Harry Potter and the Half-baked Piece (of crap)

Movie Title: Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince (2009)
Spoilers: No

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From the outset of this review, let it be stated that I am at a disadvantage in reviewing the film at hand. For one thing, I haven’t seen all of the previous five Harry Potter films, nor have I read any of the books (nor will I because I don’t want to). Sure, like every self-respecting, depressed, middle-aged guy with a gut and a bad sex life, I’ve flipped through channels long enough to catch some memorable shots of Emma Watson. Many of them stayed with me through the wee hours of an idle morning, but I’ve not invested myself into absorbing what makes Harry Potter Harry Potter.

And for another thing, I’m not a teen, and so don’t let it flip your lid that I’m not into teen romance. I’m not done admiring fine-looking women in clothes, since (to my disappointment) women aren’t going to quit wearing them anytime soon, but the dynamics of teen social life – whether they be of a smarter UK-based youth or not – don’t do anything for me. For these two reasons, getting my brain into the Harry Potter points of interest is somewhat of an uphill battle—except for Emma Watson as Hermiones Grainger (“Hormones” Grainger as some of us guys like to call her). I can – and would – get into her just fine!

For only brief, fleeting moments was I interested in what was transpiring on screen. Incredible graphics with resoundingly convincing props lure you in, but nothing stands ready to hold you in. The movie has no seatbelts…or doors. If it were a car, you could fall right out of it if making a turn at a speed greater than 25 miles an hour—and 25 miles an hour is about the speed at which the plot moves along. It’s terribly boring, right near out-of-this-world boring. And it’s bland, with the spiciness of a weak soap opera (a soap opera without the tied-up, hot, crying Latina women).

For short stretches of time, you begin to get interested in Lord Voldemort and his dark minions and sinister plans. Then the whole mess gets done with the laundry of more washed-up teen romance, which – interestingly – is accompanied by plenty of scenes with kids flying around on broomsticks that look shockingly like 24-inch dildos being grabbed tightly during the act of chubby-choking. Seriously, I think they meant to put those in there! I think it’s a stab at the whole project, an inside joke. It’s just too bad Grainger wasn’t riding one!

Formerly stated disadvantage notwithstanding, Joe E. Holman is man enough to say what needs to be said; unless you’re into heavy teen romance (or perhaps you just like to get your visual jollies seeing Emma Watson), don’t see this. It’s a half-baked piece of crap more than it is about a half-blood prince. And why see it when recent puberty graduate Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is a wuss and can’t stand up to anybody without the help of super wizard Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon)? I’ll bet 10 to 1 that Radcliffe and Gambon only came back for the sequel for the same reason they did all the others—to seize the opportunity to corner Watson in her trailer and make some of their own magic.

And while I am willing to accept that there no doubt came and went many nuances of the plot that I didn’t and wouldn’t understand, having not seen the earlier films, the movie made no attempt to explain anything. Too much was lost on me, and what did connect was so far away in it’s getting to that there was hardly a point. Besides, I didn’t get to see much of Emma or her cute little frame. That being the case, I ask you: WHAT IS THE POINT???!!!

(JH)

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Grade: D+ (1 ½ stars)
Rated: PG
Summation: As Harry Potter begins his 6th year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, he discovers an old book marked mysteriously "This book is the property of the Half-Blood Prince" and begins to learn more about Lord Voldemort's dark past.
Director: David Yates
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe “Harry Potter,” Michael Gambon “Professor Albus Dumbledore,” Dave Legeno “Fenrir Greyback,” Jim Broadbent “Professor Horace Slughorn,” Geraldine Somerville “Lily Potter,” Bonnie Wright “Ginny Weasley,” Julie Walters “Molly Weasley,” Rupert Grint “Ron Weasley,” Emma Watson “Hermione Granger”
Genre: Adventure / Romance / Fantasy / Mystery

Two Hours with Dillinger

Movie Title: Public Enemies (2009)
Spoilers: No

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When you hear the word “gang” or the words “gang member,” what is it that first comes to your mind? No doubt it is of skinny, tattooed kids with little parental influence and obsessions with hand signs, colors, and bandanas. They grew up in bad neighborhoods and learned to steal cars by the age of ten. Maybe you were born in the great depression and think of something else, but this is the image that many of us have.

These modern “gangstas” are pussies, cowardly groups of usually small-sized descendants of Aztecs who have no security or courage or self-confidence, and so they seek to find it by identifying with likeminded cowards. Real men fought for control of power in the old west. They carried huge guns at their hips. There were duels in the streets that resulted in death. But these men didn’t kill out of cowardice. They killed out of the need to keep order.

These new excuses for gangsters have seen some hard times and turned to a life of crime, but they’re not “gangsters” in the truest sense of the word. They aren’t as powerful, as mean, as determined, as methodical, or as cruel as those of the 1910s, 20s, and 30s. If you want to learn about real gangs, look up Al Capone, a man who could make anyone talk using a blowtorch and a pair of pliers or just a baseball bat on the kneecaps.

There was Lester J. Gillis, or as he came to be known, “Baby Face Nelson,” a man with a nastily violent temper who would open fire on large crowds of pedestrians, as well as the police in a getaway. There was Carroll and Hamilton and Van Meter and the rest of the Dillinger gang. And there was Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd—all dangerous men who made their infamous marks on society in ways that these pansi-fied street creatures of today never could.

Public Enemies boasts supreme performances by Johnny Depp as John Dillinger and Christian Bale as Melvin Purvis, Dillinger’s hot-on-the-trail FBI opposition. Dillinger, true to history and as played by Depp, is a charming and always-confident killer, a ballsy bank robber, infamous for more than two-dozen high-profile bank robberies and the murder of a number of police officers and FBI agents.

Dillinger is a proud man, cocky, the odd mixture of impulsiveness and precision. He’s dangerous enough to need entire task forces assigned to bring him down and proud enough to stroll around inside police stations at a busy hour when he knows everyone is looking for him. His charisma and charm only add to his dangerous demure.

Pervis has the experience, a seasoned feel for stringing up the worst of outlaws. Seen in film are his senses of principle and accountability in a laid-back and always studious mindset. Pervis never loses his head. He's got his bases covered. He does his job right the first time.

Public Enemies is a classy film, careful to bring with it the dignity and respect for culture and conduct of 1930’s America. Look at the segregated classes; look at how the women dressed; listen to the language used, the accents, and the lingo; everything from the pick-up lines to the careless public smoking…that’s the way things were. It’s like looking at an old pic and you say to yourself: “That’s soooooooo not like today!”

Director Michael Mann’s research is solid. This stuff happened. The so-called “lady in red,” Anna Sage, played by Branka Katic, isn’t there the way you’d expect. There’s no lady in red, only one in white and orange. That’s the way it really happened. In those days, law enforcement was crude, the bad guys were a whole lot of cruel, and banks everywhere were afraid to open their doors for business…why? Because of a few determined men who knew no bounds.

The screenplay follows the historical unfolding of Dillinger right after his famous escape from prison with the aid of a fake gun. From there, you follow a hell-raising, woman-adoring Dillinger for over a year's time until his demise outside of a movie theatre on July 22nd of 1934.

The frustrating thing is, you get to learn so very little about John Herbert Dillinger. There’s no psychoanalyzing him, no getting inside his head. He does what he does because that’s who he is. There’s no intimidating him or correcting him or keeping him in a cell. In a way, he’s like Captain Kirk’s archenemy, Khan—immortally minded, but fatally ambitious. The high he gets from robbing banks is unparalleled, better than the love of women.

But Dillinger loves his women. He falls in love with Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard) and in lifting her up with his affection, he gets the satisfaction of bestowing the gift of his powerful, sheltering arms on a weaker vessel, and that speaks to his sense of purpose. That’s as far as the film takes us inside Dillinger's mind. You’ll just have to be satisfied with what is on the outside, like bullets and bodies of policemen lying dead on sidewalks. The film is all about Dillinger. Critique it all you want, but it won’t matter. What you will take home from it is…Dillinger, the man and the menace. No apologies here. It caters to no one. That made the film good.

It also subtracted from its quality. The sometimes questionable camerawork and contrast lighting is not as bad as the fact that if you’re not familiar with the Dillinger story and characters, the only thing you’ll get from the movie is an action-packed exchange of gunfire and some highly polished performances. The higher, more subtle points of what is happening in the film and why is never well explained, which will leave a number of viewers running to Wikipedia afterwards.

But that’s okay. It should be enough that you got to spend two hours with Dillinger, a man who claimed a large chunk of history for himself. That’s something these 5’2 descendants of Aztecs who call themselves “gang members” today will never be able to upstage.

(JH)

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Grade: B+ (3 ½ stars) Recommended!
Rated: R
Summation: Melvin Pervis is chosen by J. Edgar Hoover to head up efforts to stop bank robber John Dillinger and his fellow gang members.
Director: Michael Mann
Starring: James Russo “Walter Dietrich,” David Wenham “Harry 'Pete' Pierpont,” Christian Stolte “Charles Makley,” Jason Clarke “John 'Red' Hamilton,” Johnny Depp “John Dillinger,” John Judd “Turnkey,” Stephen Dorff “Homer Van Meter,” Michael Vieau “Ed Shouse,” John Kishline “Guard Dainard,” Wesley Walker “Jim Leslie,” John Scherp “Earl Adams”
Genre: Drama / Action / Crime / Thriller / Biography / History

Brüno vs. Borat

Movie Title: Brüno (2009)
Spoilers: No

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Sacha Baron Cohen is back in his second profanely funny and audaciously conniving creation since Borat. It’s called Brüno. If you dig Baron Cohen’s comedic genius, then Brüno may well be worth the view. Though it lacks the quality and originality of its forerunner, it sports a satisfying level of humor that Baron Cohen fans crave.

