Wednesday, March 30, 2011

An Argument Against 'G'

An essay by – Heather Spoonheim

The habitual capitalization of the word ‘god’ is evidence of one of the most insidious mind-games ever perpetrated by the cult of Yahweh. To understand why, one must first understand that language, as a social construct, is recursive. That is to say that in as much as language is a construct of society, society itself is a construct of language. As an example, consider how the evolution of civilization has been shaped by the concept of democracy while, over the same period, the evolution of the concept of democracy has been shaped by civilization. The modern concept of democracy has greatly diverged from that of Plato, yet his dissertations on the concept have had as much influence the evolution of society as the evolution of society has had on the concept itself.

The same can be said of the habitual capitalization of the word ‘god’. In practice, secular society habitually capitalizes the word ‘god’ when the word is used in reference to the concept of a singular, supreme being. Even my damn word processor is suggesting that I capitalize ‘supreme being’ in the last sentence. The young developing minds of the greatest writers of the next generation are being indoctrinated to this construct before they are even able to grasp its fallacy.

The only rational argument on behalf of the existence of gods is that man has consistently been, and will likely always be, able to refashion a definition for the god-concept that that escapes falsification. This argument applies equally to any pantheon of gods that mankind might want to imagine and therefore firmly establishes the fallacy of any and all single god conceptualizations. Not only is every concept of a single god invalid but also, by definition, self-refuting. Propagating the social construct of capitalizing the word god is, by extension, a propagation of this fallacy, a corruption of reason, and a tool of cult indoctrination directed against young impressionable minds.

Furthermore, the officially recognized rules of grammar do not actually specify capitalization of the word god for all uses that imply a singular, supreme being. Officially, the word is only to be capitalized when used in reference to Yahweh, and that is absolutely repugnant to the concept of secular society. Not only is the word god supposed to be capitalized only when it refers to Yahweh, but also the pronouns ‘he’, ‘his’ and ‘him’ when used in reference to Yahweh. This is much different than the capitalization of the proper name ‘Yahweh’ itself because that rule is equally and generically applied to all mythological and fictional beings. The other rules, however, constitute nothing other than a mandated cultural bias towards the cult of Yahweh, and serve to corrupt the very nature of our thoughts.

Interestingly, many cults of Yahweh have a prohibition against vocalizing his name. This doctrine was likely born out of an instinct for survival after the siege of Jerusalem, but it has become a social construct that is no less annoying than when it was employed as a literary tool in the Harry Potter series. In both cases, however, it proved to be very efficient in evoking a sense of mystery in adolescent minds. To those indoctrinated to the cult of Yahweh, this adds a layer of mystery that amplifies the superstitions that the cult holds regarding any investigation into the origins of Yahweh.

Our society has been tricked into pandering to the delusions of the Yahweh cult by allowing them to write their very own deity into our language. This construct obfuscates the difference between the mythological Yahweh and our social construct of the god-concept itself. The Yahweh cult should be, for the sake of intellectual honestly, required to name their mythological deity before any rational conversation of the mythology takes place. By engaging them in conversations about ‘god’ without requiring that explicit declaration, we only facilitate the isolation of their mighty Yahweh from his roots in the polytheistic Semitic pantheon.

It may still be argued that there is some abstract virtue in recognizing, through capitalization, the reverence with which monotheists regard the single god concept, but I suggest that such recognition is not virtuous at all and serves only to reinforce their delusions. Although direct confrontation of an individual’s delusions may only exacerbate the underlying emotional turmoil that spawned them, it might be considered equally cruel to actually engage their delusions by assuming the context of their reality. Eliminating the habitual capitalization of the word god is a powerful, yet subtle way of reducing the reinforcement of the god delusion.

I have been an affirmed Atheist for 18 years and it has taken me all of that time to recognize the depravity of this particular mind-game as perpetrated by the cult of Yahweh. I hope that this little rant will serve to help other Atheists recognize the value of finally adopting a truly secular set of capitalization practices. To show your support, I hope that you will not only adopt these rules in your own writing, but also consider taking up the practice of capitalizing the word Atheist when it is employed in any manner other than as an adjective.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Theory of Mind

An essay by – Heather Spoonheim

A solid understanding of theory of mind (ToM) is extremely important to understanding some of the fallacies that derive from its misapplication. ToM “is the ability to attribute mental states—beliefs, intents, desires, pretending, knowledge, etc.—to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires and intentions that are different from one's own.”[1] To better understand this definition, let us consider a situation where ToM is applied both practically and accurately.

