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

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

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)

Joe's D.C. Stash

Links to most (not all) of my Debunking Christianity articles...

Atheistically Yoked: How to Survive Being Married to a Believer

I am contacted regularly with questions from atheists on how to manage their marriages with believers. These inquiries have to do with keeping sanity and peace in a home where an avid atheist and a militant theist (usually Christian) live. Ican speak from experience on this subject, not only as an atheist, but also as one who has faced the heartache of a failed marriage himself. Experience being the best teacher, there is a lot to learn on family conflict management when there is a clash between different religious viewpoints. Let’s begin by looking at common mistakes infidels make concerning their marriages to believers.

First, the infidel tries to get their unbelieving spouse to “see the light” of de-conversion: Like young and zealous
believers, unbelievers take the anti-good news of naturalism and bring it to their spouse, expecting them to latch onto it and receive as openly as he/she did upon their de-conversion. This is categorically one of the worst mistakes an unbeliever can make, and it is made all the time by unbelievers who contact me and ask for ways to convince their families of the truth of naturalism. It is human nature to want to tell others about what we find to be true and life-changing. In Christianity, this tendency is encouraged as believers are expected to tell others of their newfound faith. This is not a good idea, however, when it comes to the “good news” of rejecting faith. Throwing off your faith may have sounded good to you, but that may never be option for those in your family.

It is important for the unbeliever to recall what was required to produce in them naturalistic convictions to begin with; if you’re like most religionists-turned-heretics, it took time, the right experiences, and the acceptance of some cold, hard facts. The newly made materialist should not expect others to embrace non-belief as openly as they received the information that led to the development of their materialistic convictions. It doesn’t work that way. Your message is not a happy message and offers nothing of recognizable value to your religiously inclined listeners. Unless they are in a position in life that enables them to undergo your experiences and examine the processes by which you came to your conclusions, they will not be willing to accept them. Do not expect anyone to come around to your way of thinking, and do not seek to “de-convert” those around you. The tendency may be strong, but resist it at all costs to enable your family to have some level of peace.

Second, the infidel is quick to accept arguments and debates: This is as big a no-no as our last point. Don’t
argue; let me repeat: Don’t argue! I cannot stress this point enough! This only serves to further cause a rift in the family. No matter how badly your spouse wants you to, no matter how ferociously you are antagonized to debate, do not. Now this may sound easy to do, but beware! I am contacted continually by those who say they were at first persistent in refusing to argue but eventually gave in when provoked long enough. It is crucial that such an outcome be prevented. You must control the situation. There is the tendency to think you have control, to think that you’ll be able to lightly argue and then cut it off when things start to get ugly, but the damage from an argument is often done before a single harsh word is exchanged. There are even times when spouses seem like they are eager and willing to learn about the reasons behind your non-belief, but what they hear will only aggravate them at a later point. Initially, when “coming out” as an unbeliever, some level of explaining must be done, but keep this to a minimum if possible. You may know your spouse well, but then again, you may not know him/her as well as you thought because this is new territory in your relationship. You can’t know for sure how your spouse will react. See my article
“Under Siege: What To Do When You’re Fundy Family Attacks You.” for more on when and how to begin an argument.

So leave the spirit of missionary atheism right on your doorstep. It must be dead to you once you go home—and
this applies to when you frequent relative’s homes as well. Do not give in to the tendency to argue! You want to make certain that those around you see that your faithlessness is not about getting everyone else into your “religion” of atheism. To give in to the tendency to argue only reinforces that false stereotype. To maintain any level of respect, you’ve got to show that your convictions are your convictions alone, and that there is no reason anybody else needs to share them.

