kids, serving on charity boards and teaching etiquette to children.   Reading this book feels more like she was writing about the era of her own teenage years than trying to connect to the time these kids were living in.

Her obit

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Evangelists and the Reason Rally, Third Epistle June 2, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Events, Rants, Responses.
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One more of these before the Rally.  Again, as a reminder, these are some of the things that I would be saying to Ray Comfort’s specially trained group of 1,000 evangelists, who were going to descend on the Reason Rally en masse until they found out they needed a permit and would have to demonstrate at the other end of the Mall.

reason rally preachers

Ubi Dubium’s Third Epistle to the Evangelists

“OK, Mr. Preacher.  I think I’ve made it clear that all the stuff you have carefully learned from Ray on what to say to atheists is going to accomplish exactly nothing as far as converting anybody.  Any of you who have tried this kind of the thing on us in the past should be well aware that it will not be producing the promised results.

“So the question is:  Why do you guys do stuff like this?

“Now I can’t claim to read minds, or know your beliefs better than you do.  But I have some hypotheses about what is actually going on that I’m going to suggest.  If any of the preachers who were actually going to go to Ray’s event want to comment here on these ideas I’d be happy to discuss them.

“An obvious answer is that their bible tells them to go “preach the gospel.”  But there are certainly easier audiences out there, ones that will give more “bang for the buck” as it were.  Even a college campus is more receptive than a crowd of thousands of atheists, and there’s a better chance of actually making converts.  I know people like a challenge, that’s why they do crazy difficult things like climb Everest.  But do you throw yourself at Everest if you know there’s zero chance of success?  So that can’t be all there is to it.

“Another thing that I see is that True Christians™ always seem to want to be seen to be accumulating “cosmic brownie points” with their god (or “treasures in heaven” if you want a nicer term).  Every opportunity for a public display of piety, or to throw a bible verse into an email, or to preach at somebody is a chance for a shout out of “Hey god, look how devoted to you I am!”  I rarely see that kind of thing from mainstream christians, they usually take the bible verses about not showing off their piety in public more seriously (see Matt 6:5).  It usually seems to be those of the fundigelical variety who are intent on making as big a public display as possible.

“But I think that even more than displaying their devotion for god, I think in many cases they are displaying their loyalty to each other.  I’ve talked about the idea of “honest hard-to-fake expensive symbols of commitment” before.  (And I still am looking for a better name for this idea, if anybody has one.)  This is the thing you do that is difficult, or time-consuming, or expensive, or personally embarrassing, or all of those, and is also completely pointless.  You would never do it except for the purpose of getting another group or individual to accept you as sincere.  Among the many things that would fall in this category are Mormon missions, gang tattoos, big diamond engagement rings, fraternity hazings, and tithing.  The bigger the gesture you make, the more you are telling your group that you are a devoted member.  And for a group where preaching is a show of loyalty, what bigger gesture can you make than to spend money to travel to another city, and preach in front of a guaranteed hostile audience?  I think going off to DC to do this is  a sure way to gain status and trust from the congregation back home.

“I’m thinking there may also be an element of territorial marking involved as well.  The atheists are meeting on the National Mall, in public, specifically to challenge christian dominance of politics and government in the country.  If the christians just allowed that to happen without getting involved, it would be a big event that was all about the heathens, and not about them. Perhaps they felt a need to take ownership and put their mark all over the event as much as possible, to reclaim this piece of the public attention “turf” for themselves.  Being relegated to the other end of the Mall just would not accomplish this goal at all.

“Those are my ideas so far.  It’s possible I’m completely wrong (which is something you never hear an evangelist say).

Thus endeth the Third Epistle.


That’s all for now.  If I have any interesting encounters at the Rally, perhaps I will have a follow-up.

Evangelists and the Reason Rally, Second Epistle June 2, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Events, Rants, Responses.
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Continuing on with all the things I wanted to say to Ray Comfort’s god squad that was supposed to show up at the Reason Rally to save our souls and stuff.

Ubi Dubium’s Second Epistle to the Evangelists

“OK, now Mr. Preacher I’d like to talk about the content of some of your preaching, but probably not in the way you expect.

“You’ve probably spent a lot of time learning all kinds of apologetics.  Endless arguments against evolution, and lots of arguments for the existence of god that go along the lines of “first cause” and “everything can’t come from nothing” and so on.  You’re prepared to go into those arguments at great length, and expect me to spend a lot of time rebutting you on them.

“Well, I’m not going to bother doing that.  Surprised?

“Let’s look at the bigger picture here.  Suppose that by some really amazing insight you were able to show that evolution wasn’t happening, and that it’s not responsible for the diversity of life on earth.  Well then SO WHAT?  All you would have done is get us back to a position of “I don’t know”.  And if you understand the fallacy of the argument from ignorance, you’ll see that “I don’t know” does not justify jumping to a conclusion of biblegod and Jesus and Noah’s ark and talking snakes.  You still need positive evidence to justify those beliefs, and knocking down evolution, or any other science you happen not to like, does nothing to establish the truth of your dogma.  You need positive evidence, not just an attack on what you see as the alternative.