The Jewish/English comedian, who became famous for – among other things – his HBO comedy series Da Ali G Show (2000), burst into bigger popularity for American audiences with his film Ali G Indahouse (2002). Later, it was Baron Cohen as anti-Semitic reporter Borat going after Pamela Anderson in 2007’s Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. The film won awards, including Best Actor and Best International Comedy.

Baron Cohen is a satirist, and a good one at that. In Brüno, the vacuously superficial and notoriously lame-brained fashion industry followers are under heavy attack. In Borat, it was the rightwing that was being had. Here again in Brüno, the anti-gay religious right is not going to get a pass.

Baron Cohen’s alter ego known as Brüno is an Austrian ex-talk show host who specializes in discussing hot “issues” of the day. Gayer than a debutant, he also loves hot guys—and the widely publicized celebrity-style adoration of underprivileged children. But he adopts his children from Africa by trading in iPods and MacBooks for them. He idolizes big American movie stars and wants to contribute in as big of ways as they do. Having failed in his quest for sustained stardom overseas, he’s come to America, with his loudly gay clothing styles and tighter-than-a-vice-grip pants.

Baron Cohen has a huge melting pot to sift through in America. We’re not one big happy party over here. That alone makes it a smart move to lash out at various backward segments of our population. But what is more backwards than the people he attacks is Baron Cohen pulling off stunts by having the character of Brüno run into walls. That’s lame and that’s beneath him. What is likewise beneath him is the predictable plot that runs along the same lines as Borat. The story of Brüno is largely a modified version of the Borat storyline, but with more up-close and senseless male nudity. Borat is the better movie of the two by some margin.

And Brüno is less likable than Borat in that he dances on the outer fringes of normalcy, whereas Borat is just backwards and third-world, outrageously disconnected from civilization. You expected someone to come along and attack the fashion industry as Brüno did, but Mike Myers’ “Dieter” character from “Sprockets” on Saturday Night Live beat him to it. It was enough. The character of Brüno has limited comedic potential, at least for now. I do hope the future has ample room for parodies of the current Europeanized generation of wannabe-gay dudes and spike-haired little men who worship their iPhones. I’d like that very much.

The beauty of a film like Brüno, however, is that the plot can never be too important. You watch Brüno for the same reason you watched Borat—for near-painful shock value. You want to see unsuspecting dufuses get publicly smeared for your pleasure. You secretly want to gasp and cover your mouth as your eyes widen at the depraved depths to which Baron Cohen will sink to foster a laugh. It doesn’t matter if it’s séance sex with a deceased member of the band Milli Vanilli in front a psychic who knows he’s full of shit, or a cage match make-out scene between two guys in front of a thousand gay-haters. That’s Brüno and it’s okay to like him. You don’t have to hide it. Brüno would say the same.

(JH)

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Grade: C- (2 stars)
Rated: R
Summation: An Austrian ex-television host goes to L.A. to make it big as a gay movie star.
Director: Larry Charles
Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen “Brüno,” Gustaf Hammarsten “Lutz,” Clifford Bañagale “Diesel,” Chibundu Orukwowu “O.J.” Josh Meyers “Kookus”
Genre: Comedy

My Proposal: Better Romance Comedies

Movie Title: The Proposal (2009)
Spoilers: No

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The Proposal, starring Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds, has an interesting quiver-full of strengths and weaknesses. The strengths are the cast and the performances. The sprightly and always attractive Sandra Bullock brings out a worthy performance as we've come to expect. Reynolds does not disappoint. Something was missing from the movie, but that something wasn't the fault of the two lead actors. Its weaknesses were in the writing and cold soup humor.

Margaret Tate (Sandra Bullock) is a big business bitch, the kind her employees dream about seeing get hit by a speeding cab. Andrew Paxton (Ryan Reynolds) is one of her employees, an employee of exceptionally high fidelity. He has to be to stay on his boss’ good list, which happens to be a list that few (if any) other people are on. In a workplace where the drama stays high from people getting fired like kiln bricks, you’d think little could be done about it. But that changes when it comes to light that Tate is an illegal alien with an expiring Visa.

The only way she can stay in America and keep her powerful, prestigious job as editor-in-chief for Colden Books is if she's an American citizen. The only fast-track way to achieve that goal is to get married…and who better than her single personal assistant? Don't tell me you didn't see that coming! And that paltry premise sets the stage for the sometimes-serious-but-seldom-funny drama/romance that is The Proposal.

I'll start by making a proposal of my own—how about more humor and less extended family dynamics being showcased? My proposal wasn’t met, and that’s too bad. That was what caused the plot to drag along like the stop-and-start attention span of an A.D.D. middle-schooler. And so we move on simply noting the film's inability to keep you glued to the screen with excitement at what is to come.

The chemistry-less take-off of a romance between Tate and Paxton is intentional, though it takes some getting used to. It's part of the build-up, which is a good thing, because it takes some getting-going to get past the unfunny-ness of Grandma Annie (Betty White) and the family. I’d get the same awkward feeling in my cheeks being around granny as I did around my former in-laws at Christmas time. I just know it!

Granny I needed less of. Granny I couldn't stand! Her character beat the film to a pulp. Coach's Craig T. Nelson as “Joe Paxton” I could have used more of. He has that gift of being able to bring out drama at select moments, also known as the ability to act. Whatever character he takes on never usurps anyone else’s role. That’s a quality that few actors have.

The film is almost less about the proposal than it is about the family and living in Alaska with a noisy poodle that, in my opinion, needs to be booted across the living room with steel toe boots on. The bottom line is that underneath the flimsy writing and sometimes altogether bad humor lies a well-acted story of love that does manage to hit at least a few of the right emotional buttons. To be on the safe side, only dyed-in-the-wool romance junkies should attempt to view.

(JH)

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Grade: C- (2 stars)
Rated: PG-13
Summation: A boss forces her young assistant to marry her in order to keep her Visa status in the U.S.
Director: Anne Fletcher
Starring: Sandra Bullock “Margaret Tate,” Ryan Reynolds “Andrew Paxton,” Mary Steenburgen “Grace Paxton,” Craig T. Nelson “Joe Paxton,” Betty White “Grandma Annie,” Denis O'Hare “Mr. Gilbertson”
Genre: Comedy / Drama / Romance

Fingerlicking Bad

I predict that in future years finger licking will be weeded out as the un-evolved and uncivilized practice that it is. I’ll be delighted to find it no longer a part of the human species. As the intelligence of man advances, the knowledge and consciousness of germs and disease advances, and with that comes an awareness of man’s decrepit and still animalistic tendencies. We’re an ugly species with an even uglier heritage, and licking fingers takes enlightened individuals like myself down memory lane right back to those detestable times. I don't want that.

The disgusting practice of licking fingers is so vile, so reprehensible that it subverts almost the whole of humanity. Nearly everyone around me does it. Only rarely do I find kindred spirits out there whom I notice don’t put their fingers in their mouths when eating or planning to turn a page or opening a bag, or getting money out of a cash register. This makes me so mad that when I see it in public, I begin to steam and have to remind myself: It’s ok. Calm down. They’re just average people, and average people will do what average people will do. They’re bound by their average-idity and their cow-like ignorance.

This helps only a little, which is why I am forced to eat privately whenever I can. At least in private I find peace from the savages. I see licking fingers as a hangup, an evolutionary throwback that we as a species have yet to catch up to and pass by. It’s a nearly insignificant mental deficiency (I said nearly), one that I pride myself in having risen above ever since I stopped sucking my thumb as a little kid, and I hope to make others aware of this detestable practice.

In an age when we seek to combat germs, licking fingers is counterproductive to our efforts. Germs spread most easily through saliva. That’s a fact. It’s saliva that is sought after for DNA tests because it carries the core of humanity—saliva samples (as found on cigarette butts) and hair roots are the best sources of complete human DNA, and that, to me, is another reason to hate it. When people share spoons and cups and take in saliva, they are consuming the blueprints of another living, breathing animal. That right there is disgusting all by itself. Mouths are germ factories, producing more germs than any other area of the body. Anuses, noses, and vaginas don’t compete.

But think about it; licking fingers violates common sense. You wouldn’t dream of using someone else’s toothbrush or allowing someone else to use yours, so why would you want some twat-face fucker to take his “toothbrush hole” and wet his finger with it and rub it on every surface at home and in the workplace like vile human shit-goblins do?

This life is hard for me. I have to regularly clean every surface at work…keys, cards, phones, and most importantly, keyboards. One study found that the average keyboard is way dirtier than the average toilet seat! That means my chances of getting E. coli and staph are so much higher because of you fuck-nuts who suck down a granola bar and polish your fingers with your spit while you sit at your office PC and spread your meal my way! Fuck you! I said fuck you! Suck my asshole, you fucking chimpanzee-like son or daughter of a bitch! I’ll piss on your mother’s hope chest!

Chimps put their hands in their mouths, as do babies. Babies pull their hands out of their mouths and when they do, they get their “goo” everywhere. Much like drinking out of bowls and eating off the serving spoons in cafeterias, this is one of those things that ought to be universally condemned and not done—unless you’re starving and right at the point of death in the remotest parts of Africa. Then only do you get a pass on licking fingers!

And worse yet, people always give excuses to defend licking fingers when I call them out on it. The first is “Well, what am I supposed to do with the chocolate residue on my fingers?” My answer: Let it fucking go! You’re not starving! It’s not a waste! You’ll fucking live! At least try to appear more evolved and use that fucking napkin to wipe it off! I have made actual protests to people I knew or barely knew at restaurants and in stores, and I felt good about it afterwards.