Third, the infidel worries about religious indoctrination of the kids: I am asked by atheists what to do when their spouses go about educating their children in religious schools and take them to church every Sunday. They panic when a religious parent tells the kids mythical Bible stories and encourages them to pray before meals. The important thing is to do nothing and to quit worrying about the whole matter. As we stated on the last point, your convictions are your convictions, and they needn’t be anyone else’s. There is no reason for your children to learn of philosophical naturalism for the same reason your religious spouse doesn’t need to learn it. It offers them nothing of value and only brings discord in return. Let it go. There are ways of instilling scientific reasoning and logical thinking skills into a child’s mind without introducing them to the writings of Ingersoll or Voltaire. Let your children be taught the family religion and even encourage them to follow it. When your children ask you why you don’t participate, simply answer them, “Because I’ve chosen a different path in life for myself. It’ll be up to you to decide on your own when you grow up.” Children, particularly young children, have their lives ahead
of them. Have confidence that those who are more prone to following their heads away from religion instead of following their hearts into religion will go the way they deem suitable for themselves. Let time take care of that.

As co-habitator with your spouse, you know him/her and yourself better than anyone else. It is up to you to use the wisdom in this article and apply it for best results, but be advised that there are no easy calls to make on these
touchy decisions. The “right” decision differs from person to person. And bear in mind, sometimes there are no “right” decisions at all. I have seen spouses who were once intolerably resistant to atheism eventually come around to happily accept their atheist husband or wife. On the other hand, you may do everything they could possibly be done to salvage a marriage and still see it fall apart.

Despite all your efforts, the termination of a relationship may be in the cards still. I wish the prognosis were better, but based on the feedback I’ve gotten, it’s not. For that reason, the worst should be prepared for. It is worth stating, however, that if a marriage was strong and healthy before the faith conflict began, the greater the chances of it surviving afterwards will be.

Up to now, we have been discussing things that atheists do, but shouldn’t do. I shall conclude this article by emphasizing the one important thing that should be done, but often isn’t. When a clash between belief systems tears into a home, the importance of a healthy relationship is paramount. If anything is going to save the marriage, it will be the labor of love and intense work that goes into the upkeep of any healthy relationship. Work on the marriage. Send cards and flowers. Get your head back in the game of making your spouse happy again. Muster up as much intimacy as you can. Make sure your spouse and kids know that despite the belief change, it’s still you in there, and you still love them like crazy! At this point, you’ve done all you can do. Now, just hope for the best.

(JH)

Questions for God (Book Excerpt)

Hello God.

It's Joe Holman, your ex-servant with yet another list of questions for you – questions you will, no doubt, add to my extensive list of blasphemies, reproaches, and mortal sins, which will further serve to guarantee my damnation – but a man must have answers, right? None of your representatives here on earth (the scholars and theologians whom you have appointed to make you look logically credible in the eyes of skeptics) can provide me with the answers I seek, so I would like to get them straight from the horse’s mouth, if you don't mind.

As you know, Lord, I am a troubled soul, a rigidly dogmatic and militant atheist, headed straight for the burnt-black depths of the merciless Hell you created. I desperately need your help and salvation, but I need these questions answered before that can ever happen. The first set of questions concerns your existence.

For one, I am confused, oh Lord, about this whole creation scheme. I mean, you are a perfect being, which means you lack nothing, right? So why did you bother creating anything in the first place? I thought a perfect being would have no needs or wants. Apparently that's not true of you since, for some reason, you became discontented with the peacefulness of being alone in the quiet chasm of nonexistence that surrounded you. It was just you – perfect, holy, and lonesome – evidently not knowing what to do with yourself for a googol eons before time began. I think I understand how that could get boring. I mean, you can only create so many angels, galaxies, and diverse kinds of creatures, until eventually, you're bored out of your mind, right? Is this what it was that changed your thinking to suddenly decide to create a big, bustling universe? Let me reiterate: you don't have to be sorry for being bored in your position. Since you are the all-knowing God, no knowledge is hidden from you, which to me, would make for a lot of pronounced boredom.

Somehow, someway, you are made up of three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, but you three certainly can't talk to one another since you are all one and share the same knowledge. You can't really talk to the angels or us humans down here either because you know everything we are going to say before we say it. So naturally, you can't ever find any meaningful conversations to get into. That's okay, though. Correct me if I'm wrong, but you shouldn't really want conversation because, as God, you know all things, and no one can give you knowledge that you already have, right? I'm afraid I must raise the same question in regard to praising and worshipping you.