While Bob was out shopping, his wife, Mary, poured all of his whiskey down the sink. After Bob returned home, his boss, Phil, came over to visit and asked Bob for a drink of whiskey. Upon hearing this, Mary quickly excused herself and left the house.

If the above passage seems like anything more than a series of random events to you, then you have actually applied ToM several times, in several different ways and in only a matter of seconds. The most advanced computers available today could not begin to extrapolate all the information that you just did from that short passage.

Making sense of the above passage required imagining at least 2 different virtual models of the human mind. You realized that Bob didn’t know his whiskey had been poured down the sink and that he would likely be angry when he found out. To do this you had to keep track of beliefs, intents and knowledge, attribute them to different people and, finally, make a prediction of behavior based on those models. You even predicted Bob’s reaction without being prompted with a question as to how he might react.

Incredibly, you did not actually derive your prediction of Bob’s behavior from your own model of Bob’s mind. You analyzed Mary’s behavior, used it to extrapolate your model of her mind and realized that she was predicting Bob’s behavior based on her model of Bob’s mind. You did all of this with so little effort that you didn’t even realize that you were doing it. I bet you feel pretty smart right now, huh?

The Importance of ToM

The human ToM is one of the least talked about but most important aspects of human evolution. Our highly evolved ToM allowed for the development of complex social structures that gave us a significant advantage over other creatures that had evolved bigger teeth, bigger claws, and much more powerful limbs and jaws. We divided our duties of protecting our camps and children, hunting for meat, and gathering other foodstuffs because we understood that particular duties were being handled by others. We also developed highly organized strategies for hunting and killing large animals that would have been impossible to conquer using spontaneous blitz attacks.

As a simple example of the advantage of ToM to hunting, consider a Stone Age hunter tracking a wild boar. Part way down the trail, the hunter realizes that the boar is headed for a nearby watering hole and he also realizes that the boar has chosen the longer of two trails. Taking a shortcut, the hunter easily catches up to the boar at the watering hole and secures a feast for his entire clan. A pair of jackals might have also been on the trail of the boar but tracking only by scent, and lacking ToM, they do not have the advantage of predicting the boar’s destination. The jackals end up missing out on a valuable meal.

Upon returning with the slaughtered boar to camp, the hunter proceeds to divide the meat. He knows that the shaman likes the spleen for ritualistic practices. He knows that the old toothless woman likes the liver. He gives a strip of tenderloin to a young girl that he fancies and then quickly gives an entire shoulder to his rival for the girl’s attention – that he might appease his rival and reduce the potential for physical confrontation. These sorts of social dynamics are only possible with a very highly evolved theory of mind.

When people begin discussing human evolution and marvel at how we survived, against all odds, with such pathetic biological weaponry, they all too often seem to ignore the human capacity to model other minds: the minds of other hunters, other predators, the prey animal being pursued, and of other creatures that become silent or scurry away in reaction to the aforementioned animals. Humans can whip up numerous artificial minds instantaneously to keep track of all of these or they can hold onto long term models used to keep tabs on the social dynamics at work around them. Other animals can exhibit behaviors that suggest a theory of mind, but none have a theory of mind anywhere near as developed as that of man. It could easily be argued that it is the one area in which the greatest margin has evolved between humans and every other creature on the planet.

Fallacies of ToM

One drawback of our ToM is that it might be a little too highly developed. Humans are prone to whipping up a virtual model of the human mind without even considering whether or not it applies in a given situation. This leaves us exhibiting some extremely irrational behaviors such as having conversations with cats, begging stop lights to change, and commanding teetering objects not to fall as we run to catch them. In a rural setting we can do such silly things as begging fire to ignite, pleading with the sky for rain, and asking the wind in our most polite tone if it might not be so kind as to stop blowing for just one afternoon.

This sort of fallacious projection of human consciousness into elements of the environment can become so convoluted that we actually start to negotiate with the natural elements. Think for a moment about a drought stricken farmer standing in his field, looking up at the sky and saying, “If you would just be so kind as to give me a little rain I would love you so much! Give a guy just a little break, would ya?” It is easy to understand the desperation of such a man and overlook the irrational nature of his behavior. Although we might think he was slightly crazy if he started doing a little jig in the hopes that the sky might find him entertaining and thereby be more persuaded by his desires, some twentieth century farmers actually paid money for Native American rain dancers to do just that.

