The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has had enough of all this noise about people wanting equality in America.

Not only have people been advocating liberty for all citizens, but now some Catholics are even accepting the idea that love glorifies God no matter what gender or sex identity you have! Gulp.

There’s political and theological challenge afoot!

So its good timing that the Conference of Bishops paid some actors to play gender stereotyped husband and wife to tell us about how awesome married penis in married vagina is!

USCCB, thanks for your hard work on solving poverty in America. Stick with that and let love keep loving.


Oh my god, I just agreed with Bill O’Reilly rather than Bill Maher.

Why? It sadly seems that Bill Maher is completely confused about the longstanding tradition over the centuries
that the Bible is not to be taken literally. 

I think that it would suit Bill Maher well to speak not just to literalist/fundamentalists but find better ways to speak to those folks for whom faith and secular sources are valid, and the Bible is culturally situated and a text to be interpreted through critical lenses.


Christian leaders as well as laypeople have a great opportunity to help shape upcoming debates about humanity’s rapid changes ahead. I do hope that Christians and people of all faiths make thorough assessments of the directions our genetic, robotic, information, and nano technologies are opening to us. It will require clear and well rounded handling of philosophy of technology and theologies of bodies that are in keeping not only tradition, and scripture, but science.

Horn’s essay “An Open Letter to Christian Leaders of Biotechnology and the Future of Man” is a great call bringing attention to the manifold issues inherent in technology, and I appreciate his writing it and hope that many Christians who care about the future (and present) can use it in beginning discussion.
However, a number of issues in the essay give me pause.

1) The masculine language throughout. Thoughtful writing has long left ‘mankind’ and ‘Man’ to be replaced with humankind and humanity and I would eagerly suggest Horn to edit his essay appropriately.

2) The use of CS Lewis. Lewis is not the best source to cite in most contemporary issues and his Abolition of Man is not well suited to bring a concise perspective on today’s issues to light. Specificially in the portion used, Lewis makes a very weak argument and it would be better to leave it behind. He makes no appeal to righteousness, values, or God, but rather Clotho–fate. I believe that many people of good conscience would not want to allow their world to be left to fate. There does appear to be an ethical imperative to indeed influence the world towards greater love, justice, health, compassion. I would be interested also to hear what example Lewis would give of a tool given to a generation that has pre-ordained them how to use it? We know humans have a knack for usurping ideas, hacking and appropriating for innovative ends, and even turning weapons into art for peace. There must be better Christian voices to weigh in on this subject. If not, we must start finding them quickly!

3) The inclusion of the Nazi eugenics program: Can we please keep our future discussions of technology amongst Christians free from references of Nazism (and Frankenstein and Brave New World)? The immediate revulsion reaction is cheap and often the connections are specious. Placing this reference right before germline genetic therapy is inappropriate also. Decreasing or eliminating birth defects and genetic disorders before fetal development is a far cry from the horrific programmes of the Nazi era.

4) More a sense of foreboding and looming threat than promise and call to redemptive action. I do say ‘sense’ for Horn does well at giving multiple voices in the debate. However, there is overall less a message of “this is a call to use these technologies in Christian-loving ways” than there is “this is challenging our theologies”. I suggest that theological development is always changing and responding to what the Church is doing in the world and yes, it may be sooner than later that Christian doctrines will have to account for multiple types of human level intelligences and beings who are hardly recognizable as being what we would call ‘human’ today. 

Some Christians will undoubtedly see cause to draw their own line in the sand of technologies to accept or avoid. There are a number of Christian groups that have already done this and their faith is strong and no one should be shamed for not buying into the possibilities that GRIN developments are offering. However, I myself feel a strong draw towards using these developments to further dignity for living beings, further the health of women, children, families, and lessen the hardships of poverty, hunger, and climate change.

Let’s continue this conversation within all our faith communities and let us not succumb to a spirit of fear, but rather use well the tools we have to create peace and loving communities throughout the world.

Thomas R. Horn’s essay “An Open Letter To Christian Leaders On Biotechnology and the Future of Man”

I appreciate Dan Clossen’s 2002 essay “Does the Future Need Us? The Future of Humanity and Technology”.