“And let’s look at those “first cause” arguments.  “Something can’t come from nothing.”  “The universe is too fine-tuned not to have been designed on purpose” and so forth.  Suppose you were successful in making those arguments.  Again, SO WHAT?  The best you can do from winning all those arguments is a vague deism. But deism isn’t what you are trying to sell me on, is it?  Even if you establish that there had to have been some kind of mind behind the creation of the universe (which I’m not actually buying), you have done nothing to show that your religion is true.  Your creator god could be one that created the universe and then died, or left, or one that just  churns out universes all day and doesn’t care what happens to them, or one that became the universe instead of making it, or one that created the universe for some other purpose and we’re just a side effect, or any number of other possibilities.  Winning your “first cause” arguments still do nothing to get you to a conclusion of biblegod and Jesus and Noah’s ark and talking snakes.  “Look at the universe, therefore Jesus!” makes no more sense than “Look at the universe, therefore Muhammad!” or “Look at the universe, therefore Krishna!” or “Look at the universe, therefore the Flying Spaghetti Monster (pesto be upon Him)!”   If what you are presenting isn’t evidence that’s specific to what you are actually selling, then don’t even bother.

“And finally, Ray has probably taught you all kinds of rhetorical tricks to try to trick people into saying that they need god:  “Have you ever lied?  Have you ever stolen anything?  Then you’re a liar and a thief!  And therefore a SINNER!”  I have two things to say about that.  First, any god that would need his preachers to trick people into belief is a pretty pitiful god in my book.  And second, Mr. Preacher, have you ever lied about anything?  I bet you have!  And you know what that makes you?  A LIAR!  You’ve learned your craft from Ray Comfort, and I’ve certainly heard him tell lies.  And if you believed that you could bring somebody to Jesus and save them from the eternal fires of Hell by lying to them, would you do it?  I bet you would!    In which case, Mr. Preacher, that makes you a liar for Jeezus who is not entitled to be up on that soapbox.  Get off that high horse, knock it off with the clever trickery, and actually talk to us and pay attention to what we have to say.  Find out why it is we don’t believe your message, even though we live in a country saturated with it.   Listen before you talk.

Thus endeth the Second Epistle.

(Stay tuned, still more to come.)

Evangelists and the Reason Rally, First Epistle June 2, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Events, Rants, Responses.
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Reason Rally 2012

I’ll be at the Reason Rally on Saturday.  This is kind of a no-brainer for me, all I need to do is drive to the Metro station and take a train downtown, it’s not like this will require any special travel arrangements.  I went last time, and even though it was a cold rainy day in March, I had a blast.  I’m expecting this one to be just as good, and better weather.

But there was one extra bonus I was looking forward to for this year’s Rally, and that was that Ray Comfort was planning to spend a weekend training up a thousand preachers with his version of “converting the atheists” and then bring them to the rally and sic them on us.  He was also going to bring books to give away, and free Subway gift cards, since apparently the bestest and truest Truth™ ever still requires bribery to get people to listen to it.  Since there’s likely to be at least 20,000 atheists at the rally, that’s twenty atheists up against each of these poor indoctrinated people, at a minimum.  And not just your everyday apatheists, either, the crowd will be full of people who care enough about non-belief to turn out for an event like this.  Bloggers and podcasters, and people with real experience against apologists.  This was shaping up to be really entertaining.

Alas, Ray’s quest to “save the atheists” will not be happening.  Turns out that bringing a group like that counts as a “counter protest” and that he would have to get a permit, and also do his protesting at the other end of the mall from our Rally.  So much for the fun, there.  At least Ray is donating the Subway cards to the homeless, or so he says.

I had some things I wanted to say to those wanna-be Magic Christians at the rally.  But since they are not showing up in a group*, I’ll outline a few of them here instead.

Ubi Dubium’s First Epistle to the Evangelists

“Well, Mr. Preacher, let me talk to you about false teachers.  You are an evangelical christian, yes?  So I hope that you will agree with me that if you are right, then all those other preachers from all those other religions and sects out there must be at least partially wrong, if not totally wrong.  You want me to listen only to you, yes?

“Well, if there is somebody out there that actually has correct answers, then I would want to listen to that person.  But I think you and I would agree that the world is full of false teachers.  (Your bible even says there will be false prophets.)  How full?  I looked up some numbers.  Out of a world population of 7 billion people, the population of Evangelical Christians is 300 million.  Or about 4%.  So, Mr. True Christian™, if your sect is the one with the correct message, that means that 96% of the potential preachers out there are false teachers.   So from my point of view, a random preacher has at least a 96% chance of being the wrong person to listen to.  (I actually think that this percentage is much closer to 100%, but I’m being generous here.)