It shouldn’t be hard then to understand why so many primitive cultures have been documented as having beliefs in sun, sky, wind, and fire gods. Consider the modern phenomenon of clans decorating themselves in ritualistic colours, painting their faces to match, and standing in front of a video display screaming, “Run, you son-of-a-bitch, RUN!” There is absolutely no possibility that their screams can be heard by the player running with the ball but even the most intelligent, educated, otherwise reasonable individuals in the crowd form such vivid connections with the ToM that they have created for their favorite player that they just can’t help but scream as though the player himself is within earshot.

The Moral of the Story

As a species it is not only natural, but overwhelmingly compelling for us to try to understand and influence everything around us by leveraging our most powerful evolutionary tool – our ability to instantly and effortlessly fabricate a model of our own conscious mind. As a civilized society, however, it is important that we begin to realize the limitations of this highly evolved tool, and the fallacy of applying it erroneously to inanimate objects, house pets, and nature. Our theory of mind is the wrong tool to use for understanding such things and actually leads to a misunderstanding of these things. Furthermore, such a fallacious projection can lead to the very compelling and misleading belief that we can influence such things through verbal persuasion.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Evolution of God

A narrative essay by - Heather Spoonheim

God’s stomping grounds are pretty vast these days, at least according to some theists. You see, God isn’t limited by time, dimensions or measure but actually transcends space-time and even the very concepts of space and time. He is not only everywhere at all times, he is in fact the very essence of where and when and a whole lot more – more than any of us, including Ed Whitten, could ever imagine. That’s one hell of a god!

It wasn’t always this way, though. In the beginning, God only existed as a fallacious projection of human consciousness. More specifically, just as modern man still begs a traffic light to change, primitive man begged fire to start. It is this very compulsion to anthropomorphize that which we wish to control that gave rise to the mythological consciousness of fire; other elements important to primitive man would most likely have been equally imbued with a projected consciousness, the earliest evidence of this being the cult of the bear.

Although it’s easy to imagine how man first projected his concept of mind into that which possessed no such mind, evidence of how this process evolved has been virtually obliterated by the ages. The problem is that although archaeology is very good at showing us what people left behind, in the absence of a social context to frame such relics, any attempt to use those artifacts to interpret ancient beliefs amounts only to conjecture. Fortunately, anthropology has provided us with a wealth of social contexts that may very well frame some of these ancient relics.

The oldest evidence remaining of the ritualistic practices of man are graves. Although ancient graves reflect how significant death was to primitive man, this is more easily interpreted as reflecting the development of his concept of mind rather than any beliefs regarding an afterlife. For example, chimpanzees have a concept of mind that might be comparable to early Stone Age man, and they have a great deal of difficulty accepting the death of a loved one, showing great concern for the corpse.

Although there is early evidence of reverence for animals, the first clear picture we get of how religion evolved comes from the Sumerians. The Sumerians just sort of pop up in the archeological record because they left behind such an incredible body of writing, and that writing is also the oldest that we have been able to decipher. Unfortunately, by the time Sumerian writing developed, the god-concept had already radically evolved.

Sumer was a veritable Godstock, with a pantheon that encompassed 3600 gods! These gods were imagined with very human minds: getting married, having children, struggling for rank, and even committing rape. Interestingly, the king of the Sumerian pantheon was Anu, the father figure in a trinity that included Enlil and Enki. Fire doesn’t seem to have figured prominently in Sumer as these three male gods ruled the sky, wind, and water, respectively. It would seem, unsurprisingly, that fire was taken for granted by that time. Notably, the Sumerians were the first to document myths of creation and a great flood.

Under the Egyptians, the god-concept coalesced with animal deities being lumped into the Egyptian pantheon alongside more anthropomorphic gods and the total number of gods being greatly reduced. For the first time, some gods were given ranks considered higher than the multitudes of natural forces. The theory of life continuing after death began with Egyptian Pharaohs, who were considered to be intermediaries between the gods and man, although the afterlife mythology eventually encompassed all Egyptians. Most significantly, the first attempt at imagining monotheism was attempted by Pharaoh Akhenaten who proposed the idea of having only one god named Aten; the concept failed miserably.

