Granny’s Hands & Travelin’ Dog — Part 1

Part 1Part 2Part 3

In this 3-parter, here are two bits of writing, a Christian piece and a secular piece, similar in their heart-tugging content, followed by a short comparison of the two in which I make a point about a certain religious sales strategy.

The SECOND one is the text of yet another email I got from my Texas friends Donna Sue and Billy Ray.

But this first piece is my own, something I wrote a few years back. It’s one of my favorite pieces of my own writing. (You may recognize part of it from another piece,  Chardy At the End of His Life.) Continue reading “Granny’s Hands & Travelin’ Dog — Part 1”


Demanding that atheists study and understand the entire Bible before they can argue against it is kind of like saying you have to molest kids for a few years to really appreciate the shortcomings of NAMBLA.

I Get Emails

I have some dear friends back in Texas, two people I went to high school with. Call them Donna Sue and Billy Ray.

Billy Ray was rodeo people, rowdy and bawdy as hell. More than once I saw him breeze through the front gate of a rodeo arena on a Friday night and 15 minutes later breeze out the back with one of those little poured-into-her-jeans Texas cowgirls, headed for the nearest horse trailer for what Lonesome Dove’s Gus McCrae would call a “poke.”

After Billy Ray and Donna Sue got together, that part of Billy Ray’s wild days ended, but other stuff, equally wild, went on for a bit. Continue reading “I Get Emails”

The Range of Permissible Acts — Part 2

permissibleReligious apologists would accuse in both cases that any critic of such passages was taking things out of context, or misunderstanding them.

But in words that are hard to misunderstand, one says that it’s okay in certain specific circumstances to cut off a woman’s hands, the other says you should beat women, in situations where you fear they may leave you.

Believers would argue two more things:

One, that these passages are not taken seriously by anyone today. Second, that the good their religion does far outweighs any little aberrations written down in some more primitive time.

The problem is, this business about cutting off a woman’s hands IS written down. And not in some obscure commentary by a distant weirdo who happened to belong to an obscure little splinter sect of Christianity, but in the main source book of Christianity.

Think about the significance of that for a moment. The Bible is not “a” book of Christianity, it is THE book of Christianity. It is the written foundation, the holy handbook, the one and only ultimate authority, of Christianity. Entire ways of life hinge on mere phrases found its pages.

If Christianity was a country, the Bible would be its Constitution.

As one group of believers puts it:

We believe that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God,” by which we understand the whole Bible is inspired in the sense that holy men of God “were moved by the Holy Spirit” to write the very words of Scripture. We believe that this divine inspiration extends equally and fully to all parts of the writings—historical, poetical, doctrinal, and prophetical—as appeared in the original manuscripts. We believe that the whole Bible in the originals is therefore without error.

IN THE BIBLE, there is a clear justification for cutting off the hands of women.

And this is after translations and retranslations over the centuries, passing under the eye of learned authorities deciding what stayed in and what got taken out. Even after all that, it still says you should, in certain circumstances, cut off a woman’s hands.

There’s no way around it: The Range of Permissible Acts in Christianity includes cutting off women’s hands. The Range of Permissible Acts in Islam includes beating women to keep them from leaving you.

Here in the predominantly-Christian U.S., we see stories a couple of times a year in which people refuse medical care to critically ill children, who then die. There are stories in which people practice exorcism on children, who die or suffer psychological harm. A story a couple of years ago had a woman bleeding to death after giving birth to twins, because she and her family refused a blood transfusion that would have saved her life. Growing up in the South, I must have seen a dozen stories over the course of my lifetime in which some backwoods believer died from handling poisonous snakes.

Each time, though there is some public condemnation, we seem to assume that these things are aberrations. Something OUTSIDE the bounds of the religion.

But they’re not. They are written down — there for everybody to see, there for anybody to believe and act on — right in the Bible.

Though they may be outside the core beliefs of most Christians today, they are absolutely, provably, without doubt, within the Range of Permissible Acts for Christians.

Sure, nothing and nobody is perfect. But given that this is a widespread system of belief, something so good it must be visited upon the rest of us at every public occasion, taught to every child whether their parents want it or not, you’d think someone would want to clean it up a bit. Shouldn’t some effort be made to see that the handbook of the religion is as perfect as possible? To, for instance, close down those boundaries of permissible acts so that each new generation would get the clear message that beating your wife is NEVER permissible? That refusing medical care to children is NEVER acceptable? That mutilating a woman by cutting off her hands is so abhorrent that only a disgusting psychopath would even THINK of it? That slavery is NEVER okay?