Why do you need praise? Why worship? Why do you need to hear constant flatteries from lesser beings who are beneath you? What do you get out of this? Is worship just another form of a heavenly "high,” some sort of divine masturbation? Well, I suppose your Bible does answer this question for me, at least indirectly; it says you are a jealous God (Exodus 20:5), meaning you long for ceaseless attention and adoration; but jealousy is a bad thing, isn't it? It’s a human flaw. How is this a positive, perfect, and holy attribute of yours? Jealousy always accompanies obsession. If you were human and expressed the same insatiable need for such relentless, self-obsessive, self-glorifying worship, I'd think you had more issues than a newspaper, and can you blame me? I can deal just fine with obsessed, neurotic humans, but an obsessed and neurotic god? That's too much. A god with human frailties is quite a scary thing.

Moving on, in all of eternity's silence before you decided to create this universe, did you ever wonder, even for just a second, how you came to exist? Please tell me, did you create yourself? I don't see how you could have created yourself because that would make you temporal and not eternal, and a thing cannot be its own first cause now, can it? If you didn't create yourself, but existed eternally, then aren't you limited in power because you exist apart from your own approval? I mean, you didn't have any choice but to exist, did you? You must also be powerless to commit suicide because if you did, you would cease to be eternal, no? So it seems fair to say that you are powerless in these regards, a slave to your own existence. I'm only asking because I can't fathom this whole eternal god thing.

Every second grader asks their parents, "Mommy, who created God!" You and the scholars say that you were never created, but that you "always were." Well, forgive me for sounding uncouth, but isn't the phrase "always was" up for grabs? Can't we atheist philosophers just as easily postulate that the matter within the universe has always existed rather than jumping to the idea that some farfetched god has always existed? If that is the case, why should I accept your existence as being eternal and not the universe itself? What logical reason do I have to say that a god "always was" and not just stop and say that "matter always was"? I mean, you have to admit, jumping to a far-out conclusion that a mysterious, spooky deity created everything from nothing is a pretty big leap. I've never seen you, nor had any real experience with you, and so saying "I always was" has no significance and doesn't alleviate my curiosity about the problem of your origins at all. I could be wrong, but doesn't it make actually more sense to explain the origin of the universe on matter that we know exists instead of trying to explain it as the work of some god that we don't know exists?

All the theologians and scholars that believe in you are going out of their way to try to prove your existence to the world. They are taking everything from rocks to wristwatches and saying that since everything shows evidence of design, then there was a "Great Designer" who originally designed all things (that designer being you, of course). Hold on just a minute though, Lord! If this is true, and all design in the universe is evidence of intelligent design, then your designing mind is also complex, and therefore, requires an even greater designer! So your scholars have solved nothing. Help me out here, oh mighty one.

Life is tough for us atheists. Let it be clear that we would worship you, if only we could establish your existence, but here, you really can't blame us—even you must admit that there is no way to tell you apart from a being who doesn't exist. Think about it for a moment: you are omnipotent (all-powerful). You are omnipresent (infinitely present). You are also omniscient (all-knowing), and you are supposedly omni-benevolent (all-good). This is hard to take in. You have absolutely no limits to define your being. In order for earthlings to understand a thing, it must be understood to have limits. I mean, everything we can define, we define because of limits; I am 6'4” and not 6'3” or 6'5”. I have brown hair, and not jet black or blonde hair, and on and on we could go. The same applies to every person, place, and thing in the universe. We comprehend the universe by limits, but since you have no limits, there is therefore no distinction between you and a being who is non-existent, mythical, nonsensical, or completely illogical and untenably incoherent. You defy all logic, all thought, and all perception down to the smallest detail, and then you expect us to accept you as factual (existent) by way of reasoning and logical thinking? This just isn't happening! Please help!