The first successful monotheistic mythology seems to have originated in the Neo-Assyrian Empire. They realized the unifying power of having an all powerful supreme god coupled with a foreign policy that was tolerant of other, localized, lesser gods. The mythology of a single, supreme god was much easier to transport to a newly conquered imperial colony than an entire pantheon. Further, the one god mythology bolstered the authority of the Assyrian King who was written into the mythology as the only mortal authority mandated by God. Tolerating the continued recognition of more localized gods as long as they were acknowledged to be lesser gods than the Assyrian God was a stroke of genius, and truly put God into the business of politicking.

The ancient Israelites can be traced back to this period and their mythology is very representative of the period and region, incorporating stories of creation and a great flood. They also seem to have been inspired by the unifying power of a one god mythology, likely due to Assyrian prominence, and began modifying their mythology to conform, the prohibition of idols being just one example. By the reign of the Judean King, Hezekiah, and through his religious reforms, the Judean religion evolved into a full fledged monotheism.

The Judean mythology still contains vestigial references of polytheism, including references to the wife and sons of their singular, all powerful God. Their doctrines were considered exclusive to their descendants, but Christianity still managed to hijack them by simply extending the Judean mythology with the Jesus mythology. Ironically, the Jesus mythology maintained the claim of monotheism while at the same time re-instating the powerful trinity of Sumerian mythology.

The historicity of Jesus is extremely difficult to verify because his initial cult consisted of lay people rather than their leaders, and his mythology was rapidly scavenged together from the most popular elements of mythologies of the day. At the core was the concept of a single, all powerful God. The most important element was the concept that this God had actually incarnated as a contemporary man in order to refute all other mythologies and establish a ‘true’ mythology. The story of this man spread rapidly, being embellished by all the hallmarks of great legend known at the time: his birth was miraculous and occurred under a fateful star at an important time of year; he had great wisdom and worked wonders; he had twelve disciples; he died and then returned to life after three days.

The most popular, and novel, element of this mythology was that its supreme God literally expressed himself through common men by imbuing people with his spirit. Ironically, this last element marked a full cycle in the evolution of God; the god-concept began with man projecting a human consciousness into that which was without one, and evolved until that projected consciousness actually projected itself back into man!

The Muslim mythology is literally a just rewrite of Christianity, claiming that human authors had muddled the story and so Mohammed was told by God to set the story straight. It’s less than creative but, by extension, it contains all the same powerful elements of Christianity.

And so it came to pass, purely through man’s desire to persuade things that cannot be persuaded, that imagination multiplied imagination to produce the concept of a singular, all powerful, supreme God that reigned over everything. Not only had man projected an everlasting consciousness big enough to embody totality, but along the way he tacked on the idea that his own consciousness would never end.

The initial god-concept had certainly grown into one hell of a supreme God. He was mankind’s universal go-to guy when it came to feeling empowered over that which could not be understood and, with so little being understood, mankind turned to God for everything. What a monopoly!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Genesis of God

A narrative essay by - Heather Spoonheim

Years ago I found myself alone and shivering, hands trembling as I struck match after match trying to ignite some damp tinder. I desperately wanted that fire to light and all the intention of my mind was focused and I started pleading, “Come on, fire, come on!” As the tinder began to smolder I sighed, “Thank you!” and I dropped to my knees and began blowing gently until flames began to lick up at the shavings … then at the kindling … and finally at some small sticks that I had carefully stacked.

Over the next hour I fed more little sticks into the fire as I struggled back from the edge of hypothermia. When I was finally comfortable, I just sat by the fire wrapped in a small tarp and reflected upon how I had begged that fire to start. It occurred to me how natural it had been to anthropomorphize the very concept of fire in order to create an outlet for the strong intention that had built up in my mind. I needed fire to understand that I needed it, and I had to create an avenue by which to persuade it to my line of thinking.

Sitting there, deep in the forest, I thought about how it must have been so easy for the concept of god to slip into the human psyche. You see, an advanced ‘concept of mind’ was just as essential to the evolution of early man as language. Language itself is meaningless without understanding the concept that other beings have minds independent from your own, including different knowledge and intention. Without that concept, what would motivate the first words? What would there even be to say?