If not dealing with food, they say: “Well, I needed traction to turn the page.” My answer: What?! Are you THAT fucking in a hurry that you have to save that extra nanosecond in getting the bag open or the money out of the drawer? Slow the fuck down and don’t wipe your bodily extracts everywhere, you degenerate fucking hominid! I’ll jam a vibrator down your grandmother’s throat!

Then there are those who say things like, “There are germs in the air. Should we put masks on and walk around too?” My reply: Oh yeah! Good fucking call, shit-for-brains! Let’s carry that logic out to its intended end. Since there are germs everywhere and we just can’t fight them, let’s “throw in the towel” literally and quit washing dishes. Let’s just run water over them. Fuck soap. You’re right. There are germs everywhere. Let’s make a deal; drain your toilet and eat ice cream out of it one time and I’ll never mention licking fingers again! Do we have a deal?

Finally, there are those who connect a licking fingers defense with sex. They say, “Well, there is saliva and germs during sex. What are we supposed to do then?” How about let that stay a private or semi-private matter in a secluded setting where it should stay and then wash up thoroughly when you’re done? That’s a horse of a different color—and while we’re talking about horses, go fuck one! My shit will run down your godmother’s cleavage! Fuck you!

The practice of licking fingers disturbs me in a serious way – and it should disturb you – but it’s not all bad. Maybe it means I am highly evolved or maybe it just means I’m screwed up. But if it means I’m screwed up, there’s still good news. Creationists are always asking for proof that random mutations can produce positive changes. They say it has not and cannot happen. Well, I’m the proof that it does! ☺

(JH)

When God Steps Out

Movie Title: Year One (2009)
Spoilers: No

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Year One is the story of two cavemen, “Zed” (Jack Black) and “Oh” (Michael Cera). The two hail from a small and defunct tribe. Coming from the middle of nowhere, their journey will end in the biblical city of Sodom. Two talent-less misfits whom success has evaded will find themselves shunned, ridiculed, enslaved, and possibly circumcised. Before it’s over, they’ll meet Cain and Abel, Abraham and Isaac, hot virgins, and cities-full of sheep-rapists who prefer to have young boys oil them up and who love to be waited on by slave-girls. Can they ever redeem themselves? Will they ever see the light of dignity again?

They’re disgraced, the two of them, disgraced and not gettin’ any. Oh is a virgin, and his eye is on one beautiful young virgin, “Eema” (Juno Temple). Zed is desperate to bag Maya (June Diane Raphael), the woman of his dreams. But what do you have when you live in the year one and you can’t hunt very well? You don’t have much, that’s for sure. That means it’ll be hard to impress the ladies. And then there’s the tree of the knowledge of good and evil from Genesis, that mythical tree whereby the God of the Bible presented the opportunity for the whole human race to get damned to Hell.

Don’t let the bad reviews get to you. Don’t let the silly previews fool you. I thought this was going to be a big, huge, embarrassing waste of time too. It’s not going to take home any awards, but I was surprised to find Year One a lightheartedly funny and pleasingly sacrilegious slam against the silliness of superstition and the oodles of idiocy that biblical Jewish and Christian ideologies have plagued mankind with.

If you’re familiar with the characters of the biblical narrative, the dialogue will say more for you—so much the more if you are actually biblically well read. Year One is, you could say, a well-earned, common sense slap in the face of the foolish stupid-stitions that our parents and grandparents taught us to fear.

Black and Cera don’t look like cavemen, and neither does anyone else in the film. Just as certainly as cavemen didn’t speak English, these guys are no cavemen. And much of the scenery didn’t look like something from the B.C.E. time period, but none of that matters. With a high-functioning film such as this, it should be second nature to the viewer to expect the pulp value of the film to come in its message, and not anything else. Go ahead and call it stupid, but just make sure you call it substantive while you’re at it because it is. It makes you think—a thing that religion and supernaturalism prevent you from doing.

It shows that a deity who commands the chopping off of a part of a penis that he created is a deity who is, to say the least, a counterintuitive and inefficient being. A god who ordains human sacrifices, a god who has followers that are dumb enough to think that praying sends rain or that one among many is “chosen,” should not be worshipped. The gods are the thorns in the grass to humanity’s bare feet. Gods who have “holy” places and who sometimes “step out,” refusing to answer prayers, making us question their existence, are beings nobody needs.

Everyone except Oh in Year One is supposed to be a stupid ignoramus…and not because they wonder aloud where the sun goes at nights. Had people back then had the knowledge of compassion and a sense of justice, humanity would have been better off, which goes to prove the point that the barbaric book known as the Bible could only have been written in the times of ignorance from which it came. It could never have been written in enlightened times like today. Mankind is too smart for that now.

Year One will require a special audience to be appreciated. It wasn’t altogether hysterical. The humor doesn’t reach high enough levels for slapstick junkies or those who prefer goofball pre-teen movies to get any satisfaction out of it. The potheads won’t be satisfied, nor will anyone dangling too close to the low-functioning marker that most moviegoers tend to hover at.

Being void of plot-twists, the film does struggle to generate and hold interest, but the chemistry of the cast is sturdy. Black and Cera were not sloughing off. Their was acting here, and the character contrasts were keen. The film succeeded in its goal. What it aimed to do, it did fairly well. That makes it a success, if only mildly.

(JH)

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Grade: C+ (2 ½ stars)
Rated: PG-13
Summation: Having been shunned by their village, cavemen Zed and Oh go in search of meaning and a new home.
Director: Harold Ramis
Starring: Jack Black “Zed,” Michael Cera “Oh,” Oliver Platt “High Priest,” David Cross “Cain,” Christopher Mintz-Plasse “Isaac,” Vinnie Jones “Sargon,” Hank Azaria “Abraham,” Juno Temple “Eema,” Olivia Wilde “Princess Inanna,” June Diane Raphael “Maya,” Xander Berkeley “King,” Gia Carides “Queen”
Genre: Comedy

Joe E. Holman...From Minister to Atheist

Growing up, I was a typical American kid. I had a brother and a sister, a loving mom and dad, and we were taught to believe in Christianity, America's status quo faith. Mom and dad were not religious fanatics, but they were mild fundamentalists who believed that Christianity was the only way to salvation and that no one could have the highest morality without belief in the Christian God. I swallowed this philosophy hook, line, and sinker from day one, though I didn't become a baptized believer until my eighteenth birthday.

I was converted for the same reason that many others were--I was at a time in my life when I needed emotional and psychological support. I had fought my own battles with depression growing up, but when Christianity came along, that was the end of my singing the blues! Finding something to believe in is a big part of the psychological make up of the individual. I had also just fallen out of a relationship with a girl and this made me begin to "look upward" for help like I'd never done before. I was a party-goer, by and large, but I knew that someday, I would have to give up my selfish life and become a part of what I was taught God told me to do--to be baptized and live as a Christian.

I remember how it felt to start looking for answers in the bible and pray like I never had before. I was a changed man at my conversion one cold February morning in 1994. What I felt Christ did for me was all too apparent in my mind. I decided to live for him since he gave so much for me, and I was so thankful that I had escaped the eternal flames of Hell that awaited me for my former lifestyle's conduct. From then on, my life would change in ways I never imagined.

During the first year of my conversion, I read the bible through, bought perhaps 50 apologetics books and Christian evidence materials, and read them through nearly at the pace of one book per night. Nothing else seemed important to me anymore except the study of God's word. I was a living, breathing, scripture-quoting machine. Only a couple of months after my conversion, I found that I had an easier time memorizing than anyone I knew, so I put this skill to work. This came in handy as I became a determined personal evangelist.

From me, no one was safe from an argument on religion! I'd talked to everyone I knew, beginning with my close family, my friends, and my acquaintances, and they all knew where I stood on the issues: Jesus was the way, Genesis is accurate in all its teachings (and literal too), and only those in the Lord's true church (the Church of Christ to which I belonged) would be saved on the last day. I went door to door for multiple blocks, talking to every soul I could find. I had to save them from the fires of Hell like I had been saved. I sure made a lot of people mad at me who didn't want to hear it!

I had two college professors walk away from me after I basically refused to let them leave their classrooms in arguments over what they said during class. I had a math professor tell me, "Listen, I'm not going to convert to your religion, guy!" I remember another teacher saying to me, "I'm happy with my church. I don't need another." This little crusade of mine continued until a year-and-a-half after my conversion when I decided to enter preaching school and officially prepare myself for the work I had ahead. Secular college was much too worldly and "evil" for me, so preaching school shined out as my only real option.

Let it be clear that the Church of Christ is an ultra-fundamentalist group, far more conservative than even the most stubborn protestant churches out there: so conservative, in fact, that members of my group were constantly withdrawing fellowship from each other and our sister congregations that disagreed with us over greater or lesser points. According to our group, an unscriptural marriage (a second marriage without meeting the scriptural standards of God) constituted adultery, and therefore, had to be broken up, even if their were children involved.

Of course, no one could be saved outside of our group and every detail of the scriptures was the absolute word of God and had to be true! Using musical instruments during church services was wrong and sinful and Hell would be the penalty for it if done. The God of the Church of Christ was a very legally-minded God, indeed. Even a sincere candidate making his way to the baptistery out of faith to obey God, should he die, would find himself in Hell because he had to get immersed to get any forgiveness (Acts 2:38).