Then I find other logical problems like the omnipotence vs. omniscience dilemma. How can you be infinitely knowledgeable and infinitely powerful at the same time? For example, let's say I am thirsty for either a glass of tea or a chocolate malt. Being an all-knowing deity, you know for sure which of the two I will choose as my beverage; you know that I will choose the chocolate malt. Now let's just say that you choose to exercise your omnipotence and force me to drink the tea instead of the malt; at this point, your two attributes (omniscience and omnipotence) clash; since you foreknew that I would drink the chocolate malt, you are powerless to make me drink the tea, and if you decided to force me to drink the tea anyway, you would be falsifying your own foreknowledge (because despite your foreknowledge, I drank the tea instead of the malt). So it seems to me that you might be a very powerful being, but not infinitely so—in my humble opinion, of course.

This second set of questions is in regard to your setup and planning in the Garden of Eden. First off, where did this talking snake come from (Genesis 3:1-7)? Since you created all things and only things good (2 Chronicles 19:7; James 1:12), from whence came Satan? If Satan always existed as an evil co-deity with you, then you are not omnipotent because in that case, you would not be the only eternal deity. If you created Satan to become evil, then you violated your own word by creating an evil thing, when supposedly, you cannot break or contradict your word (Titus 1:2; John 10:35). If Satan was originally created as an angel and later fell from grace, then why did you create a being that you knew would fall away? Are you not then responsible, at least in part, for his error like a negligent parent would be responsible for injury incurred on a child by leaving a knife in a child's playpen?

Please tell me why you put taboo fruit in your perfect paradise garden when you knew that your beloved primal pair of humans would eat of it and die? I'm confused already, but it gets worse; you created an angel who became the prince of the demons, and one primal couple that you knew would choose to eat the forbidden fruit, and thus, be condemned to death and Hell forever. You knew when you created man that he would fall from grace. You knew that I would become an atheist, yet you allowed all us sinners to live in the first place, knowing that we will one day writhe in agony, with blood-curdling screams, as we forever roast in the inferno of Hell. How could you do this?

I know you've had the freewill idea going for quite a while now, and you've been filling the heads of your mini-crusading, good soldier theologians with it to try and explain why terrible things happen in life, but tell me: is freewill really free? How can you say that we have freewill when we mortals cannot step out of the infinite maze of the cause and effect system which undercuts all human decisions and goals? I can't find a way out of this quandary. Since you know all things, isn't our every action and reaction as obvious to you as our favorite movie script is to us? Even if you somehow choose "not to know" some future events, as a few of your scholars have suggested, this would eliminate you from the role of God, since a God must, by definition, be infinite in all aspects, including foreknowledge. If you were concerned with allowing man freewill in the garden, why couldn't you have simply allowed Adam and Eve to exist without knowing evil—and what they didn't know, they wouldn't have chosen, would they? So freewill was never even an issue. You don't need the presence of evil to have freewill.

This brings up another question. How could Satan fall from grace in a sinless environment? If one must be tempted to sin, and Adam and Eve had to have Satan to sin, then who tempted Satan? If there was no sin in heaven, and yet an angel chose to become evil, what will prevent the same thing from happening to us when we get there? If sin can just "pop up" when and where there is none, what are we to do if we make the wrong choices in heaven, or perhaps succumb to some overwhelming sense of lofty heavenly pride? Maybe this was what happened to Satan? Heaven doesn't sound too comforting now!

Forgive me, Lord, for sounding presumptuous. It may be that you really wanted evil there or just allowed it for some higher purpose than a mere pea-brain mortal like myself can understand, but how can that be with an omnipotent being? Beings with infinite power aren’t limited to having to choose between a few limited options. Forgive me for thinking that a perfect being could make a way to create a world where nothing went wrong and everything was to that being’s liking.