And yet it isn’t. Whatever good they might do, like that generous cousin, the Range of Permissible Acts in Christianity includes beating women and children. Burning unbelievers in fire. Allowing children to be torn to bits by bears. Performing unnecessary elective surgery on babies. Torturing and killing helpless enemies. Keeping slaves.

Things that should never-never not-ever be allowed. Things that should never, not ever, be believed.

There are a couple more things, points I think worth making in the broader context of religious beliefs in relation to society:

Right now in the U.S., there’s at least one preacher – and not some inbred freak who slithered out of a swamp, but a mainstream voice reputable enough to make it into the news – who encouraged his flock to pray for the death of the president.

Whether this is based on specific words in the Bible – frankly, right this moment I’m not interested enough to look it up – it is based on something well-enough known in religious circles that there’s a common term for it: Imprecatory Prayer.

Imagine two men saying this: “I hope the president dies. I want everybody within the sound of my voice to hope the president dies. It would be a great thing, friends and neighbors, if the president died. I call on all of you to actively contemplate the death of the president, to cherish the notion of him dying, and soon.”

If the one is a religious leader and the other is the manager of a department store, which will get a visit from the Secret Service? Which won’t?  Right. Even non-believers often fall under the umbrella of religion’s Range of Permissible Acts. It’s been extremely rare that religious crazies were even slightly condemned, and it’s still not all that common. Sometimes we won’t even publicly admit that anything bad has happened.

The “scandal” of Catholic priests molesting children is recent, but you have to know the actual abuse – safely harbored behind official church secrecy, and supported by extreme reluctance on the part of secular authorities to even listen to victims – has been going on for centuries.

The Range of Permissible Acts in Christianity’s Bible – fantastically broad, scarily generous and supportive of almost any level of zeal – has been used to back acts ranging from simple individual child abuse to campaigns of slavery and genocide.

In my opinion, no matter how much good is attributed to holy-book style religion, no reasonable person can actually support it.

And finally, this:

There’s some source for human morality, right?

I say it’s something worked out by rational adults over time.

Christians say it’s the Bible.

Yet solely on the issue of cutting off women’s hands, something you can easily find in the pages of the Bible, but nowhere outside it, biblical morality falls short of modern secular morality.

To say it another way: Society has advanced beyond the Bible. Modern morality is independent from, in many ways better than that in the Bible.

My God … It’s Full of Stars!

Echoing welcomes elsewhere on FTB, a warm howdy to all the new unbelievers, skeptics and outright atheists — all famous elsewhere —  just shown up on FreeThought Blogs!



To quote DarkSyde, of Zingularity:

Dana Hunter at En Tequila Es Verdad is a science blogger, SF writer, complete geology addict, Gnu Atheist, and owner of a – excuse me, owned by a homicidal felid.

Al Stefanelli owns and operates A Voice of Reason, he is a veteran journalist and bravely serves as the Georgia State Director for American Atheists, Inc.

Russel Glasser at The Atheist Experience is a fourth generation atheist and both his parents are physicists, gotta love that!

Ian Cromwell of the Cromunist Manifesto is a polymorph and long-time observer of race and race issues. His interests, at least blog-wise, focus on bringing anti-racism into the fold of skeptic thought.

JT Eberhard blogging at What Would JT Do? is a young rabble-rouser who serves the Secular Student Alliance and contributes to Atheism Resource.

Justin Griffith at Rock Beyond Belief is, praise no one and pass the ammunition, an atheist soldier serving his country and serving as Military Director for American Atheists.

Kylie Sturgess at Token Skeptic, she hosts a podcast and regularly writes for numerous publications and CSICOP’s Curiouser and Curiouser online column.


The Range of Permissible Acts — Part 1

permissibleSay you’ve picked out a private kindergarten for your little girl, and you’ve gone down to take a look at the place to check on a last few details.

During the hourlong tour and consultation, you ask “What are the classroom rules here at Bronfield Academy? What will be expected of my daughter while she’s actually in class?”