Beginning Ministerial Training

I began attending the Southwest School of Bible Studies in 1995 and graduated in 1997. This well respected 216 hour preparation for my preaching work taught me a lot about every area of the work of the minister. It was a thorough walk-through of every book and chapter of the bible, preaching protocol, and particularly, the fact and the how of bible apologetics. That is, the bible needed a lot of defending. It brood so much controversy and conflict on every level of thought that it needed scholars at its aide. But my best arguing experience came from real life, from running into people with radically different beliefs than mine and learning how to defend my position over theirs.

I ran into the Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses, the Baptists and Adventists, the Catholics and Greek Orthodox, the infidels and mystics, the psychics and the Buddhists, and the typical "unchurched" folk who weren't interested in religion one way or the other. To me they all didn't make sense. With each encounter, I became more and more confident that my faith was the right one to have. Every debate I watched or heard, I found that my side seemed to make the better points, and this bothered me a little because I felt that I didn't understand the opposing side's views well enough. This demanded yet more study.

In heart, I have always been a bit of a rationalist, even back then. I felt the need for compelling evidence to back up a claim, especially in a world of religions where so many flimflam artists are at work. So it bothered me when I heard others express the "just have faith" aspect of religion. Others - most people, in fact - weren't like me. They didn't care like I did if a claim made sense or not. If their parents said it, if the bible said it, if they had heard it for a long enough time, then it was true, period.

I kept trying to understand why the faith of most people wasn't as urgent a thing to them as my faith was to me. This led me to believe even more so that I was truly converted and most of those around me were not. But even amongst my own brethren, so many seemed to not be as flexible with their views as I thought they should be. Very few of them would stick their necks out in an argument like I would and put their faith on the line: "Prove to me that my religion is wrong and I'll convert to the right one tonight." I didn't see this attitude very often and this worried me.

Throughout my ministry, I remember watching and reading debates just to prove myself wrong, though this never happened early on. It seemed I could never get to a point in my mind where I just accepted I had truth. My quest for answers was unending.

Preaching Life Begins

After graduating from seminary in 1997, I held down four preaching works until my resignation as minister in 2003. In August of 1997, I began my first work. I didn't end up staying there long on account of financial reasons. The church couldn't afford to pay me enough, so after six months, my wife and I headed out for work number two. I spent two years at this church and learned a lot about human nature and people's unwillingness to change.

Throughout my Christian life, I always had little doubts that bothered me from conversion onward. They were small doubts that made my stomach burn from time to time, but I would study them away before they became a problem. It was towards the end of this work (in 1999) that I began to experience doubts a little harder. This was the time in my life that I began to first question prayer.

On one occasion, our church diligently prayed that a dear elderly sister with cancer get better. She seemed to improve as her cancer went into remission for a while and I considered this a true evidence of prayer...until a year later when the cancer relapsed and she died quite suddenly! God was really working there! From then on, it was as though my mind kept a log of unanswered prayers, and the results always seemed to be 50/50 at best. This was my beginning of questioning what I believed, though I didn't acknowledge it altogether. It was just in the back of my mind.

I prided myself on being able to "answer" infidel arguments, but I would later find that my study of evidence on these issues was one-sided. Up till now, my knowledge pool was theological and Christian. I had no way to reason outside of the box. I could only arrive at Christian conclusions because that was my worldview. So I decided to take a little harder look at the other side.

I began acquiring some other books, this time books on the natural sciences and freethought. I began with Thomas Paine, George H. Smith, and Ingersoll (to name just a few), and my library expanded monthly. Plus, I began to take a closer look at astronomy, cosmology, geology, and microbiology. I was beginning to get a different picture of the world than my bible was giving me. But even now that I was broadening my horizons, my

faith was still not in any danger of being destroyed just yet. I still readily and fervently opposed, like a belligerent fanatic, anyone (including those in the books I read), who opposed fundamentalist Christianity. It would take time to see a better way.

The Doubts Worsen

Before I knew it, the summer of 2000 had rolled around. I was at my third preaching work now and the work of God in the local church went on as normal. It was a hot night in August as a guest speaker addressed my congregation in regard to his missionary work that we were supporting overseas. I had been fighting away my doubts successfully up until this point, but this was about to change.

Behind him was the screen where he showed us a video of the work that the brethren were doing in India. The pagans were pulling apart a bull in a town square in honor of a pagan god. "It is unfortunate that this sort of pagan worship goes on in the world today, but it does, and we must remember as Christians that these souls are lost without the gospel. If people can be saved without it, then we are wasting our time and money trying to save souls."

It was as though time stopped for me at that moment. The speaker's words made my heart race like never before, even though I had preached and heard the same message a thousand times by now. But unlike before, I was now actually thinking of the implications of what I believed.

According to my God, these ignorant, bull-slaughtering heathens were going to be condemned to eternal fire to burn forever, and yet so many of them had lived and died under their own wrong pagan ways and laws for countless generations. It wasn't right for God to put them in Hell for simply living in ignorance as they had been taught. I felt like a twerp with my no-other-way-to-salvation gospel, futilely trying to convert a people who already had a belief system and a culture to direct their lives.

My heart began pounding and I began to sweat. I was beginning to think for myself and not just sweep every lost person into a secret compartment in my mind, never to be thought about again (as I had been doing). This Hell idea I had been preaching was starting to seem like a terrible thing. Though I wouldn't have admitted it, I never could harmonize the concept of hell with the concept of a merciful God, especially when God could easily rehabilitate sinners or just blot them out of existence. After all, you get rid of a sick dog, you don't torture it, right?

But this posed a dilemma; if God could choose to save some lost souls without the gospel, then he must do the same for everyone lest he be branded a respecter of persons (Acts 10:34-35), in which case, his word would not always be true (John 10:35). Or, if it is as the bible says, and literally no one can be saved without the gospel, then you have the uncomfortable and unjust position of making God a tyrant who condemns helpless and ignorant pagans who never heard of Jews or Jesus or the Christian Church (Luke 12:4-5; Mark 16:16; Matthew 7:21-23; John 14:6). There is no way to answer this dilemma and maintain both the soundness of God's word and the mercy of God.

I used to be content explaining this by saying that since God himself was the only immutable standard of morality, then he could do whatever he wanted with souls and his will would be "good" and ours would be "bad," but this no longer resolved the problem in my mind. Now the idea of eternal torment started to seem like the truly malicious thing it was. God was running a "little shop of horrors" all his own! The more I thought about it, I wasn't so sure I wanted to serve a monster capable of such cruelty. It would take time, but this would soon begin to interfere with my evangelism efforts.

Not a month had passed by until I found myself working late one night at the church building. I spent all the time I had to prepare bible classes and sermons, studying out bible discrepancies and evidences for and against evolution instead. My doubts, though not unmanageable, were starting to interfere with my work, and things would finally reach the breaking point by the next year. Looking back now, I can see it all clearly. My experience tells me it's the same with just about everyone; once you begin to think critically and analyze what you are taught in the bible, faith will eventually terminate in atheism.

My Last Work

The last church I preached at was my biggest work yet. I loved preaching the gospel and had given my life to cherish and defend it. I had so much on my plate with this new work: visitation, counseling, prison correspondence, bulletin preparation, preaching and teaching sermons and bible classes, and a Sunday morning radio program.

When I tried to look at this as a wonderful thing, I still found that most of my time and effort was being spent in apologetics. I found myself constantly explaining away bible atrocities, such as the Midianites' extermination at the hands of Israel (Numbers 31:15-18), and why God allowed bad things to happen to good people.

Answering the problem of evil and innocent human suffering was a big thing to all churches because it is a relevant question and every member of every church worldwide has heard every preacher they know try to explain it, but they all failed just like I did. The scriptural problems never would quit coming at me. I was constantly explaining away bible discrepancies, "patching up" the old book to make it fit a skeptical, modern world. I was constantly explaining away many errors in the text.

For instance, one passage says Ahaziah was 22 years old when he began to reign and another passage says he was forty two (2 Kings 8:26 vs. 2 Chronicles 22:2). One text has Josiah dying in Megiddo and another has him dying in Jerusalem (2 Kings 23:29-30 vs. 2 Chronicles 35:24). I was taught contradictions like these were just "scribal errors" from copying mistakes in earlier manuscripts. However, it didn't sit well with me that God did not provide us with a spiritual roadmap that could be trusted without having to go digging through a pile of human-penned manuscripts to finally stumble upon what God actually intended to say!

It was difficult trying to find scientific truths in God's book, while explaining away the many unscientific things that bothered me, like flat earth passages such as Job 9:6 and I Samuel 2:8, "the pillars of the earth are the Lord's, and he hath set the world upon them." The idea that striped rods produce striped offspring in animals (Genesis 30:35-39), proved very difficult to explain, and let's not forget the work I had to do in explaining what the bible really meant when it mentioned those cud-chewing rabbits (Leviticus 11:6)!

I couldn't keep up with all the work I had to do to make Christianity seem viable. This worsened my doubts and I started realizing that the issues I was explaining away were valid discrepancies indeed, and that my way of correcting these problems could be applied to any false book, making it impossible to find a contradiction in anything. I was using bad reasoning to find my way out of erroneous conclusions, brought on by false bible statements.

So, I was forced to retreat back into the safe-haven of illusive, theistic-agnostic jargon by saying that "God is above our understanding. God is unknowable. We would have to be God to understand him." Now I was right back where I started--with no answers. And if you think defining God is hard, imagine trying to define a Trinitarian God (Matthew 28:19)! As a minister, I would explain the trinity as water, steam, and ice--three components making up one substance. This doesn't apply very well to individuals, does it? Now I had three uncreated, perfect, and infinite beings existing forever! This was an even less intelligible idea!