So powerfully entrenched in our psyche is this theory of mind that even after hundreds of thousands of years of evolution it compelled me to project a consciousness onto my concept of fire so that I might invoke its appearance; even after this projection had served its purpose, I went on to say thank you. Everyday, people run toward teetering objects begging them not to fall. Everyday, people turn the keys in their cars with focused intention while pleading for them to start. Here we are, still doing this in an age when even an agnostic would vehemently refute the possibility that a car has a conscious mind. What chance, then, did primitive man have of grasping the fallacy of projecting a conscious mind into an inanimate object? How compelling it must have been for him to project a conscious mind into something as important, fleeting, and seemingly ethereal as fire; it had, after all, been compelling enough for me to do so hundreds of thousands of years later.

Entreating the return of fire would have been a daily ritual for Stone Age man. Keeping them warm, staving off nocturnal predators and pushing away the shadows, fire was a very welcome guest in every cave and likely a beloved parental figure in most. Sometimes I like to think that the first great philosopher leaned back one day and postulated, “Where fire go when not burn?” The first theist answered, “Fire always burn in my heart.” The first atheist retorted, “When fire not burn, fire go out.” Then all three turned to the first agnostic who, sitting in the corner with his eyes shifting, said, “Me don’t know.”

Little can be said authoritatively about prehistoric religion other than it consistently exhibited the attribution of a conscious human mind to important aspects of man’s environment. One can only imagine that the first religious war might have been fought between a dozen cavemen arguing over whether fire or rain was more powerful. One thing is certain, though, and that is that the concept of god was born of the minds of men who felt compelled to invoke the cooperation of their environment.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Bible is NOT fiction

An essay by - Heather Spoonheim

All too often I hear fellow Atheists say, “Using the Bible as proof of God is like using a comic book as proof of Superman.” I always find this statement offensive because it shows a very malicious irreverence for a book that I greatly revere. I would like to encourage Atheists that are in the habit of using the above remark to consider saying, instead, “Using the Bible as proof of God is like using the Iliad as proof of the Greek Pantheon.”

I ask for this rephrasing not only because of my personal reverence for the Bible, but because it is a much more accurate comparison. The Bible, like the Iliad, is an important historical document that opens a window into the minds of antiquity. When I use the phrase, “historical document”, please do not falsely infer that I am implying that the bible accurately documents historical events by modern standards; I am simply stating that the Bible is a document of ancient origin which provides us with an invaluable glimpse into history. This glimpse offers astounding insight into the development of a mythology that has shaped the western world and an understanding of the very processes that generated the myth itself.

Comic books are entertaining and intended fictions that are known to be fictions by their contemporary readers. Comics are an integral part of contemporary society, and perhaps it might even be argued that they cast light on the way we view the world around us; it must be noted, however, that we have libraries full of literary works that reflect contemporary thought but access to the literature of antiquity is much more restricted and should therefore be much more highly regarded.

The repugnancy with which many Atheists view the Bible is unwarranted and only ever rationalized by those who are unable to dissociate the document from the institutions that assert the mythology to be literal. If these same institutions had determined to assert the literality of The Iliad instead, The Iliad would now be the book of western Atheist scorn. From an historical perspective, however, both of these books are truly a treasure and both should be equally cherished.

The Iliad mythologizes some ancient legends by documenting them in a very poetic form. The bible, on they other hand, not only mythologizes ancient legends, but then goes on to include roughly a millennium of reactions and extensions to that mythology. The bible is more than just a book; it’s a compact library of the works of authors whose lives spanned a thousand years. Few, if any, of the books in that library are works of fiction.

Some of the earliest authors collaborated over centuries to produce a wonderful collection of legends that some early Semites used to imagine their origins back to the first human beings. While these legends in and of themselves are mostly fabricated, it is likely that many of them have seeds in actual events. Those that were purely imagined weren’t likely intended as fictions but rather as proposed explanations for the origins of man and his world.

Some authors documented how early kings declared their lineages to tie directly into the earliest legends. This is not an uncommon practice in monarchies and there are monarchs today whose lineages do not stand up to much scrutiny. Such documentation is an astounding example of how far back this sort of practice goes.

There are excellent examples of ancient prophecy that use prophetic language that humbles modern prophets. Good prophecy is not fiction at all, for it is a poetic reflection of the mindset of an age. Good prophecy promises justice in times of injustice, peace in times of war, and war in times of monotonous peace. A lot of truth about the present can be found in prophecy, just not in the future that the prophecy predicts.