I like that he takes for granted that the nanotech and biotech revolutions will be soon upon us. I believe that by recognizing that in the next decades the world and humanity will be vastly different, we can begin preparing for the incipient changes now and better determine and express our global goals and values.

I like that Closson knows and has first hand experienced the power for good that technology brings–as Probe Ministries has benefitted many thousands through its webiste It is important to know that technological innovation is just as double edged as language: it can bless or curse. It is like dance: beautiful and one display of the heights of human accomplishment, but contextual and necessary to be driven by care (one wouldn’t dance a jig at a somber funeral).

I also like the two points he closes his essay with:
1) acknowledging the power of and continuing the tradition of prayer and the spiritual disciplines. The distinctive traditions and practices of Christianity will continue to play an important part in the solidarity of the church and supplying of meaning and positivity. These will always be a part of the Christian search for justice, compassion, and service. Like the age old (bad) joke says of the pastor’s advice to the boaters: “Pray while you bail water.”
2) retaining the core tenets of Christian faith and allowing those to direct values rather than lust for power or greed. The Christian model of egalitarianism, social justice, advocacy for and solidarity with the marginalized must be the values that our churches reflect in the coming generations.

To best express these Christian values that Closson emphasizes, I believe that Christians will also need to be equipped with the best knowledge about the real risks and benefits of any given innovation. We need our Christian leaders, and outspoken Christian thinkers (Closson among them) to be reasoned, well researched, and prudent in their assessment of new technologies. We also will need our Christian communities to embrace the liberty and freedom of others who may wish to enjoy new (non-3rd party harming) technologies.

A few comments and responses of disagreement or critique follow:

Closson includes a sentiment of Francis Fukuyama that as our meaning of what it is to be human changes, so will our idea of dignity. I am not a fan of Fukuyama because his portrayal of humanity is not aligned with any experience I have had or any one else I know and he proved himself to be incapable of being intellectually challenged in Joel Garreau’s excellent book “Radical Evolution”. Fukuyama’s implication is that humanity’s change is a negative change in our idea of human dignity. I am not sure if one would be able to prove a decline in widespread notions and moral expressions of human dignity through time. It would have to be rigorously argued with some contemporary examples from developed societies that technological advances decrease human dignity. Fukuyama has not accomplished this, and I doubt anyone will.

Closson writes, “The Christian basis for human dignity is the imago Dei, the image of God placed within us by our Creator. Many are questioning the wisdom of chemical and genetic manipulation of humanity, even if it seems like a good idea now.” I am not sure how the manipulation of the physical or chemical construction of human bodies is related to the ‘imago Dei’, and if Closson is expressing that this is the case, I disagree. I do not believe that the ‘image of God’ is specific to the range of human bodies we have seen so far. Christians do not currently exclude humans whose physical or genetic characteristics or technological access place them outside the statistical norm from being ‘in the image of God’ now do they? At what point would they? Or does being in the image of God have to do with freedom of choice, consciousness, moral accountability, sociability, ability to love?

Closson also includes a few dire warnings that seem to be completely out of touch with what is historically quite common. He writes of a threat seen by Francis Fukuyama, “It might even become possible to adopt different personalities on different days, extroverted and gregarious on Friday, reserve and contemplative for classes or work on Monday.” Yes, I believe that amazing ‘futuristic’ technology would be called beer. 

Closson writes, “Terrorists have a growing number of inexpensive technologies available to use against civilians including anthrax and so-called radioactive dirty bombs that depend on recent technological advances.” Yes, with each technological advance, there appears ways to use it in violent ways. But let us remember there will always be low-tech ways of causing large scale harm (it is easy to make napalm at home and simple fertilizer can be used in creating bombs). Let us also reflect on the worries that many had about hackers who would make computer viruses for either terrorism or buffoonery: when was the last time you’ve heard about a massive viral ‘worm’? We did confront those issues in the late 1990’s but defenses against crime are always improving and stay ahead of the curve quite well.

