Rare Giant Gemstone Sort of Wasted. Thanks, Religion.

I’m okay with Buddhists, generally. But guys, really? A statue of Buddha (there are a few around, in case you don’t know) was the best the human race could come up with for the largest single piece of jade ever discovered?

… a mammoth boulder of nephrite jade sourced in Northwest British Columbia, Canada. Dubbed the Polar Pride boulder when it was discovered in 2000, gem experts called the 18-ton specimen “the find of the millennium.”

I’ll admit I’m coming up short in figuring out what should have been done with it instead. My best imaginings include a carving of a black bear, or a family of river otters, realized in such a way as to convey an environmental message. But still …

The Polar Pride was split in two and sold for an undisclosed price to an international Buddhist organization headed by the Nepalese monk Lama Zopa Rinpoche. In 2006, the twin blocks were shipped from Vancouver to Thailand, where master craftsmen began their two-year labor of love – freeing the smiling, meditating figure of Buddha from an enormous block of gem-quality jade.

Buddha? That’s it?

To those who argue that Buddhism is not a religion, here’s at least one counter-argument. This bit is pure religion:

Rinpoche said that the statue made from the majestic boulder would illuminate the world and bring peace, happiness and solace and help prevent destruction, including war.

Yeah, I’m sure it’ll do that. Jade statues are known for their mystical, war-preventing powers.

More than that, though, you kinda have to assume the price was in the millions. I have a church a few blocks from my house valued at more than 7 million. I can never pass the thing without thinking of how many college degrees in medicine or environmental science the money would have financed. Ditto for this largest-ever jade Buddha statue.

Presented with a never-before-never-again opportunity, the best humans can come up with, once again, is religion.

Aw, heck.

Atheist Grief Panel Discussion: FTBConscience

Thanks to the kind invitation from Rebecca Hensler, founder of Grief Beyond Belief, I was on the Atheist Grief panel of FTBConscience, and that took place today at 5 p.m., East Coast time. Other panelists were Greta Christina and Nicome Taylor.

And here it is, already on YouTube!


The Nature of Men, the Nature of Man

I posted something on Facebook today, and got a question that sparked some of my philosophical thoughts about human nature. The thing I posted was a link to this, an article about a film project by a woman director that delves into a perceived social problem for men (and society), “toxic masculinity”:

The One Thing All Men Feel, But Never Admit

… with the accompanying remark:

There’s some good stuff here, and this is a project worth doing. It will get more conversation going on some things that need to be talked about, re “toxic masculinity.”

In addition, though, if a hunter makes a film about bears, you end up with very different conclusions than those a biologist might reach on the same subject. Likewise, if a man made a film about the true inner nature of women, or about “toxic femininity,” there would be room to suspect a certain amount of subjective bias.

I would most definitely want to see this. But I wouldn’t swallow it whole until I’d thought about it at length.

… and the followup remark:

BTW: Don’t think I’m discounting the likelihood that we NEED a fresh viewpoint on the nature and needs of men.

Facebook Friend Lydia Allen had a good question:

Why do men have a ‘nature’ (or an ‘essence’)? Aren’t men individuals who differ from person to person, just as women are?

… which sparked a volley of thoughts on the subject of men and women, and our underlying humanness:

Lydia, I see all living things as pyramids. The tiny capstone of each pyramid is your own individual self, but the lower levels, which occupy a much larger part of us, are NOT specifically you. They’re all this older stuff with which evolution has gifted us.

For instance, your elbow, which you think of as human and YOU, is nothing of the sort. It’s an elbow so old that chimpanzees have it, raccoons have it, alligators have it, salamanders have it. Ditto for so much else of us. The fact that we share more than 98 percent of our genes with chimps implies that there is very little of us that is specifically our individual selves, or even specifically human.

I separate our traits into “humany” traits and “beasty” (not “beastLY”) traits, and it seems to me self-evident that most of us is beasty.

For the most part, we are beasts. It’s only a little bit of us that’s human. Which would mean, if you expressed the idea in terms of gender, that all men DO share certain common traits that undergird their own specific individual natures. Men are, literally, beasts (the same would be true of women), with most of our livingness, our selfness, run by equipment and software arising out of a billion-year-plus development program.