There are books of law, colourful descriptions of battles, and early observations of nature that are all painted in the context of supernatural beings interacting directly with the physical realm. This supernatural context is not added as a tool of fiction but represents, in fact, the way in which Bronze Age authors viewed the world around them. To this very day we paint our narratives of war as battles between good and evil, although nowadays we more frequently use the terms freedom and fascism. Acts of nature still fill us and our descriptions with supernatural imagery.

My point is that we would all be rather insulted if the sum body of all of our writings were viewed in a thousand years as amounting to nothing more than pulp fiction. The literature of an age reflects its zeitgeist. Reexamination of history often shows us just how much colour was added by our grandparents and reveals details that they could have never imagined. I can’t imagine how my grandfathers would have felt had they lived to learn the true nuclear capabilities of the Soviets.

The bible is much more than fiction. It ties all the hallmarks of good mythology together with historical events as they were known and understood at the time. It reflects the way in which Judaism defined itself and its pride. It illustrates the elation and the horror with which a culture might greet the fulfillment of one of its most hallowed prophecies. It tangibly illustrates the passion with which mankind seeks to escape his own mortality. So compelling is its promise of eternal life and happiness that it has been able to inspire or absolve all of the atrocities ever committed by those who knew it.

So elastic is this mythology that it can be simultaneously inclusive and exclusive. It can be reshaped to provide absolution to anyone and eternal damnation to everyone else. It can even continue to shape minds that have become fully cognizant of the myth so that they will persist in clinging to the central notion that there is a god and a purpose behind everything. In consideration of all of this I resubmit that this astounding Bronze Age library of mythology blended with history deserves more reverence than a comic book.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Invisible Pink Unicorns

A short story by - Heather Spoonheim

Why do so many people refute the existence of invisible pink unicorns? What sort of childhood trauma could make a person so hateful as to suggest that invisible pink unicorns don’t exist? It’s so comforting to just think of them galloping silently around us, watching out for us, while also keeping an eye out for low prices, that I’m deeply saddened to think that anyone lives without this comfort. How sad it must be to live everyday without knowing the joy of invisible pink unicorns.

The best part about invisible pink unicorns is that they don’t contradict science. All the scientific study that mankind will ever do will never disprove the existence of invisible pink unicorns. There is no religious organization dictating behaviors that either please or displease invisible pink unicorns, so you don’t ever have to feel any guilt. When it rains, you can just believe that the invisible pink unicorns are watering the flowers and it makes you smile. If you don’t want to believe this then you don’t have to – the invisible pink unicorns are never displeased by anything you believe or disbelieve.

Some people ask me, “If invisible pink unicorns don’t care what I believe or disbelieve, then why should I believe in them?” Well the answer, obviously, is because believing in them will bring you comfort. Believing in invisible pink unicorns means never having to feel grief because you can just imagine your deceased loved ones running around playing with the invisible pink unicorns. Some might say that it is unhealthy to avoid dealing with your grief by clinging to belief in invisible pink unicorns but what could possibly be the harm?

There may be a remote chance that I am wrong and invisible pink unicorns don’t actually exist; I must admit this because, to be honest, I have no proof that they exist. Even if they don’t, however, I still get the benefit of spending my days comforted by the thought of them galloping all around me and I never have to deal with grief. Considering this, doesn’t it make sense to believe in invisible pink unicorns regardless of the probability that they might not exist? If they don’t, well then when you die you will just cease to exist and so you won’t feel any disappointment.

It may be argued that some other sort of cute invisible creature exists, but there is nothing about invisible pink unicorns that should dissuade you from believing in other cute invisible creatures as well. Unfortunately, though, sometimes people claim that there are other cute invisible creatures that have something against belief in invisible pink unicorns.

One fellow I met told me about an invisible creature named ‘Martoc’ who wasn’t even cute. He said that Martoc prohibited belief in invisible pink unicorns. This scared the hell out of me because for a few minutes I thought that he had actually heard the voice of Martoc. As it turned out though, Martoc hadn’t actually spoken to the fellow or, for that matter, to anyone else for thousands of years.