So to all you Christians of the future: remember that just because you may have a genetically modified nanoblooded cyborg standing next to a traditional bio-human, there is nothing to say that they are deserving of any inequal dignity and protection and celebration. We embrace people of all abilities, religious affiliations, gender attraction and gender identity and all levels of body modified folk. The future will need you Christians to use technology for good–better feed the hungry, better teach the uneducated, better liberate the unfairly imprisoned. 

Let’s make it a pretty future together, shall we? Okay. See you there.

Closson, Dan. “Does the Future Need Us? The Future of Humanity and Technology”

Expressing why I’m an atheist is easy–I just have to be careful to whom I’m expressing it.

Some in the U.S. have noted a transition from the New Atheism movement to a burgeoning New Agnostism movement. Is atheism dead? Have the projects of the notorious Four Horsemen (Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens) been to no avail?

Well, yes and no. I think that the first fervor over their statements have died down and folks have had more time to look at their arguments and have found that they all are less rigidly atheistic as one may imagine and of course could be called agnostics.

I suggest anyone who hasn’t yet, watch The Four Horsemen at YouTube here:

I do agree that the New Atheism movement at times and many atheists in general are occasionally inarticulate and
shall we say a bit tone deaf to the audience they may be trying to ‘reach’.

With that being said, I must also say that I’ve found two articles of late (one from 2009, one from 2010) that paint a picture of nontheistic folks being caught between a rock and a hard place.

The first of the two articles comes from Charlotte Allen, author of “The Human Christ: The Search for the Historical Jesus”. Her article No God, No Reason, Just Whining targets the the Four Horsemen and a smattering of the worst of internet atheist trolls and extremist anti-religion wackos. Allen beings her article saying “I can’t stand atheists…” and I’m sorry that she has not met a caring, sensitive, and patient atheist yet at the time of her writing the piece. It doesn’t give one much hope for a fair trial with an article beginning in such a way and I would hazard that she would not desire to read an article (internet troll penned or not) beginning with “I can’t stand theists.”

The reasons she gives for calling out the Horsemen and her assorted wackos are:
“Atheist victimology” She mocks Sam Harris’ assertion that in the U.S. an individual who would wish to run for office would be quickly dismissed if it were to come out that they were atheist. She writes, seeming to miss the point, that nothing would prevent an atheist from succeeding in public office for there are only “Antique clauses in the constitutions of six…states barring atheists from office…The U.S. Supreme Court ruled such provisions unenforceable nearly 50 years ago.”
I respectfully offer, Ms. Allen, that Harris was not saying that there were laws against atheists running for office. Maybe he was thinking of the 2007 Gallup Poll (which presumably you would have been able to find as easily as I did) that ranked voters’ likelyhood of voting for marginalized identities. The list went as such, from most likely to vote for to least likely to vote for:
Catholic, Black, Jewish, A Woman, Hispanic, Mormon, Married for the Third Time, 72 Years of Age, A Homosexual, An Atheist.  
Since we now have Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota’s Fifth District who is a Muslim, maybe folks’ attitudes are changing. Who knows? Maybe we’ll have a President sworn in on a copy of H.L. Mencken in 2012. 

Calling Theists Stupid: Allen writes “Maybe atheists wouldn’t be so unpopular if they stopped…[talking about]…their second favorite topic: How stupid people are who believe in God.” Well, she’s got us atheists there. It is unfortunately true that for some reason many atheists do fall back to the seemingly safe intellectual high ground that boils down to: ‘if you think there is a god you must be f*ing idiotic.’ 
I’ve been in the chat rooms, I know it happens. I hope it happens no longer. Some of the smartest people I know have been people of faith. ‘Tis true. Folks who knew a lot about history, politics, science, literature, their theology and the theologies of many other faiths. I have met fire-and-brimstone, Young Earth, demons-around-us folk who were as savvy and well read as anyone. Let’s put away the intellectual snobbery. Allen cites Dennett’s referring to atheists as “Brights” as one iteration of the ‘we are smart, you are not’ theme. However, the Bright movement was kicked off and coined by Paul Geisert and it was later that Dawkins and then Dennett used the term for the already established identity which includes humanists, liberal theists, agnostics. Geisert’s choosing Bright was not intended in its “intelligent” meaning but as uplifting, positive, and warm. It was however, perhaps a bad branding because of this misperception.