“Ah,” says the director. “Glad you asked, because we’ve got a list of the rules we send home for each new student before the term begins. Let me get you a copy of that. Yes, here we are.”

You read it, and it’s a lot of stuff you’d expect. Things you approve of.

• Students must be under adult supervision at all times. Students outside the classroom must be accompanied by a teacher, adult aide, or parent.
• A student must say ‘please’ when asking for additional art materials such as paper or crayons.
• Students must say ‘thank you’ when teachers hand out snacks at snack time.
• Students must act fairly with each other, so that each gets a turn on playground equipment.
• Students may not bring sharp objects such as metal scissors, knives, etc., onto the school grounds.
• Outside toys brought for playtime must be approved in advance by the teacher.

All good stuff, you think. But on page two, far down the list, you see this:

• The strongest boy in each classroom may be allowed to assist the teacher by spanking misbehaving girl students.

You look up in astonishment. “Wait, what? What’s this?”

“Oh, that’s something left over from the early days. The school was founded in the mid-1800s as you know, and it was a rule back then, just something the teacher could allow if they chose.”

“But why is it still on the list of rules? There’s no way that can even be legal, can it? And I certainly don’t want a boy student SPANKING my daughter.”

“No-no, we don’t use it anymore. I mean, technically, it’s part of the Bronfield tradition, you know, but it’s extremely unlikely any teacher would think of using it these days.”

Whoa. Would you send your daughter to that school? However much you liked the rest of the place? Holy crap, no!

Or how about this: You pick up your computer from the repair guy and he says “Okay, I upgraded your RAM like you asked, and dropped in a new full-terabyte hard drive. The graphics card was old, so I got you a new one of those too. Oh, by the way, I hope you don’t mind, I used your bank account to transfer some funds around to keep the IRS off my back. I had to hack your passwords, but it’s no big deal, everything’s back to normal now.”

Will you ever go back to that guy? In flashing neon letters six feet high, the answer is NO.

Assuming that both of these services – the school and the computer geek – are otherwise reputable and efficient, why really would you not deal with them?

Because even if everything else is fine, there’s a sharp limit to how much stuff you can allow to go on in the “not fine” domain.

Doesn’t matter how great a fellow your Cousin Steve is – he might be a pillar of the community, a self-made millionaire who gives to charity, organizes food drives for the poor, volunteers at his church, leads a Boy Scout troop, and tutors under-privileged youth in his spare time – if you know he fools around with underaged girls, you’re not going to leave him alone with your 12-year-old daughter. Not for 10 seconds. Not ever.

The Why of all of this is something I call “the range of permissible acts.”

Even if you openly admitted their good traits …

“Everybody down at the office sends their kids there, and their graduates have higher grades in every subject.” “He’s the only computer repair guy I ever met who really knows what he’s doing.” “Cousin Steve is the most energetic and generous community activist I know — he does more charity work than any three people put together.”

… you’d still shy away from using them.

Each of these people might be ninety-nine and ninety-nine-one-hundredths percent reputable. But that tiny bit of unacceptable behavior would make them, for any normal person, for any good parent, untrustworthy. Because no matter what good might be contained in a service or a person, some things are completely beyond the range of what you can permit. Given a choice, you’d refuse to deal with this school, this computer repair service, or this cousin.

And that’s really the problem I have with religion. The Range of Permissible Acts in religion is very, very broad. Not just in the things people in religious cultures do, based in their individual minds on the details of their religion, but in the things it actually says in each religion’s source book. The Bible and the Koran both have some freaky stuff in them.

The Bible clearly says “If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by the private parts, you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity.”


The Koran says “… [as to women] on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them …”



Come to think of it, this IS the first day of the rest of my life

Apropos of nothing special, except for the fact that I’m moving …

Actually I’m mostly moved. Still have some cleaning to do at the old place, and a LOT of box emptying and sorting. But I’m sleeping and cooking and showering at the new place, and it already feels like home.

But this just came to mind:

There’s nothing like a move to remind you of the freshness of the world. The whole future, your entire life, stretches before you, and every new morning is a wide-open doorway into it. To start something new, you don’t have to wait for your birthday, or the first of the month, or the beginning of the semester, or New Year’s Day. You can think and do and be all new. Right now. This morning.

If you choose it to be so, this could be the moment when different things start to happen. When the dreams start to come true.