Of course I think we should strive not to act solely like beasts. Otherwise we cheat ourselves out of discovering the full range of our natures. We create a beasty civilization and relationships rather than something more fully human.

My conjecture about the whole thing is this: To be fully human, you have to occupy and indulge both your beasty nature AND your humany nature.

Humany traits include such things as reason, speech, creativity, imagination and compassion. A VERY humany trait is the desire to be an individual.

Beasty traits include things such as reproduction and fighting, eating and sleeping – not to mention wallowing in all our mad passions. A VERY beasty trait is the desire to find your place in the herd, to follow and be ruled or to lead and dominate.

You have to read, and think, and make music, and build things, and learn to give love to others, in order to express your humany self. But you have to run and climb, eat and fight and fuck and wallow, in order to express your beasty self.

There’s a balance between the two. Given that we are humans, that balance should ideally come down on the humany side. To me, being as humany as possible seems highly desirable. The problem is that beasty stuff comes automatically to us, humany stuff with much greater difficulty.

It’s much easier to pick a fight, or to run from one, than it is to argue with another person in calm and objective reason. It’s easier to rape than to love, easier to bully than to protect, or to create a relationship of equals. Easier to give orders, or to take them, than to think about what will result if those orders are followed without question.

Soldiering is a beasty profession, teaching and helping is a humany profession. It’s easier to join the military and march around threatening people with weapons than it is to do the hard work it takes to revive a neighborhood, or to rescue people from poverty, or teach children to read. (Whoever came up with the term “humanitarian” or “humanism” knew this implicitly.)

I suspect it’s why soldiers and cops, prison guards and airport security types – but also lawyers and elected officials – are rarely highly intelligent, compassionate, creative and  philosophical types. The professions select automatically for thugs and bullies and alphas, and a special effort has to be made to filter out the more dangerous of those seeking the jobs.

It’s also why kings and emperors have outnumbered democratically elected leaders throughout human history, and why third world countries more easily transition into dictatorships than into democracies. Democracy, that very human invention, takes forbearance and EFFORT.

And again, it’s also why there are scores of huge monuments to war and death in Washington DC, but not one single memorial to conscience or whistle-blowing or principled resistance. We have difficulty even recognizing that conscience and resistance is heroic, or that it can be harder than following along and killing or dying.

Finally, a subtle consequence of all this, important to we atheists:

Science, that rational and creative and questing adventure of the mind, is almost purely humany.

Religion, that practice of leading and following, ordering and threatening, harvesting and control of others, accompanied by as little questioning and thought as possible, is almost purely beasty.



No, I don’t believe in God. I thought YOU did. Well, heck. Now what?

We’re born to sanity. We instinctively feel that things should be reasonable. That it should all MAKE SENSE.

Most of us, as we grow to adulthood, at least TRY to be sane and sensible. But we all know we share the world with some crazy-ass others.

In my view, the biggest reason for rampant craziness in the world is religion. Religion is not only mistaken about basic facts of reality, it sets up a social field of acceptance to casual lies, deliberate falsehoods, even malicious acts, by both the priestly and the pious.

Churches TEACH falsehoods, and they garb themselves in the appearance of the highest good as they do it.

Deliberately denied the tools that would help them critique church claims, credulous followers are set up to become victims of all the other liars and con men … who often don the same mantle of goodness. It creates an entire society where lies are easy, even expected, and where all manner of inglorious acts can be defended, because nobody really knows what’s right, what’s just, what’s good.

But even deeply immersed in the inner workings of churches, there are those who find they want sanity. Discovering eventually that they are too reasonable to believe, they reach the point where they either sacrifice honesty as the price of keeping their jobs and positions, or they quietly leave the career.

More than a decade into the new atheist movement, though, outspoken atheists have created a field of acceptance to non-belief great enough that it has lowered the barrier to admitting loss of faith, even to those IN the faith.

Church Pastors Become Atheists

More than 200 church leaders across the country now say they no longer believe in God, including a Houston-area pastor who was one of the first to publicly announce his decision.

