Wednesday, April 13, 2011

In the community: Woo vs Woo Deux

Visit beautiful old Main Street in Ellicott City and you can find restaurants, antiques, unique shops, and woo.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Facebook Follies: What Would Happen If We Didn't Pray

One of my evangelical friends is raving on Facebook about a video promoting the National Day of Prayer on May 5. And not raving how inane it is, but raving how lovely and powerful it is. "It will give you chills!"

The video asks will tell us What Would Happen If We Didn't Pray to God?.

Well, of course, I had to watch that!  Because knowing what would happen if we didn't pray seems to be something I should know for sure. My own thoughts were along the lines of, "Well, if people didn't pray, they'd have more time to do things that were actually effective. And they'd have more money to spend on more practical things than churches dedicated to an invisible magic man." But, being a skeptic, I wanted to see what the evidence showed. Maybe there is something more. And there is!


First of all, I'd never considered that if we didn't pray, people would end up sitting in their church pews doing nothing. And that the minister wouldn't have a blessed thing to do but stand in front of his congregation holding an invisible book and looking befuddled. Well, duh! What's wrong with me that I didn't think of that?! Clearly, we'd still need to build churches to do nothing in.

In addition, if you don't pray, God then has some kind of hissy fit which He demonstrates by sending big masses of dark storm clouds.

And you know this isn't your ordinary storm with big masses of dark storm clouds, because this time, God also provides a soundtrack of melodramatic background music. That's something that you don't get to hear every storm.

I was on the edge of my seat at this point and didn't know how much more of the suspense, ("Oh my, what will happen?!") I could take.

Thank goodness, we're shown the evidence of the power of prayer!

And what happens after you grab your Bible and rush to a church to start praying because you're worried about all those dark clouds, not to mention the epic-battle music?:  A massive thunderstorm develops over the U.S. Capitol and those masses of dark clouds cover the sky over the Golden Gate bridge. Wow! And...a big sunny hole opens up in the clouds over your church.

There's more! If you scrunch up your face and look really seriously sincere when you pray, blue skies and sunshine eventually appear over your church and over Golden Gate.

Then, you get to see swirly snow over a big mountain!!!

But meanwhile, back in Washington, while the clouds have lifted a bit, there are still black clouds and lots of lightning high above the Capitol. Oh, no! Are people ever able to pray away the storm there?

Alas, the video keeps you hanging and ends without showing the Capitol's fate. And, oh dear, the soundtrack doesn't change to nice, peaceful, "all-is-well" music. Uh-oh. That can't be good.

Maybe the video makers are planning a sequel.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Excuses, excuses

When you feel the need to make excuses for your god's behavior, that's a really pathetic god.

And what does it say about you?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Win an atheist's soul at the UMBC SSA Soul Auction

Buy an atheist's soul! Here's your chance to try to save an atheist you think atheists are heading towards. 

Attend the "Soul Auction" at Quadmania! and win a chance to take an atheist to church or other area religious event. 

(Or, although I don't know this for sure, if you aren't real keen on going to church yourself, maybe you could negotiate a chance to, say, take an atheist to a bagpipe recital (no offense to bagpipe players but...) or perhaps watch Fox News for an hour with you, or something else equally likely to be a potentially life-changing, albeit, perhaps anxiety-provoking experience for the atheist.)

The UMBC Secular Student Alliance (UMBC SSA) will be auctioning off the souls of officers and members on Saturday, April 16, from 1 PM - 4 PM at the UMBC Quad.

Proceeds from winning bids will be donated to Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres, so even if you feel atheist souls are icky, and not something you'd especially want to own, even for an hour, you'll still be helping a good cause.

An Atheist Walks into a Church—Hemant Mehta comes to UMBC

Hemant Mehta, The Friendly Atheist (as opposed to the baby-eating sort of atheist), spoke on the topic "An Atheist Walks into a Church" at UMBC on Wednesday, April 30, sponsored by the UMBC Secular Student Alliance (UMBC SSA).

Hemant spoke to an audience of about 70, most of whom appeared to be students. While having a mostly-student audience at an event sponsored by a UMBC student organization is a good thing, it's a shame that more people from the community weren't there, both to hear Hemant and to meet a great group of students.

I wish I could report that there was a shockingly obscene inappropriate punchline to the title of the talk. There wasn't. What there was was a lighthearted and entertaining look at Hemant's journey on the way to writing I Sold My Soul on eBay, and what happened as a result of the book's publication.

I hadn't heard the story behind Hemant's book before, and it is both amusing and amazing. Some of it is told on his blog.

The short, oh-my-paper-is-due-tomorrow-so-I-need-to-read-a-summary-because-I-didn't-read-the-book recap is that Hemant, who knew little about any faith except his boyhood's Jainism, decided he wanted to learn more about other faiths, and thought a good way to learn might be by visiting Chicago area churches.

To publicize his Church-going project, he set up an eBay auction in which he promised to attend a church of the winner's choice for one day for each $10 bid.
Jim Henderson, an Evangelical Christian, former minister, and founder of Off the Map, posted the winning bid of $504 (to Hemant's horror, by the way—at 1 day of church for every $10 bid, that meant the winner could require him to go to church every week for almost a year).

Then, The Wall Street Journal picked up on the story and apparently decided an article could draw more readers if the headline read: "On eBay, an Atheist Puts His Own Soul On the Auction Block," rather than, say, "Atheist Offers to Go to Church for an Hour per $10 Bid." Hemant quipped that he didn't do that because he doesn't believe he has a soul. But publicity about his auction did take off, and eventually led to an offer to write a book about his church-going experiences.

What added to the pleasure of the evening was the audience's reaction to some of the highlights of Hemant's talk. It was nice to be with a large group of people who responded appropriately and rationally.

They groaned when Hemant mentioned he was invited to appear on Kirk Cameron's radio show, and he'd agreed to appear—before he checked into what Cameron was doing career-wise after the end of Growing Pains

The audience laughed when Hemant showed the infamous Ray Comfort-Kirk Cameron banana video, and again when Hemant mentioned that I Sold My Soul on eBay won a Christian book contest that was conducted online poll. (If you read PZ Myers' blog Pharyngula, you know what can happen.) 

And they laughed yet again when Hemant showed a photo of a cute baby in a bun, apparently ready to be eaten.

Although I saw some snacking by audience members, nary an actual baby—fresh, roasted, or fried, with or without a bun—was in sight.