Like a retard in the mall, I was lost and left to wander aimlessly, playing the same old guessing game of finding what solution would solve this problem and what God wanted me to do. My spiritual world was turned upside down. Like most religious people, Christians are very theatrical in their thinking, and so was I. I kept imagining the drama that went on as Satan was before God telling him I would fail the test, but that God was telling Satan that I would pass it, just like Job's triumphant journey into greater faith. I had to stay faithful! But, this disposition could only last so long.

The time comes when you develop the courage to admit to yourself, "If there is a God, he sure has done a good job at making a universe where so many like me can't see it." In such dilemmas, you keep waiting for the right tract or email or book or conversation from a friend to come along and set you straight, but it never happens.

When 2002 came around, things were definitely changing. My preaching work was now showing serious signs of sloppiness and hurt. I stepped into that pulpit every Sunday and gave my weekly motivational speeches and forgot about my doubts for the time, though they always came back. By mid-2002, I was a virtual atheist undercover, trying to keep a paycheck coming and almost resigned to finally accepting that my god had bailed on me!

As one last measure, I decided to reach out to other ministers for help. I went to their houses, swore them to secrecy, and unloaded on them my issues. I had tried this a couple of times before with no success, but I thought I'd try it again. They didn't understand and actually attacked me viciously for asking them demanding questions they only thought they had answers to. They tried to come back with the same theistic hogwash I once so proudly peddled, but those words had lost their power. The people I went to for comfort ended up chiding me for a situation I wished I wasn't in. Several of them refused to speak to me again. I was hurt and it didn't take long to realize that I was on my own in this search.

I took any down time I had and investigated other world religions more clearly than I had in the past. To sum up the matter, not one of them struck me as divine and all of them seemed at least a little more credible than the religion I promoted. No one of them had any of the big answers to the world's problems and no one of them could explain human suffering. None of the basic philosophical arguments for God (the cosmological, teleological, axiological arguments, etc.) were valid, and a thorough investigation of the roots of Christianity revealed that it was not unique at all.

Christianity was composed of borrowed components of many religions. There were a myriad of virgin-born savior-gods in the world before Christ's time. Justin Martyr admits this much in his work Apologia I. I found nothing but dishonesty in my preaching comrades who showed no real interest in finding (or facing) the truth. I came to see that all those shelves of creationist books spoke for not so much as a microscopic part of the scientific community and that even my preaching brethren with actual degrees in the natural sciences rejected fully the scientific consensus of the real experts' opinions on evolution and cosmology.

I had been listening to dishonest crackpots who knew very little to nothing about what evolution really taught, and yet they trashed it and taught nonsense just to support the worldview of an archaic book that told of a six thousand year old earth, had numerous contradictions, false prophecies, and a plethora of errors. I was starting to see a bigger world out there than my limited Christian worldview would allow for, and I was starting to see that I needed to go back and relearn what little I was taught about science, knowing that the sources I trusted before were no good now.

There was no water canopy that surrounded the earth at creation as I had been taught (Genesis 1:6-8). In an attempt to bolster the credibility of the Noahic flood account (Genesis 6-8), I had been told that many flood myths of cultures around the world existed. This was true, but what I was not told was that a huge portion of those myths were not stories of universal floods, but local floods -- natural exaggerations from floods in history which came about as fall off from our most recent ice age. Exaggerations like this are to be expected as myths have always developed about natural disasters. There are plenty of fire myths too.

I also learned that many of these flood sagas had virtually nothing in common with each other; for instance, some flood legends, like the Pygmy version of the myth, describe a flood as an act of a god creating humanity in water. Other accounts, like that of the Hopi Indians, have an impending flood averted. The Hebrews' take on the flood was not unique and not original. Many flood stories predate theirs. The Egyptians have detailed and reliable records going back a long way, verifying that no flood occurred some 5,000 years ago or round-abouts.

So, what I once thought supported the Genesis record actually robbed it of credibility. Different races did not exist because Noah had three sons that emerged from an ark and repopulated the world (Genesis 9-11). The earth was not six thousand years old. Languages did not originate from a mysterious separation of peoples while building some tower to heaven (Genesis 11:1-9). The pyramids of different cultures around the world were not built in similar shapes because their ancestors came from the Tower of Babel. They were built as pyramids simply because they had no rebar or similar technology that would allow them to build straight upward to support their own weight when multiple stories were added to a structure.

I had been misinformed about the 2nd law of thermodynamics, which is continually misapplied by creationists everyday. The second law did not prevent or hinder evolution or an eternal universe at all. I had been misinformed about DNA and the facts of taxonomy, mutations, and genetic variants in species. I jumped at the opportunity to know the truth now. My knowledge pool was filling, and my worldview that was kept so small before and full of intolerance and scientific illiteracy, was now growing, and with this knowledge came peace like the bible only claimed to give me.

Too, I was realizing that morality which I thought was delegated by a book had nothing to do with religion. I was stunned to see many different forms of morality all over my world. Almost all higher forms of life showed the beginnings of culture, and to one extent or another, forms of morality. The morality of my people was a little different from the Head Hunters of Borneo, yet we had a similar rule that said that it wasn't right to steal. This rule was never given by a god. It was a result of rationality in species who understood that stealing could never be allowed in structured societies. Prides of lions have the same rule.

It became apparent that the greatest morality was not to do right for the bribe of a reward (Heaven), or because of the threat of punishment (Hell), but to do right for right's sake. This, to me, sums up higher morality. Morality comes no more to man from a god than it does from a god to a baboon to sacrifice himself to the leopard to preserve the lives of his troop. Once again, I looked around and saw a bigger, more natural world around me, a world that made more sense.

The Finality

I never quit getting asked what it was that finally closed my door of faith forever. If I had to pick a "nail in the coffin" that ended my theological journey, I don't think I would be able to. De-conversion takes time and a lot of thinking and rethinking. But I suppose, if my feet were to the fire and I had to pick the biggest blow, I would have to say that it came by way of understanding the basic premise of the law of rationality.

I was taught in school KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid! Look for the simplest answer first and not the most complex. You've probably heard this too. Logicians would call this principle, Occam's Razor--in a dilemma, pick the simplest answer whenever you can. I was compelled as a freethinker to draw only those conclusions which were warranted by the evidence. That meant that if I can explain design by means of evolution, then I don't need a god. If I can explain the construction of the bible on natural processes and that it is of human origin, then I am not warranted to conclude that a god wrote it. If I can look up at the stars at night, as I so fondly do, and see a natural explanation for them, then it is pointless to throw a god into the process somewhere.

Science had been replacing the god notion for centuries. Now God only existed in the gaps of our knowledge of the world. I had been holding back the progress of mankind by holding onto a book that promised the world, but delivered nothing. It was the very source of some of the problems it claimed to solve.

I could now embrace a more fulfilling and enlightening worldview. I could now have a glass of wine without fear of eternal damnation and I could breathe the fresh air of being honest with myself. I do not expect that everyone can be an atheist. I am convinced that it will not happen for a good many people because religion is a psychological thing and many people just aren't ready to make the leap to a purely material world. But as it was for me, so it will be the right move for a good many religious thinkers who find no stopping place short of rejecting theism.

I tried to resign from the ministry quietly, but the ministers I trusted in made that impossible. September 28, 2003 was the date of my resignation. I have never regretted that decision for a moment. In fact, I look back now and wonder how I could ever have believed in an angry tyrant of a god who brought unimaginable guilt and fear of eternal torture on his children. It was hard for my wife (now ex) who is still Christian and my family to adjust to my new views, and it was very difficult to hunt a new career, but it had to be done. I don't have a single regret.

After I resigned, I was put on more prayer lists than I could imagine--a lot of good they did! I got my share of emotional phone calls from ministers, friends, and members of the churches I preached at before, pleading me to "hold on," telling me I was too good a minister to leave the fold.

Generally, I got the usual thoughts from people who didn't understand my outlook and made every effort to blame my change on all the wrong reasons: "You were never really converted." "You were pushed into preaching too soon." "You just had too strict a church and their interpretation ruined you to real moderate Christianity." "You were just frustrated by the brethren." "You are just going through a phase, a sort of midlife crisis."

But when I defended my decision to leave, I quickly became the flaming heretic without hope of saving: "You are evil!!" "Do you worship the devil now, Joe?" "Joe, you have no morality!" "Will you beat me and take my wallet now that you're an atheist, Joe?" They called me not knowing what they were in for. It was almost funny to listen as they got upset and tried to get off the phone as quickly as possible. At least several preachers and long-time church friends forbade me to contact them ever again, and most of them haven't reached out since, except for one, maybe.

Looking back now, I can remember sitting on my couch shortly before my resignation and recalling the end of a movie I saw years earlier, the 1991 movie Drop Dead Fred. It's a silly little flick that focuses on a troubled girl who has an imaginary friend who stays with her until this friend feels she has grown up enough to be on her own. I can remember the emotion that ran through me as I applied it to my situation. Drop Dead Fred says to her towards the end of the movie, "I've got to leave you now. You don't need me anymore." After that, the girl went on about her life as a normal girl and Fred became some other little girl's imaginary friend.

For me, it was exactly as though my god, my imaginary friend who was a stepping stone to help me develop confidence and to reach out towards maturity in life, suddenly said to me, "I've got to leave you now. You don't need me anymore." It was sad at first, but I knew all along it was necessary. I "grew up" in my mind. My imaginary friend was gone. Santa Claus was dead. There was no ghost in the machine. Pinocchio's strings had been cut. Cinderella's magic carriage ran out of gas. My little green dragon I clutched so tightly in my arms as a small child at bedtime was useless now.

My journey through Christianity and into atheistic freethought was a journey of finding myself, and now I can say with great confidence that I have. I am one small link in a long chain, and all I can do is my little part to make my fellow links feel that much happier and that much more loved. The standards of peace and happiness I sought as I believer, I found as an atheist--Who would have thought?