Mike Aus, who was pastor at Theophilus church in Katy, Texas, went so far as to make an announcement on TV about his loss of faith, during an appearance on MSNBC’s Up With Chris Hayes Sunday morning show.

Aus was a long-time Lutheran pastor at churches in the Houston area, but now he said he no longer believes in the message he had been preaching for almost 20 years.

“As I started to jettison the beliefs, I came to realize fairly recently there wasn’t a whole lot left,” Aus said.

The effect was immediate on his church with about 80 members. Weeks after his announcement, the church dissolved. Members […] said their pastor’s complete change in faith was devastating.

I’m just wondering what happens when hundreds of millions of church members realize they’re not alone in wondering what the heck it is they’re doing, and why. Why they never “felt the presence of God,” or why prayer never felt real to them.

It starts to look like we’re building up to that point.



I’m Part of FreethoughtBlogs’ FTBConscience!

I’ll be appearing on the “Atheism and Grief” panel at FTBConscience this Sunday, July 21 at 4 p.m. Central time.

Other speakers will include Rebecca Hensler, founder of Grief Beyond Belief, plus Greta Christina and Nicome Taylor.

Here’s the entire convention schedule, and here’s the page detailing just my panel.

I’d volunteered to be on the panel regarding the future of atheism, hoping to talk about Beta Culture, but there were already plenty of panelists included there.

Hope to see you there!

Hey, Where’s Our Motorcycle Gang??

We DO want to fully engage society with the beautiful possibilities of atheism, right?

I just don’t see how we can do that without our own nationwide motorcycle club.












And if you DO do this, I demand to be a charter member!

Also, I’ll need a motorcycle.

Seriously, I think this would be a pretty cool thing to do. It could also get some serious publicity.

(BTW, this back-patch design is a rough approximation. There’s also a little something wonky in how the E in Riders  came across when I converted my original to a jpeg. No idea why. Argh.)

Red Neck Tales: Green Bean Jean (repost)

Her name was Jean Mullen, but she called herself Green Bean Jean. She played bars in the small California mountain town where I lived at the time, and I first saw her on a night out with some of my mule-packer cowboy friends.

She was either skinny and gawky or model-thin and infinitely elegant — it was a time in my earlier life when I was between opinions on women — they might be little girls or alluring goddesses, either one. Eventually, I came down on the side of the goddess.

She sat on a tall stool, played a guitar and sang. She had an incredibly broad vocal range, from deeper-than-deep to glasses-shivering-on-the-table high. Four and a half octaves — does that sound right? It’s what I remember, but I could easily be wrong, this many years after.

I came night after night to see her, sat down quietly at a table and blew out the candle, and there in the dark was touched by her presence and her music. On braver nights, I’d sit in front and request some of her songs.

Live music has always had a profound effect on me. Put a song on the radio or CD player and I might sing along in my broken voice or slap the table in syncopation, jig around in my chair or car seat and become one with the music. But put me in front of live musicians and I sit there frozen and slack-jawed, banjaxed, perpetually astonished that, right here and now, these people are creating music.

As for Green Bean Jean, I was in love with her.

She never knew it. I was too shy at the time to even think about telling her, and besides she was a goddess and I was a little nothing-special cowboy, a comparative toad.

But for a time, in the lonely way of barfly music fans, I came in from the cold, huddled up to the warmth of her voice, and had her for my very own.

She spoke often of her music. “This is a song from my fictitious album,” she’d say, and launch into Owens River Symphony, or Sierra Minstrel, or Daddy.

She’d had offers, she told us, but they always came with strings. She was waiting for the real offer to make that first album. And we all knew, if that break ever came, she’d rocket to the top.

Even looking back on it so many years later, I’m absolutely certain that her presence, her elegant beauty, her incredible voice would have placed her in short order at superstar level. Really. I can’t think of anyone she couldn’t have equaled for talent, for stage presence, for beauty.

The offer came.

She drove east with the band she’d gathered together.

She recorded the vocal tracks.

She started back.

And somewhere out on the interstate, far from home, she died in a car wreck.

Friends and family took orders on the album, and pooled their money to complete it. The Green Bean Jean Album.