Atheists hone in on easy targets that are Red Herrings. Allen is astute to point out how all too often atheists pick evolution as being the deal-breaker for the a/theism debate. Allen reminds us that there are many theists who accept and teach Darwinian evolution. Whenever I see a “Darwin Evolved Jesus Fish” bumper sticker on a car I dread to think that whomever placed it there think that Darwin is the slam-dunk finish on the JesusDebateBall Championship.

The same can be said for the portrayals of the Christian God that get tossed around by Dawkins and others along the same argumentative vein. Allen calls them out on this and I’m glad she does. If atheists want to pat themselves on the shoulder for denouncing a “god who would tell people to smash babies on rocks and tell people to commit genocide” they have congratulated themselves on achieving something that many people of faith have already done over hundreds of years and by much more tempered and nuanced means. Plenty of theists have a contextual view of scripture and do not hold the “dictation theory” that the Bible is the Gospel Truth as it were. They know that at the time of the Bible’s writing, or the Bhagavad Gita, or the Quran, or The Book of the Five Rings, or the Book of Mormon, societies were vastly different and visions of God to those folk need not represent the views of today’s folk. Faith is a living (evolving) tradition, atheists.

I suggest that every atheist who wants to engage in the conversation with theists read up on Liberation Theology, Queer Theology, Feminist Theology, Atheistic Christianty, etc. Get in the know of what is going on in contemporary thought. Don’t just have an outline sketch of a hyperbolic fundamentalist Christian faith that is based on the 700 Club.

So there are pitfalls that we atheists fall into. We are fallible. Have mercy on us.

But one way that I wouldn’t have guessed failing is by being gracious and welcoming to spirituality.
It seems we may be treading the path between the Scylla of assholery and the Charybdis of kindness–which you’d
think would be a n0-brainer, but…

In a recent article titled It’s Not God Who Needs Saving–It’s Us written for British culture and politics website, John Cottingham reviews and reacts to two atheists Andre Comte-Sponville and Mark Johnston.
Johnston has recently written Saving God and Comte-Sponville his “The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality”. Cunningham writes, “Johnston constantly helps himself to terms like “holy”, “grace” and “gift”, to which, as a naturalist, he is not properly entitled.” Whoa. What? Mind you, Cunningham is not saying ‘naturalist’ as in ‘the profession of a naturalist’. He’s meaning it as ‘materialist’, or ‘atheist’. Are atheists not allowed to use words like grace and gift? Are we exempt from commenting on, enjoying, adding to, or celebrating the theologies of theists? 
Again, of Comte-Sponville he writes: “Again like Johnston, Comte-Sponville frequently helps himself to a vocabulary to which as a naturalist he is no longer entitled — in this case, notions like “absolute”, “sacred”, “unconditionally imposes itself”, etc.”

Now, I must admit that I have not read either Mark Johnston or Andre Comte-Sponville yet. But I am puzzled by Cunningham’s arguments against them. He goes at lengths to belittle and dismiss their forays into the theological realm though from the excerpts he quotes they seem to be nodding to mystical, universalist, contemporary theologies. 

I personally have tried as an atheist to remain engaged in the conversation with people of faith in their own terms. I love talking about Bible, faith, prayer, Pentecostalism, etc. I am happy conversing without ever divulging that I myself am an atheist. I feel there are so many good things that we all can see eye to eye on, why would I need to interject a point of divergence? I feel very comfortable using words like “holy”, “righteous”, “sacrifice”, “kenosis”, “incarnation”, “shalom” all without feeling that I’m being untrue to my nontheistic worldview.

Funny, I wish I could chat with Charlotte Allen because I am an atheist who likes people of faith and on the flipside
I probably could not chat with John Cunningham because of the same reason.   

Allen, Charlotte. “No God, No Reason, Just Whining” May 17, 2009

Cunningham, John. “It’s Not God Who Needs Saving–It’s Us”
September 2010.

You’ve heard the conspiracy theorists at your dinner parties. You know their triggers. Oil companies? They’re hiding the truth about how much oil is left. 9/11? Inside job. Osama bin Laden is George Bush’s hunting buddy, and on and on.