Anyway, I asked him how he knew the story of Martoc was anything more than just a story and he showed me a really old book where people had written stories about Martoc. Acknowledging that the book was of ancient origin, I asked him again how he knew the story of Martoc was anything more than just a story. He told me it wasn’t just a story because Martoc was real. I have to admit that I found this all very confusing.

Now I asked this guy a lot of questions and finally decided that Martoc couldn’t possibly exist. It was really troubling to have to think for myself because I usually just like to daydream about invisible pink unicorns. Anyway, there were some great old stories about Martoc but a lot of them were highly improbable. The wildest claim though, was that Martoc specifically tinkered with the earth and the universe just to create paradoxes that contradicted the stories about him. It was all just too convoluted for me to believe, aside from the fact that it also conflicted with my belief in invisible pink unicorns.

The whole episode got me thinking though. I’ve started to think that I should give up on believing in invisible pink unicorns. There might be some value in actually developing the emotional skills that it takes to deal with grief. That very sort of emotional development might even make it easier to see through stories like the one about Martoc. I suppose that when it rains I can still just think that the invisible pink unicorns are watering the flowers. It’s a cute story and it makes me smile, but it’s also sort of childish.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Genesis Rewritten

An essay by - Heather Spoonheim

The book of Genesis paints a picture of a deity that is trivial when compared to the cosmos as we understand it today. If the hand that wrote Genesis had been divinely moved, it would have painted a picture of a deity that made the cosmos look trivial by comparison. Although the author of Genesis couldn’t possibly have comprehended even our knowledge of the cosmos, divine intervention would most certainly have found a way to use ancient language to paint that picture. That being said, here is my imagination of Genesis as it would have been written, and then translated into English, had there been divine guidance.

The Book Of Genesis

All the ages of man are but a moment in the Heavens, and all the ages of the Heavens are but a moment in the Lord. For the Lord hath known countless ages before the Heavens and shall know countless ages after the Heavens, for the ages of the Lord are without number; and all the ages before the Heavens, and all the ages after the Heavens, shall never be known to any man living under the Heavens.

And so it came to pass, after imaginations that can be neither measured nor numbered, that the Lord did imagine the Heavens. And in that thought the Lord numbered the Heavens, so that there might be numbers, and hurled the Heavens outward from his mind in only three directions, so that there might be only three directions, and set measure to these directions, so that there might be a space in which the Heavens might exist. All these things did the Lord do in one thought.

And in the same thought that the Lord did imagine the Heavens, he did imagine and set within them the path of life, so that from the path of life the Lord might perceive the Heavens with wonder. For so it is that the mind of the Lord is without wonder, for all is known in the mind of the Lord. And so it was that the path of life was set in the Heavens so that the Lord might perceive the wonder of the Heavens from within the bounds of the Heavens, for only from within the bounds of the Heavens may they be perceived in wonder. And so it was that the path of life was set forth in the same thought.

And the Earth is but one number in the numbers of the Heavens that the Lord did create. And it came to pass that the path of life crossed the Earth, and the Earth did burst forth with life. And life did flourish on the Earth, and from life did come the first spark of thought. But a spark of thought cannot contain the wonder of the Heavens for the Heavens are a wonder created by the Lord. And so it is that an animal, with a spark of thought, might wonder at that which is under the Heavens yet never know the wonder of the Heavens which the Lord did create.

And so, just as the Lord had imagined the path of life, the path of life imagined man. And man had more than a spark of thought and he did look up into the Heavens. And the thoughts of man were filled with a spark of wonder and the Lord was pleased to know this wonder. And this wonder filled man’s heart with joy as he basked in the glory of the Heavens that the Lord had created. The Lord, being pleased by man’s wonder and joy, set forth a covenant with man that he might know such wonder and joy for all the ages of man.

For a spark of wonder at the Heavens which the Lord did create fills the heart with joy, but fanning the flames of thought can consume that joy. Thus the Lord spake to the heart of man, saying, “This wonder is your gift to me and this joy is my gift to you, do not fan the flames of your thoughts lest they become an inferno that consumes these perfect gifts.” And so the Lord set forth a covenant with man that man might bask in wonder and joy for all his ages.

And so it was that the thoughts of man burned gently and were filled by a spark of wonder that filled his heart with joy. But man began to fan the flames of thought so that he might ignite his spark of wonder and the Lord did not stop him: for to do so would unset the path of life which the Lord had set within the Heavens. And so it was that man’s will was his own and his will was to fan the flames of his thought so that he might ignite the spark of his wonder.