Maybe there's something wrong with me, but I thought that perhaps you were unable to eliminate evil, or perhaps you were unwilling to eliminate it, or maybe you were both unwilling and unable? If you are unable to eliminate evil, then you are not all-powerful, and if you are unwilling, then you are wicked. If you are both unable and unwilling, then you are both impotent and wicked. Since you are supposedly both willing and able to vanquish evil, why does evil exist? Questions, questions, but maybe I shouldn't jump the gun. Maybe, for instance, you allowed evil to enter the world to test the faithfulness of our souls? Only problem with this is, you already knew who would pass and who would fail the test without a test of any kind, so it’s all pointless. Maybe you allowed evil to enter into the world to teach us lessons about life, but that doesn't really work either because you are omnipotent and could have taught man every lesson he ever needed to know a thousand different ways. You could even have made souls to be born with this knowledge.

Maybe you allowed evil to dominate the world to show us the love of salvation in the afterlife, but then that's sort of creating a problem to solve it, don't you think? Why not just show us love in the afterlife in the first place? Why bother with this material world business anyway since heaven and spirituality have been the real deal all along? Plus, isn't unleashing an arsenal of evils on a world of unsuspecting, helpless victims, and then promising to make up for it in some illusive afterlife sort of like a deadbeat dad giving his kid a black eye and then promising to take him to Disneyland to make up for it?

Isn't killing your disobedient children with death a little too strict anyway? If you were a father on earth, Child Protective Services and the law would be all over you! Not to mention, I just can't figure out why you created debilitating diseases like Spina Bifida, Caudal Regression Syndrome, Cancer, Diabetes, the Diptheria germ, Muscular Dystrophy, and Scleroderma (to name just a few of the many life-altering, death-causing, sin-cursing diseases and conditions you so gracefully sent our way). I also scratch my head wondering why you included the animal kingdom in mankind’s curse. If indeed we are not animals, why must they suffer and die? They committed no sin. Their kind ate no forbidden fruit. Here's one that's got me all tied up: why did you create animals that prey on one another – fang, tooth, and claw – and why did you create parasites like the tapeworm? If tapeworms could, would you expect them to thank you every time you blessed one with a warm, luscious, human stomach to live in? I am confident that believers will continue to praise you for making the great white shark, but I suspect they will wait until they get to shore first. Is this really the way you wanted things to be?

While we're on the subject of right, I must ask how, Lord, in the realm of morals and ethics, you dictate what is "good" and what is "bad"? Do you do a thing because it is "good," or is a thing "good" because you do it? If I say that you do a thing because it is good, this makes morality higher than and independent of you. In effect, it takes you off the moral necessity market because people can now bypass you and go straight to the morals without any god-belief at all. On the other hand, if I say that a thing is good because you do it, then I face the problem that anything you do I am committed to saying is good, no matter how atrocious that act might be. Such is the case with many of the things in your Holy Bible which seem quite inhumane and downright barbaric—forgive me for being so blunt.

Before we get off this morality point, I must ask if it is true what some learned men say who try to defend your conduct when they say that you are neither moral, nor immoral? If this is true, then are all your commandments arbitrary? Do you tell us not to murder simply on a whim? I mean, come on! If you are neither moral, nor immoral then your morals for us have no basis in fact or principle whatsoever. So they must be just randomly selected guidelines and nothing more, right? If this is not the case, and the morals you give us are based on your divine, higher morality, then we are back to the same question with which we began: do you do a thing because it is "good," or is a thing "good" because you do it?

Why did you order Moses to instruct the people to invade the Midianites' homes and kill every man, woman, child, and animal, to keep alive only the virgin women for those horny, Jewish soldiers (Numbers 31:15-18)? If anyone did this today, they'd be given the lethal injection in no time flat, but evidently you would disagree with such a reaction, and instead, be proud of these uncultured barbarians as you were proud of your servant David. Like you, he murdered anyone who crossed him (2 Samuel 4:12; I Chronicles 20:3), but make no mistake about it; you still hold the world record for the most murders, the 2004 tsunami being a case in point, though you still haven't broken your old record set back in the day of Noah's great flood in which you slaughtered the entire world, humans, plants, animals, and all, except for 8 people (1 Peter 3:20). As far as catastrophes go, it's been a while since September 11, 2001 when you decided to punish America because of the nation’s rampant homosexuality and abortion. I mean, if it hadn't been for that tsunami, people might have started to think that you were softening up! I know that at this point, you are getting ready to send me to be sodomized by a demon on the shores of the Lake of Fire and Brimstone for eternity, but like I said, a man must have answers, right?