Maybe you, like me, have been taken in by some of them. I was convinced for a number of months that 9/11 was just certainly how the documentary Small Change depicts it to be. Now–not so much. I was also at one time assuring my friends and family that JFK was assassinated by a government plot a la High Treason by Livingstone and Groden. Again, I’ve returned to consulting more evidence and am in the mainstream “Discovery Channel” congregation.

Why was I attracted to these conspiracies and why do many find them so compelling? I find that for myself, it was actually a sense of assurance. Out of the confusion, hurt, and troubled awe that anyone would commit violence like 9/11 or assassinate John F. Kennedy, my theories gave me an answer.
“Now wait!” says you–there is a simple answer in both cases: sad and mentally sick outsiders made horrible inhumane choices! Agreed. But for me and for many other conspiracy buffs, sometimes a Rube Goldberg like explanation that flies in the face of Occam’s Razor is preferable to facing the hard facts of human depravity.

It is like a form of theodicy in God-talk terms. Rather in this case, instead of asking theodicy’s question of how an all-powerful and all-good God allows suffering, we come up with flights of fancy to avoid a chaotic world filled with conflicted and paradoxical people just like us who make dispicable choices. The simple truth of our validly scary world is cause enough to launch into borderline paranoid investigations. 

Many have discussed how conspiracy theories are like religions and I think that is very valid. Please note the connection I list below pertain only to the minority of conspiracy folks and religionists who are closed minded and exclusivist/literalist. I know plenty of devout people of faith to whom none of this applies. That disclaimer aside:
1. Seeing agency and intention where there is none. This is an explanation of religion set out well and made very accessible by Pascal Boyer in his “Religion Explained” (I suggest it for anyone interested in religion). We humans have been given a hyperactive agency detector. Why? Evolution would support us leaning towards the hunch that there really is a tiger behind those bushes and its not just the wind. So we jump at shadows, feel were are being watched, see meaning in storms, accidents, random signs. “There must have been someone causing this!” Note: this is not paranoid. This is normal. We all do it and frankly, we are right enough of the time that it is still a good instinct. When this is given a fertile ground of a Grand Narrative–it all takes off.
2. Choosing evidence that supports the religion/conspiracy and neglecting all else. Some Christians to this day will point to ‘miracles’ of people getting healed of depression or cancer. If someone who is Muslim says the same, then that healing is ‘a demonic trick’ or ‘God did that to bring you to Jesus’. There is no way around it. Any evidence that points to supporting your religion as being the best is valid. Any of the same characteristics or experiences from outside that religion is suspect. (This is if one is an exclusivist in their religion and antagonistic towards other beliefs. I recognize that many contemporary folks have nuanced theologies and beliefs that can allow for diversity. Excuse my stereotyping.) Conspiracy theorists will discredit some news outlets, governments, new findings, the ‘common sense’ of others all because the evidence doesn’t fit the program.
3. Sticking to the talking points. If you ever chat with a Mormon missionary as they come by your house (I have, and I suggest it. They’re nice folks and I don’t mean to pick on them any more than any missionary) you’ll find that they’re intent on staying on topic and to their talking points. So too the conspiracy theorist. This is related to number two: large swaths of inadmissable evidence. Ask the ‘wrong question’ or offer a talking point that would introduce a challenge to paradigm and they will become upset.
4. There is an Evil, Well-Organized Force That Wants to Mislead Them From ‘The Truth’. Why it can be difficult to approach someone who is invested in a conspiracy theory or an exclusivist/literalist/fundamentalist religion is that they see dark forces at work in the world which wish to mislead and deceive the masses. If you bring up some challenging perspectives, you are likely to be thought of not as just ‘a skeptic’ but a ‘puppet’, or ‘a sheep’ or ‘demonically manipulated’. I once had a Christian friend tell me to my face that he thought I was demonically influenced because I disbelieved as he did. Whether it is a Shadow Government, Black Ops, or Satan, it can look pretty similar.