What shocked me was that the evidences for naturalism were there all along, right in front of me. I never noticed them because of my former religious delusions. Anyone who wanted hard facts that would support a naturalistic universe could find a good number of evidences, if only they were willing to accept what they saw. I could now aim to live out my life with self-honesty and intellectual dignity. I was never a "sinner" and didn't need a savior. What I needed was truth and the liberty of enlightenment.

I found that life is not about Joe Holman or planet earth or my wants and desires, or those of my family. Life is about change; blind, but awesome, disappointing, but surprising, change. Life is about being born, growing, and dying, for no purpose at all except for the one we make for ourselves. Life is about the evolution of all things, great and small, and in the process, it is as though the universe, through us, developed a way to view itself.

For me, life is not the main event anymore. When my time on earth is spent, I will enjoy my eternal sleep, the only place where genuine, lasting tranquility can be obtained. In an eternal universe, who knows how unthinkably long it will be before another galaxy sprouts up somewhere someday and another planet is formed, where another innocent, naive, and zealous Joe Holman comes around again, asking the same questions and learning the same lessons.

(JH)

Buy Joe's Book! It boasts 408 pages of the full-length de-conversion story, arguments and evidence, and satirical material, in tellingly well-written fashion.

Why I Am an Atheist

#1) I am an atheist because the god-believer has the burden of proof when trying to establish the existence of a god and has not met that burden: The burden of proof is on the god-believer to prove that a god exists. It is not up to the atheist to disprove what has never been established in the first place. So often, I am told, "You cannot prove that there is no god." This is backwards reasoning. I am not obligated to disprove that a leprechaun is standing beside you. You must first prove to me that one is there. Otherwise, I am under no obligation to accept your leprechaun hypothesis. The default position would be "anti-leprechaunism," you could say.

Is it possible that a leprechaun is next to you? Sure, but I have no reason to believe such a thing, and until I do, I will keep being an "anti-leprechaunist.” The same applies to gods and goddesses of all varieties. On all counts, the theist fails to meet his burden of proof, and therefore, atheism stands by default.

#2) I am an atheist because all the world's religions have failed to demonstrate that they are ways to a god or higher power: They are all based on the ignorance of man trying to explain the world in terms he can understand. Religions (or the notions that later became religions) were built to enable man to feel that he controlled his destiny and the natural world around him, yet these religions exhibit no signs that a supernatural being is behind them, not one.

None of them have been able to demonstrate supernatural origins at all. None of them have been able to tell us what science has told us about the origin of our universe. Why don't any of them speak of the big bang as our origin? Basically, there is nothing about any of them that compels the educated mind of today to give them a second look. Every religion is just as desperate and hopeless as the next. All of them are trying to heighten man's place in a world of catastrophe and pain.

#3) I am an atheist because all I know is the natural world: All of my senses are for the natural world. My desires and longings are fleshly in nature. No deity has manifested himself in our purely physical world. One thing about these gods and goddesses is their terrible timing and planning! Their strange methodologies and tendencies to keep hiding when we need them the most is undeniable.

I am supposed to believe that a being invisible to the naked eye is lurking above the heavens, is great enough to guide my life, hear my every prayer, and direct my every step, but for some strange reason, refuses to manifest himself directly to his highest creation man. I have never talked to this being even once (at least he has never talked back). I must ask, why? I used to think this a selfish line of questioning, but now I can find not one good reason to keep guessing why a God who loves and wants so much for us would refuse to acknowledge his physical existence.

Very simply, I am weary of anyone who claims ownership of our bodies and even our very "souls," and yet I am compelled to dispute his existence! Not only that, I see no miracles, no resurrections, no signs in the heavens, no accurate revelations to man. I observe absolutely nothing that makes me to look "beyond the clouds" for a god.

The mystic and the psychic tell me there is a "third eye" I can open by meditating and using the right drugs. They tell me nonsense like the idea that I only use 10% of my brain and that the other sections are roped off for "the spiritual man to uncover."

This is a spooky world for the mystic. He accepts telekinesis, psychic surgery, UFO abductions, crop circle phenomenon, Ouija boards, and pseudo-scientific claims on every level. He believes in an immortal nature within man, a human spirit that can leave and enter the body with the right "enlightenment." Haunted houses and unexplained phenomenon are exaggerated to be ghostly encounters when these explanations grossly fail to pass the tests of critical examination.

When all of the hoopla is cleared away, I am left with nature, mundane and boring as it sometimes can be. If I am confined to live in and abide by the rules of a natural world, then I must try and explain my world on the very same principles. Again, all I can see and verify is the natural, so it makes no sense to draw crazy conclusions that there is a "non-matter" entity out there that runs the show. The law of rationality demands that I draw only those conclusions that are warranted by the evidence: I see, hear, feel, touch, and smell nature. I am obligated to find the simplest answer that accounts for my observational data and sensory perceptions of the world.

#4) I am an atheist because being so enables me to make honest decisions about things in the world around me: Not being committed to a doctrine enables me to study the world and accept what I see as a valid explanation of itself. The religious man, particularly the fundamentalist, is enslaved to a doctrine, a belief system that must be right at all costs. He must reason backwards, finding evidences that back up his preconceived ideas. His eternal soul rests on justifying what he already believes true. Therefore, his objectivity is lost in the process.

For instance, the Christian must accept all bible discrepancies and atrocities as justified and right actions from a just and right God. He must accept everything the book reveals--lock, stock, and barrel. He cannot discriminate based on reason what he will or will not accept.

One of the biggest benefits of science to man is that science is self-correcting, unlike theology! When a scientist and his work are found to be wrong, his next step is to correct it, or if he can't, to throw it out. Science rectifies itself whereas archaic theology will always remain the same.

#5) I am an atheist because faith is a flawed system to live by: "But where does faith come in?," the Christian asks. "No where at all," I reply. Faith is a flawed system to live by. Think about it for a minute; every religious American every Sunday or Saturday goes to his/her church or temple with the same belief that god is encouraging their actions. The Seventh Day Adventist feels that god has led him to accept the ten commandments as still binding today. He disagrees with his Baptist and Methodist neighbors he adores so much.

Meanwhile, the Baptist and Methodist neighbors go to their own churches and sing another worn out verse to "Amazing Grace." They listen to the charming preacher and get their "feel good" pills for the week. They've been told that their sins are forgiven. They are saved by faith alone. The Church of Christ Scientist believes that god has forbidden the use of medications. Their children can die for lack of them, but by faith, they walk their spiritual walk onward believing they are pleasing God. The Mormon arrives at his worship hour waiting to be encouraged and strengthened for taking such criticism from the rest of Christianity that he has been receiving all week for following Joseph Smith, that esteemed prophet who founded their church. He is happy to sing another verse of, "Give Me Back My Prophet," in his Mormon hymn book.

What's wrong with this picture? The problem with this picture is faith. This I-don't-know-but-I-believe-god-is-with-me idea is the very cause of the division Christianity keeps producing. Everyone in our scenario above is a victim of faith. He believes God is with him but has no way of establishing the truth of the matter. In a way, believers, especially the evangelical type, are salesman: they (a) create a need for their product in convincing people they have a problem. And (b) they show why their product is the ideal cure, and that (c) brand(s) X(other faiths and religions) are not as good as theirs! There are conversions every which way, into and out of every religion worldwide. What does god really want?

Which church is his church? Does he even desire Sunday worship at all? You will never know for sure, but you can "have faith," empty and not so reassuring as it is. This system will never work for one who must have answers. Go to your local library and educate yourself on matters of science if you long for better assurance of facts. Those who desire closure and security will never find it in Christianity. It is not there to be had. No assurance cannot be called "blessed assurance."

#6) I am an atheist because I got tired of playing the guessing game: This was probably the hardest aspect of Christianity to cope with. Christianity was a game, a guessing game where you tried with all your heart to find out what God wanted for you, but never could make sense of anything that happened around you. I grew tired of trying to guess just where and how God was involved in my life.

The same guessing game would sprout up every time a tragedy sprung up on one of God's people. Brother Bob was killed in a car wreck on the way to a gospel meeting. He was going to preach the gospel of Christ that night, but was killed, thanks to a drunk driver. Surely God would have wanted this brother alive. He was going to preach his word. Brother Bob was walking in the light and following the Lord. What happened? It was in god's power to prevent this tragedy. That puts this tragedy on God. I thought God was supposed to be there for us in times of need? Were there too many preachers and this was God's way of firing brother Bob? Was he going to preach soul-damning error and the Lord was doing us all a favor by eliminating him? Did he have some sordid sin in his life that God was tired of seeing and decided that it was time for brother Bob to cash in his chips? Was brother Bob's family being chastened by God by his death to strengthen them, or how about me maybe? A thousand other hypothetical examples could be used.

When I would pray and ask God for something and got no answer, the mind naturally begins to consider why. Maybe God did not grant my prayer request because it was not in accordance with his will for me? Maybe God will answer it, but will do in his own time? How long will that be and how do I know when I receive such an answer? When the prayer is answered, how do I know it would not have happened anyway? What if God told me no? But wait, my request was definitely in accordance with his will. Of that I am certain. So why do I see no results? Maybe I am not praying long and hard enough. Guess I'll just keep praying and waiting for something to happen.

When it comes to the will of the gods, the questions and possibilities are as endless as the grains of sand on planet earth. Too many strange things happen not to question the nature of these things. I must confess, if what some theists say is true and God has a "secret plan that we humans will just never understand," then I've got to hand it to him; he has done the best job anyone could ever do! No one could possibly make sense of all the tragedies, unexplained deaths, religious confusion, natural phenomenon, and heartache that he allows to go on every day of this life.