I have a question as to the merits of eternal damnation for disbelief. If you damn a person to Hell for not believing in you, how is this a just act, seeing that a person can only believe what they find to be true, and if that person only pretended to believe in you when they didn't, they would be hypocrites—and we know you don't want that sort of service (Matthew 7:1-5)! If, for some twisted, unthinkable, insane, out-of-this-world reason I did want to invent a Hell of my own to put powerless, tattered souls into, it would only be temporary to rehabilitate them, but not so with you! Once there, you never let them out. Why Lord?

Well, Lord, I have a good many other questions I would like to ask, like why you preferred the company of lower life forms, such as reptiles and amphibians, to that of humankind for billions of years before you created us—your prized creation. On a side note, why did you give the gecko the ability to grow new arms and legs, but not us? Also, why did you allow sea turtles to live for 200 years, but we only get to live about 70 nowadays? Do you care more about them than your blessed and best creation, man? Surely not, right?

The last big item I would like to inquire about is atheism. According to the Bible, you condemn me for being an atheist. Regardless of any moral virtue or uprightness of character I might have, you believe that I should burn in a lake of fire for an eternity. This is a very discomforting thought indeed, but let me just come right out and ask: are you an atheist, God? I think you are. You don't pray to anyone at all. You worship no higher authority than yourself. You can only swear by yourself because you can swear by no one greater (Hebrews 6:13). You don't go to church, you haven't confessed Jesus, repented of your sins, or been baptized in Jesus' name. You humble yourself before no one, you are not religious, and you alone say what is right and what is wrong for you. You affirm very plainly in your word that "There is no God besides me" (Isaiah 44:6), thus, leaving no room for the possibility that a higher being than you can exist, and what's more, you punish people with eternal misery for not believing in you as the final authority in the cosmos.

You trample on the fallen, crushing the souls and destinies of your wayward, disobedient children who dared to step out of line. So it seems to me that you are not only an atheist, but a galactic dictator, a super-communist, a tyrannical Father Time, a despot like no other, more vicious, dogmatic, and militant that Stalin could ever have hoped to become in a thousand lifetimes. If I'm an atheist like you are, shouldn't a father be proud when he has a son who is like his father? It sounds like we think alike (well, to a very small extent!) So why, Lord, am I going to burn in Hell forever for being an atheist when you yourself are an atheist? Is this yet another case of "do as I say, not as I do" parenting?

I'm afraid there are other ways in which you show yourself hypocritical. The Bible is said to be a book that condemns abortion and recognizes the sanctity of unborn life, but then you don't have any problem killing the unborn to hurt someone else for ticking you off (2 Samuel 12:14; Hosea 13:16). I think I'm getting a double standard here. Are you really no different from the typical, desperate hostage-taker who will resort to whatever terror he can cook up to force his demands? Evidently not. Getting back to atheism, you know just what it would take to convince me of your existence, removing even the slightest of doubts in my mind. Why don't you provide this proof?

Well, Lord, as usual, you've been pretty silent here as I've expressed my thoughts. In fact, I haven't heard a peep out of you yet, ever! I guess I'll never get the answers I want. I have no choice but to continue on my lonely road searching out truth in philosophical naturalism. In all honesty, I am not terribly afraid of you or this Hell place you made because, to me, you have demonstrated irrationality in every area of thought, and with irrationality comes erratic behavior; for all I know, you might change your mind tomorrow and find pleasure in saving atheists for being honest with themselves and their intellects, while getting a kick out of damning to Hell the redneck, backwoods, Bible thumping, fundamentalist Christians who believe in the tall tales that you put in your holy book—who knows, right? Since you are, by definition, an unknowable being, is there any point in even trying to figure you out? Well, enough writing. I'm going to enjoy a cold Dr. Pepper or something.

(JH)

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