“That’s the first hurdle you need to get past to get me to listen to you, Mr. Preacher.  You are talking to someone who thinks there’s at least a 96% chance that you are full of B.S.  You have got to be pretty amazing to overcome that.  You can’t just come at me with the same tired old apologetics that’s I’ve heard a million times before.  Rhetorical tricks like Ray is famous for won’t do it either.  If you really have a “message from god”, you have got to stand out from all those other guys.

“And by “stand out” I don’t mean preach “we have this one bit of dogma that’s really great, and nobody else has exactly this.”  I mean different in a major way, not just in the picky details of belief.  Let’s take a look at a bunch of religions that you consider false.  They believe in a god that started out only being concerned with a small group of humans.  They believe that a special select human was given a particular message from god, that was written down by humans in a holy book.  A book that requires copying and translating by humans.  That message is now spread from person to person by preaching and encouraging unquestioning belief in that book.  And the believers in each of those sects form tribal groups with specific customs and rules to distinguish members of their in-group from everybody else, and they require financial support from those members to support their organization.

“That’s the way false religions are spread.  Why would a real god who wanted people to spread a true religion have them spread it in exactly the same way as all the false ones???

“The question of whether there is a god, and whether that god talks to people, is an important question.  Too important to be determined by whatever random preacher feels like pushing their dogma on me today.  Too important to leave to an accident of geography, for whichever is the majority religion in the area I find myself in.   If I’m going to listen to a preacher, they have to distinguish themselves from all the others in some meaningful way, a way that I’m not going to confuse with a guy just being a persuasive speaker.

“So what am I looking for?  Here’s an example that I’ve used before – my passcode.  I have a sentence that I have thought in my head many times, but never told anybody or written down.  It’s a sentence in plain English, but one that would never come up in casual conversation.   An actual god would know what it is, and somebody that can really communicate with a god could ask their god to tell them what that code is.  If an evangelist comes up to me, and can tell me my personal code, that person will have my undivided attention.  That person has done something that no other preacher has ever been able to do, and different enough to make them stand out.  And I shouldn’t even have to tell them I want this code, their god could tell them the code and tell them to go talk to me, that would be even more convincing!

“Now is my passcode the only thing that I would accept?  No, of course not, but it’s the minimum level of extraordinariness that I would accept.  Any other evidence you want to use is going to need to be as strong or stronger than that.  For example, if you can produce a holy text that does not require translation, but can magically be read by anybody as if it were in their own language, that would also work.  Or if the stars rearranged to spell a different bible verse every night.  Or if the tree in my front yard stopped growing crabapples and started growing KJV bibles.  Or  you actually moved a mountain, a real one, just by prayer.  You know, real things happening, not just a bunch of talk.

“If there is a god who can read people’s thoughts then that god would already know, better than I would, what evidence would convince me.  And an all-powerful god could send it.  But there’s nothing so far.  So either your god doesn’t want to be found, or doesn’t care whether I believe, or is a jerk, or (what I think is most likely) is fictional.

“So consider, Mr. Preacher, why your all-powerful god sends you out to preach with no better tools to work with than all the false preachers out there have.  Go ask your god for something better.  Or resign yourself to the fact that you are not the magical evangelist that is going to convert all the heathens out there, you’re just another member of the fan club for your hidden, silent god.”

Thus endeth the first epistle.  Stay tuned.

*Some of those preachers may still show up on on their own at the event, since it is free and open to the public.

Dorothy and Buzz August 29, 2014

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Responses.
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For a long time I’ve used this movie scene as an example when discussing deconversion:


Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!

Once Dorothy has seen through the humbug, she can never go back to believing in the “Great and Powerful OZ”.

But Neil Carter, over at Godless in Dixie, has posted another movie reference that I really liked:



…not a flying toy…

As good an example as The Wizard of OZ is, Toy Story and its sequels might be an even better (and more current) example. Please go read Neil’s excellent post, it’s really a keeper.

I especially like this scene from Toy Story 2, when Buzz encounters a “true believer””

Buzz Lightyear #2: Buzz Lightyear to Star Command. I have an AWOL Space Ranger.

Buzz Lightyear: Tell me I wasn’t this deluded…

Buzz Lightyear #2: No back talk! I have a laser, and I will really use it.

Buzz Lightyear: You mean a laser that’s a lightbulb?

Buzz Lightyear #2: Has your mind been melted? You could have killed me, Space Ranger! Or should I say, “traitor?”

Buzz Lightyear: I don’t have time for this…

Evangelists, when you show up trying to tell me for the umpteenth time how special your relationship with god is, that’s exactly how I feel.  You aren’t a Space Ranger messenger from the almighty, you aren’t locked in an epic battle with the Evil Emperor Zurg Satan, you don’t have a laser magic book with all the answers, you can’t fly heal people through prayer, you are a TOY regular person like the rest of us!!!!


Toy Story