I didn’t have the money to afford one, but I borrowed one from friends, and listened to it many times over the years.

In my head, I have perfect pitch. Even without the record, I can still hear the vivid tones of her incredible voice. Thirty years dissolve away, her voice peals out in perfect clarity, in piercing high notes and soul-touching lows, and she sings for me.

My Green Bean Jean, my Sierra Minstrel, my once-upon-a-time Secret Love.

This Is Disturbing as Hell

This post on Between a Veil and a Dark PlaceWhat it is like to be a Muslim woman, and why we know what freedom is (and you may not) — is like a bad car accident. You pass by and it’s not you, but you can’t look away because it’s horrible, and it’s SOMEBODY.

I have keys.

When I first moved to the United States eleven months ago, it took me several weeks to grasp this bit of information.

I have keys.

I have keys to my own front door and I can open this front door and walk down the street whenever I want to.

I can walk down the street without being watched through the windows and without anyone calling my parents and telling them I am roaming loose on the street.

I can walk down the street, sit down on a bench under a tree, and eat an ice cream cone. Then I can stand up and walk back home.

There will be nobody waiting for me at my house to ask me where I have been, refuse to let me in, call me a liar, and use my walk as renewed incentive to rifle through all of my possessions for proof that I am doing something wrong.

Because the simple desire to take a walk cannot but hide something deviant.

The piece speaks line by line of new-found freedoms, and you would expect subject matter like that to inspire joy. Instead it provokes horror: Every freedom described is a reflection of soul-sucking bleakness, a murderous militancy over matters so utterly miniscule it can only leave you gasping “Why? Why?”

A second reflection arises out of the robotic cadence of the writing. Thought the writer is free to do all the things she writes about, she still stands partway in that world of tortured bleakness; rather than relating a tale of victory in battle, the lifelong battle against frozen repression, she speaks merely as a stunned survivor.

If I spend more than five minutes in the bathroom, nobody will bang on my door demanding to know what I am doing in there.

I can shave my legs without being interrogated as to why I’d do such a thing when nobody ever sees them.

I can brush my hair and look in the mirror and try on clothes and try to feel like I can manipulate and move and enjoy my body, try to feel pretty, without being interrogated and asked who he is and how long I have been seeing him and what I am doing with him and whether I am a prostitute or pregnant.

I can slim down inadvertently or say I am not hungry for dinner without anybody demanding to know why and for whom I am trying to lose weight.

I can shower without being asked why.

I can smile because I had a good day at work without being forced to explain why I am so happy.

I can cry at my empty, robotic life without being forced to explain why I am unhappy.

I can have facial expressions. Facial expressions.

I can have facial expressions.

I can have facial expressions.

Time to RICO the Catholic Church?

Here’s a Reuters article: Documents show Milwaukee archdiocese shielded pedophile priests

Someone correct me if I’m wrong here, but if someone commits a crime, and you act to help them hide that crime, doesn’t that make you an accomplice? Part of a conspiracy to evade justice?

The 6,000 pages of documents related to eight decades of abuse cases showed in great detail the Milwaukee archdiocese regularly reassigned priests who were accused of sexual molestation to new parishes …

Because that’s exactly what went on here.

Even more interesting is this:

One document is a letter that Dolan sent to the Vatican in June 2007 requesting permission to move $57 million into a cemetery trust fund in order to protect the funds from “any legal claim and liability.” The Vatican approved the transfer a month later, according to the documents.

So, knowing the money might be ordered paid as restitution to the victims, he acted to hide it, divert it, to a place where it couldn’t be reached. Sounds pretty conspiratorial to me.

I could easily be wrong about this, but if the Vatican is complicit in all this, how is it any different, legally, from the Mafia?

Is the Catholic Church a RICO — Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organization?

I’d say yes.


In Dolan’s defense,

The documents also showed that when Dolan, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the nation’s most prominent Roman Catholic official, asked the Vatican to remove priests, it was slow to respond.

… the Vatican took a glacial 6 years to remove a priest Dolan had earlier reported.

But considering that the Milwaukee diocese had an 80-year history of transferring molesting priests from place to place rather than removing them, it’s not all that comforting.