I never knew or could know if and what God ever did. I had to live each day with the same confusion everybody else faced with no way to identify what was and was not God's will. I decided I was finished guessing and ready to start knowing. It all got old. I couldn't take it any longer.

#7) I am an atheist because I got tired of trying to find connections where there were none: One big tendency of the human mind is to see connections where none exist. Let's look at the Christian apologist's approach to finding evidences of bible inspiration.

The Christians have long maintained that certain events in the Old Testament are foreshadowings of the New Testament, particularly in the life of Christ. For example, theists say that Joseph and Jesus are types of each other. Joseph was rejected by his brothers, and after spending time in a pit (a symbol of the grave), Joseph was exalted and his brethren revered him. Jesus was rejected by his people and after his crucifixion, was exalted, and his brothers (in faith) revered him.

In the first judgment of the earth in the days of Noah, God swore he would never again use water to vanquish evil. Instead, just the opposite of water, fire is to be God's new weapon of choice (2 Peter 3:10).

Any time a freethinker finds fault with Christ's decision to wait over two thousand years to come back to earth, theologians are excited to point out that the skeptics are "fulfilling the prophecy of Peter" in 2 Peter 3:5, "In the last time mockers shall come walking after their lusts and saying, 'where is the promise of his coming'?"

In Exodus 32, the people of Israel sinned by worshipping the golden calf. God is angry with the people for their sins and purposes to destroy Israel. Moses acts as a mediator for the people in persuading God to spare them. Theologians draw attention to how Christ does the same for us before the father (I Timothy 2:5). Not to mention, both were marked for death at birth, and both had a radiant face, etc.

These scriptural comparisons are examples of how the Christian theist reasons. In light of the cited instances, it seems to be happy hunting ground for the theist. He has so many "foreshadowing evidences" of inspiration.

Of course, to reason this way is unfounded. There are no connections between the events of the Old Testament characters and the New Testament's Son of God that are genuine. Jesus and Joseph have only as much in common as the myth-makers of the New Testament wanted Christ to have.

Even if the Christ myth was based on a real individual, the cited connections are far from remarkable. The same is obvious of Moses and Christ. There can be no "prophetic connections" because the New Testament was written after the Old. All of the Jewish qualities seen in Jesus were so created to appeal to the Jews and pagans, respectively. Peter's "prophecy" of mockers is all but indicative of a distinct saintly voice trying to slow down the inevitable decline of faith in a mythical savior who stood his disciples up and has never returned, or at best, proved to be a savior who abandoned his cult because of inevitable human mortality.

I can remember being so charmed with these and a hundred more little "examples of inspiration" I thought I found. But as stated, theists find connections where there are none. Obscure passages come to life for them because of their burning convictions that passages do, in fact, say what they so badly want to believe about them. Without this bridge-building, passage-connecting "faith," a study of the bible is only a study of an ancient text reflecting the views of the time in which it was written. Without blind and overly-optimistic faith, the "good book" is nothing more than an ancient capsule of obsolete theology from an age long gone. It will fail every critical test and offer little to a new and modern world.

#8) I am an atheist because man is an animal and not a special creation or a divinely destined creature: Animals, regardless of intelligence, are animals, and animals are beasts of nature, products of a savage world, hardly worthy of the standards of a Heaven or Hell. Perhaps the late Charles Lee Smith, President and founder of the oldest atheist organization in American, the America Association for the Advancement of Atheism, said it best in his debate with O.C. Oliphant, "The descendants of apes need no savior." [The Oliphant-Smith Debate, p. 34.1929] Nearly every other academic field will make this an almost undeniable conclusion.

A stout look at our physical make-up will reveal that we humans eat, sleep, procreate, and defecate--along with the rest of the animals. We get goose bumps when we are cold or scared to help our "fur" stand taller and thus, have a better chance of survival. Our fingers have nails on their ends, remnants of claws from a very long time ago. They are made of keratin, the same substance which composes all claws. To this day, members of our society suffer herniated disks and foot and arch problems due to our lack of adaptation to walking upright on land.

This kill-or-be-killed nature of the world shows a very cruel god, in fact, an infinitely evil god, if one exists at all. What would we do to a genius scientist who, if he had a choice in the matter, chose to set up a system of life where higher life forms eat the lower ones? We would find it unthinkably cruel, but we give god a pass on it. As I said, Infinitely evil!

Man is an animal, despite his big brain, his relatively hairless physique, his proudly upright posture, and his washed and deodorized body. DNA used to conduct paternity tests and tell us who the father and mother of a child is, will tell the story of our evolutionary descent and kinship with every other life form on earth. We share over 98% of our DNA with our closest cousins, the chimpanzees. Other forms of life, beginning with mammals, going on down through amphibians, reptiles, and bacteria show successively less genetic similarity to us. This conclusively proves our kinship to the animal kingdom.

#9) I am an atheist because Christianity (and all theism) manifests self-centered arrogance, the height of unfounded pride and pompous egotism: Often, it is the atheist who is accused of being the arrogant one in a discussion of spiritual vs. material matters, but the Christian is the guilty one.

I can imagine no more arrogant of a philosophy than one which states that intelligent man is the greatest and most prized creation in the universe. Isn't this convenient? The mighty silverback with his strength or the bull elephant is not so loved, nor is the industrious otter the #1 creation, though he works so tirelessly to build a great home and dam that is truly a work of wildlife art. In addition to being a great builder, the otter manages not to kill his own kind as humans do. It is man who is capable of so much more than every other creature. He is the greatest. On top of our many accomplishments, we have sky spirits that take special interest in us. Wow! Now our heads get even bigger!

The arrogance of Christianity is seen in the purpose of God for man. I must ask why the omnipotent creator of heaven and earth needs lowly me to do anything? The child likes to play in his backyard and pretend that the general has called him on a secret and important mission to accomplish. The same type of childish motive is found in Christianity.

I am commissioned to bring a message to those around me who do not have it in order to establish their hearts as dwelling places for God. Souls are at risk! The mission is crucial! Why didn't the almighty bother to take the time and implant his important knowledge in everyone's mind? Why does the almighty need me to do anything he could do by the slightest of thoughts? If there is humility in serving God and trusting some unknown higher power to reveal the deep mysteries of life, then where is the humility in believing in only one God? Why not a god for the trees, the animals, the different rocks, and the seas and mountains? Are polytheists more humble?

This God business is a big business and has gone through a lot of changes through the last few millennia. The seafarer of old watched the stars. The old world farmer trusted the sun and the gods of vegetation. Today, the good Bible-believing Christian trusts his three-in-one God to give him purpose, hope, and a home beyond the clouds, which brings us to the next little arrogant aspect of Christianity--eternal life.

Why I must live on after the grave is arguably the most selfish thing of all. Once I arrive, what makes me so important that I am indispensable? Why must I abide forever? Isn't it interesting how we hear so little about the "great before" and so much about the "great beyond"? The arrogance of Christianity is definitely a comforting religious notion for man, for it tells him how undeniably important he is to the universe itself. He is at the center of it and it revolves around him. Can't I live out my days here in dignity with sobriety and honesty? Arrogant theism says "no." If it were up to believers in fundamentalist Christianity, there wouldn't even be a space program!

#10) I am an atheist because the natural sciences bankrupt the bible, and theism in general: Astronomy, usually held to be one of the most awe-inspiring proofs of God, was one of my biggest hurts of faith. I did not see a hand of god declaring his glory in the heavens. I see a myriad of stars, some brighter and more glorious than our own.

I see one planet teaming with life amidst gaseous, lethal pockets of stardust and radiation, pure chaos in action! Our solar system bears the scars of its cruel evolution. The planet Mercury is so close to the sun that she scorches on one side and freezes on the other. Venus, though originally much like earth, has been consumed by heat hot enough to melt lead! A runaway greenhouse effect got started making the planet unlivable.

Earth, Mars, and the two planets we've just mentioned dwell closer to the sun because of their heavy and rocky weight, whereas the gas giants dwell further away due to their light gases of which they are composed. This suggests a natural explanation for our solar system and not a divinely created one. Planets like Saturn and Uranus have rings because of collisions of massive meteors ages ago. Moons have craters for the same reason. Moons themselves form by way of catastrophes. Our earth wobbles on its axis causing storms and natural catastrophes, not to mention ice ages.

Were it not for a decent electromagnetic field, we would cook in cosmic solar radiation. We are one planet of nine planets, orbiting a star which is only one of several hundred billion in just our galaxy. At least, 225 billion other galaxies exist rendering earth as insignificant as a speck of dust orbiting a quasar 8 billion light years away. Astronomy testifies to man's departure as the supremely important being in the universe! Earth is barely fit to our survival and it won't be forever.

Whether its astronomy, biology, cosmology, or zoology, the natural sciences forever remove god as ruler of the universe.

#11) I am an atheist because God's living room has been getting smaller and smaller each generation: As we said, the sciences, with one voice, force God out of the picture. He must find a new home in the world. Now God lives only in the gaps of our knowledge of the world. Those gaps are closing quickly.

We used to think that the earth was flat. The bible even tells us so, "The pillars of the earth tremble" (Job 9:6). Now we know better. We used to think that earth was at the center of the universe and unmoving. The bible even tells us so, "Who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed for ever" (Psalm 104:5). Now we know better. We used to believe that stars are just points of light in the sky. Indeed, the bible tells us so.