Reading an interesting blog by Richard Webster today I found him taking the next step in connecting conspiracy theories and religions–he posed some religious expression itself as a conspiracy theory. He posed the point in this way–imagine a group of people who, without evidence claim that there is a dark entity with power to create all types of evil in the world and you’ve just thought of Christians of the type no less lauded than C.S. Lewis himself. (I’ve read The Screwtape Letters myself and yup, many Christians who read it take it as an accurate depiction of what’s going on around them regardless if Lewis meant it to be taken at such face value or not.*)

Webster is clear in what type of Christianity he is addressing as sharing similarities with conspiracy theories: “…traditional Christianity (as opposed to the pale and bloodless version of the faith embraced by most modern Christians)…”

Webster continues, “As well as encouraging belief in the existence of a dark enemy, they [conspiracy buffs and ‘traditional Christians’] usually offer a highly ingenious explanation of a set of events which flies in the face of most of the available evidence. Because of their counter-factual nature they have a tendency to misrepresent, misreport or simply conceal the evidence which actually exists. What is perhaps no less important is that the most ardent conspiracy-theorists, like many religious believers, are usually highly intelligent. This means that they tend to be at least obliquely or intermittently aware that their favoured explanation is unlikely, implausible or absurd.”

It is this tension of regular, often very intelligent people in religious setttings holding implausible worldviews in the face of great adversity and inner intuitions that leads towards the need to be regularly re-convinced and indoctrinated in the approved narrative.
He writes, “It is the uncertainty of the most fervent believers which is the engine of their faith.” This tension or struggle I can attest personally is a very powerful motive to remain invested in a religious belief. Strange as it may seem! I have personally sat through a number of sermons where the ‘battle of faith’ and ‘fighting the good fight of faith’ are spoken of as normal experiences of the Christian faith. I have heard it said that “faith leads, the facts come next, then feelings.” This may cause you to say: “wow!” but the way it was described was: “facts change. New findings and new surveys and new science and new evidence…everyday if you tried to stay with ‘the facts’ you’d be lost. God doesn’t change. Our faith is one faith and the Word of God is eternal. Faith doesn’t change.” Aha.

Webster closes this idea with this: “In order to preserve beliefs which, because they are not founded on any solid, visible facts, are inherently fragile, they seek the reassurance of outward fellowship as a substitute for the evidence that they lack. Not only this but they sometimes labour to persuade others to embrace their beliefs in an attempt to conceal from themselves their own lack of certainty. Converting unbelievers can become a psychological compulsion because it is in practice the only way of sustaining a faith which is in reality empty or false.” 

By this, Webster is painting a picture of religious expression that is its own support system which is (barely) propping up a double-think.

Now, I find this a helpful bit of musing and I appreciate the connections that Webster is drawing, but I don’t think that his portrayal should be taken too seriously.
Firstly, he himself states that this type of ‘traditional Christianity’ is quite different than many mainline denominations. Yes, it is true that the belief in the Devil, demons, and forces conspiring against humanity is very prevalant but we should not take our contemporary extremes to be representative of ‘religion’ in general or even as Christian. There are many examples of Christian theologies that do not rely on anti-science, implausible claims, suspension of reasonable thought, or belief in supernatural bogeymen.
Second, while I agree that there are many people of faith who struggle daily with ‘believing what the dogmas teach’, towing the credal line is not as ubiquitous as one may think. Many faith-folk quietly leave many Church teachings alone and don’t feel they need to integrate them into their practice or worldview.
Thirdly, I see many conspiracy theories as pessimistic and down-trodden. Many conspiracy buffs seem to have the feeling that there is no way to get around the evil forces. An impotence characterizes their lives. They are outcasts and happily so. However, even faith folk who struggle with their faith and ‘believe’ in a Demonic Conspiracy definitely do not hold a negative view of the world. Even if that view is one that includes the belief in a blood soaked Armageddon!

So in closing, I thank Mr. Richard Webster for a compelling article about David Kelly and conspiracies and the aside he included about how some religions function as conspiracy buff support groups. However, I felt I had to add and critique much of his assertions and conclusions.

Webster, Richard. “David Kelly: The Rise of a Conspiracy Theory” 24 August 2010.

*Lewis did believe in demons, but also stated one may be a Christian without such belief.

« Previous PageNext Page »