The bible mentions two creations, the creation of the sun, and the creation of the stars, "And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also" (Genesis 1:16). Notice how God created the greater light (the sun) to rule the day, and then as an afterthought, "made the stars also!" This shows that the ancient writers of Genesis had no understanding as to the nature of stars (if the bible were the product of inspiration, it should!)

Again, now we know better! We used to believe that the earth was six thousand years old. The bible implies every bit as much by adding up the ages of the patriarchs and comparing the genealogies of Jesus which go all the way back to creation (Matthew 1/Luke 3). Since Jesus said man was created, "from the beginning of the creation" (Mark 10:6), this leaves no time for additional eons to be inserted to account for the ancient (billions of years old) earth that almost all scientists in the world recognize to be the obvious truth.

These are a handful of thoughts, a short summation on why I am an atheist. To me, it seems clear that the thinking person is forced into this position.

(JH)

Fallen in Disgrace

Movie Title: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
Spoilers: No

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Those who took the time to read my blistering review of the 2007 Transformers movie will be none too surprised at my dire disgust at this one, an even worse film than the original Michael Bay bowel movement. Whereas the first one was an explosive splat of cinematic diarrhea, the second one is puke—loud and clamorous, poorly developed with rotten writing. There are no redeeming qualities.

2007’s Transformers showed us Michael Bay’s masturbatorial love for crafting serious seizure-like fight scenes and then combining them with a story of unrelenting humor. The result was the removal of even a semblance of dignity from the transforming robots of power and greatness that so many of us grew up to love. But this 2009 expulsion of unfinished food did much worse than even I expected. You have poor filming quality on top of a tortured plot that unfolds with the smoothness of a kangaroo fighting to get out of quicksand.

Shia LaBeouf is at it again as "Sam Witwicky," breaking hearts and being the good-looking American boy that reminds me of a 1940s Chevy salesman. The girls want him, but they can’t have him. And you have Megan Fox as "Mikaela Banes" being just as out of reach with the boys. It’s all about the kids nowadays. It’s become an unwritten rule when making films to cater to those who spend 7 hours or more a day texting and editing their MySpace pages.

Sam’s annoying parents, Ron and Judy Witwicky (Kevin Dunn, Julie White), are complete mental cases, with the onscreen grace of two possums rummaging through trashcans at night. They act as though doing a Viagra commercial. Agent Simmons (John Turturro), the cheesy F.B.I. guy who reeks of being an out-of-work actor desperate for a part who helped to make the 2007 Transformers movie the steaming bowl of toilet soup that it was is back. But, incredibly, he’s the most pleasing addition to the cast (if “pleasing” can be used to describe anything or anyone in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen).

As I’ve gone on record saying, the 2007 film could have been titled “A Parody of Transformers” because humor was all that the flick offered. It couldn’t be taken seriously at any point. But the 2009 film lacks even that quality. You have two “ghetto” robots who behave like two “brothas” who sit on a porch with bottles of 40-ouncers, using Ebonics to express their rigid disagreeableness. You have Bumble Bee who cries buckets-full of water. You have a noisy screenplay and a near-constant virtual blur of crashing, twisting, rotating metal in motion. The entire presentation is an onscreen conniption fit—hard to follow and buried in a grave of lacking contrast. You don’t even want to like it.

Not to be forgotten, you have the pyramids playing a key role—heaven fucking forbid that the pyramids just be the tombs of ancient kings as they are. But instead, they have to be elevated to key components in wars between robots. Transformers II has all the qualities of a big budget film gone B-movie. But it’s not a B-movie. That means that when Revenge of the Fallen falls, it falls harder and stays down longer. Watching is a proven way to develop a migraine.

I have little doubt that this will be on my list of 2009’s worst movies.

(JH)

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Grade: F (0 stars)
Rated: PG-13
Summation: Decepticon forces return to Earth on a mission to take Sam Witwicky prisoner, after the young hero learns the truth about the ancient origins of the Transformers.
Director: Michael Bay
Starring: Shia LaBeouf “Sam Witwicky,” Megan Fox “Mikaela Banes,” Josh Duhamel “Major Lennox,” Tyrese Gibson “USAF Master Sergeant Epps,” John Turturro “Agent Simmons,” Ramon Rodriguez “Leo Spitz,” Kevin Dunn “Ron Witwicky,” Julie White “Judy Witwicky,” Isabel Lucas “Alice,” John Benjamin Hickey “Galloway,” Michael Papajohn “Cal,” Glenn Morshower “General Morshower”
Genre: Action / Adventure / Sci-Fi

Under Seige: What To Do When Your Fundy Family Attacks You

You’re at a family event. “Pass the mashed potatoes please,” you ask with a smile on your face. They pass the mashed potatoes, but you sense something is wrong. You can see them deep in thought, getting ready to ask you a question. You suspect it has to do with atheism, since you recently announced your rejection of religion to the family. Ever since then, relationships with your family have been strained. You can sense that people just aren’t comfortable around you anymore.

Suddenly, the question comes out of Aunt Lizzie’s mouth. She says to you, “I just don’t get it. How can anyone believe that people came from nothing? Why do atheists believe that?” Before you can think to attack the significance of the question, another question comes out of left field: “And why can’t Adam be an ape? Maybe Adam was an ape? Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water by not believing in God! Maybe God AND evolution are both right? Could that be?” Then a discussion erupts among three other relatives. You can’t hear the specifics of it, but you know it contains derogatory remarks about you or atheists in general. The questions keep coming. Just when you answer one, five others hit you, leaving you unable to convince anyone of anything. Too late to back out of an argument now! The heat is on, and the occasion is ruined by hours of argument. They just won’t let it go.

I know how it feels to beat people over the head with the Bible. I spent years doing it, but I also know how it feels to be on the receiving end of things. I’ve taken my share of harassment from fundamentalists who’ve tried to win me back after my de-conversion. No matter how sharp one is, being interrogated by hostile friends and relatives can feel every bit like being interrogated by the police! It is isolating and wearisome. Some of us were lucky enough to get less judgmental families. If you are one of these, this is no big deal for you. You can handle yourself just fine with the occasional judgmental family member. The rest of us, however, were not so lucky!



After getting sufficiently tired of yelling myself hoarse at Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, I learned a few things. Below are some valuable tips on how to avoid becoming the center of attention and the object of pity anytime family get-togethers take place. If you find your nerves wearing thin, hang on every word below. You’ll need them!

Two Simple Steps

The solution to successfully parrying unwanted arguments is to follow two simple steps; the first is to dominate those who contend against you; the second is the isolation of debate partners. The following of these two steps in order is absolutely crucial!

First, set the stage and take control. This is the domination stage of the game. The reason the arguments keep


spinning out of control is because you let them get started on someone else’s terms. You agreed to an argument without establishing your role as the “alpha dog.” If I were a World War II veteran, and you came to me to inquire about what it was like to be a fighter pilot, since you are the inquirer, that puts me in control of the conversation.

In this case, family members or close friends are wanting to know about your atheist convictions, which means you set the stage for when an argument takes place. The only way to stop the madness of unwanted arguments is to let your adversaries know that if an argument is to be had, it will be when you are good and ready for it (if at all). When you will be good and ready for it is entirely up to you, but that shouldn’t be at the dinner table or an important family outing.

No matter how piercing the questions, no matter the probing and provocation to just “answer a couple of questions,” don’t do it! Don’t get sucked in to an argument! “I’d rather not talk about that right now,” is a fine response. If insistence continues, “Didn’t I just say that I don’t want to talk about it right now?” is a good response. Don’t bend on this rule! And beware of hook questions: “Atheists worship the devil, I heard. Why is that, huh?” Just laugh and go on. And don’t worry about seeming rude by not answering a family member. A tense situation is better than a big family occasion made bitter by debate.

So, we have established the first phase of domination—arguing on your terms. The final stage of domination is to think like the rabbis. Unless you are familiar with a rabbi’s methods of teaching Judaism, you probably won’t know this, but a rabbi will turn away a conversion candidate seeking to learn of Judaism, not once, but three separate times. The purpose in so doing is to eliminate the less sincere, less devoted candidates to make way for those who truly want to know and learn. Now that you have decided when to argue, we must ask, with whom? Think like the rabbis. Those who wanted to discuss atheism with you at the dinner table can come to you later, but you shouldn’t go to them. When they do come to you, try and find an excuse not to talk about. Only those who are most determined should you agree to discuss with. But how? Now we are at step two.

Second, isolate your opponents. When you do decide to explain your position to someone, don’t debate more than one person at a time or even two friends. It too quickly becomes impossible to effectively respond to the questions you are being asked. You want to eliminate unfair and gang-up arguments. By doing so, you are eliminating chaos and setting the stage for getting peace back in the family again.

Mind you, this is the time to win an ally for any more close calls around other family members. Explain to your loved one whom you have agreed to discuss the matter with why you’d rather not talk about it in public and ask for his/her help in putting off further attempts by other family members to argue when it is not appropriate to do so. You’ll be surprised how well this can work and how quickly they’ll agree to help! Your advocate can say something like “You guys, he doesn’t want to talk about it now, so respect that. It’s his business anyway.” just before the next big argument sprouts up. Just one advocate can work wonders!

Now that you have control of the situation, success is in your hands. When arguments happen, they will happen on your terms and on your own time. From there, it’s up to you to articulately and convincingly argue your case to the right listener…and to cease to argue if the situation calls for it. There may yet be times to get up and leave when you are provoked. There may be times to employ sarcasm and mockery in a constructive way to beat back nagging provocateurs. But if you’ve taken the right steps and adequately expressed yourself, you’ll have a much easier time than you otherwise would have. There are no easy solutions in dealing with family arguments. The important thing is to stay in control! That will bring you more comfort than you realize!

(JH)

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