And man’s thoughts became an inferno that consumed the joy in his heart. For as the thoughts of man became an inferno, man ceased being man and became men, each one knowing his days were numbered. And so the covenant that the Lord had set forth with man was broken by man. And so it came to pass that the thoughts of men are an inferno that consumes their joy because each one knows his days to be numbered. And so it is that the first flames of thought ignite a spark of wonder in a child that fills the child’s heart with a joy that can only radiate from the eyes of a child.

And so men began to flee the inferno of their thoughts so that they might escape the sorrow of knowing that their days were numbered. And as the men fled their thoughts they began to extinguish their spark of wonder. But without the spark of wonder their can be no joy. The Lord was pleased by the spark of wonder in men so he revealed another path to escape the heat of the inferno that burned in their thoughts. Thus, the Lord spake to the hearts of men saying, “Do not flee the inferno of your thoughts for you can temper the inferno with knowledge.”

And thus the Lord set forth a covenant with men. And so it was revealed that the inferno that burns in the thoughts of men can be tempered with knowledge. And so it was that thoughts tempered by knowledge did not become an inferno that consumed all joy. And so it came to pass that the warm fire of thoughts that were tempered by knowledge set wonder ablaze. Thusly, the Lord came to experience the blazing wonder of men who tempered there thoughts with knowledge, and it well pleased him.

Although the days of men are numbered, those men who temper their thoughts with knowledge are set ablaze with wonder and are remembered by the Lord, for the Lord set the path of life within the Heavens to experience the wonder of that which he created. Those who flee the inferno of their thoughts extinguish their wonder, never fill their hearts with joy, and are simply forgotten by the Lord. To be remembered by the Lord is to live for all eternity. To be forgotten by the Lord is to live just a number of days in all the ages of man, which are but a moment in all the ages of the Heavens, which are but a moment in the Lord, whose ages are without number.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Who is TamTamPamela?

A report by - Heather Spoonheim

Just in case you have been confused by recent buzz about TamTamPamela and the resulting YouTube flamewars, I thought I would summarize the history here. For the past year, a girl calling herself TamTamPamela has been posting videos to YouTube which echo some extremely fundamentalist Christian views. Several atheists had been adding harsh comments to her channel, but she seemed rather unfazed and continued to upload videos of the same format.

After the March 11th earthquake in Japan, TamTamPamela posted a video in which she rather charismatically thanked god for grabbing the atheist nation of Japan by the shoulders and giving them a good shake to show them the error of their heathen ways. Her glassy eyed joy at the Japanese tragedy sparked greater outrage than her previous videos, grabbing the attention of an atheist YouTube vlogger who goes by the moniker Thunderf00t.

Thunderf00t posted a video that contrasted science based reasoning with fundamentalist Christian unreasoning and compared TamTamPamela’s condemnation of Japan with that of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson’s rants about other natural disasters being directed upon the sinful by a vengeful god. Thunderf00t's subscriber base is in the six digits, and this led to TamTamPamela’s video going viral.

The comments began to stream down TamTamPamela’s page, hurling voracious threats of every kind. The search for the real TamTamPamela began and quickly yielded all of her personal contact information. Some people went as far as to credit the revelation of these details to Anonymous. Regardless of who first dug up her personal information, it rapidly spread and the threats against TamTamPamela began to include her home address and phone number. These actual details will NOT be revealed in this article because such inclusion would only increase the potential of violence against her.

By midnight on March 14th, several dozen pizzas had been ordered for delivery to TamTamPamela’s home address to ensure she would know that her address had been compromised - just in case she wasn’t keeping up with the rapidly scrolling comments on her YouTube channel. Shortly after midnight, in the wee morning hours of March 15th, TamTamPamela posted her final video, ‘coming clean’, which now only exists as a mirror. In it, she said that her fundamentalist Christian videos had been nothing more than a ruse. She admitted to being a troll, indicated she was tired of pizza, and acknowledged that things had gone a bit further than she had anticipated.

The streaming hatred shifted from her video condemning Japanese heathens to her ‘coming clean’ video. The death threats escalated, and within a few hours TamTamPamela terminated her YouTube account. Regardless of the credibility of her recantation, the anger over TamTamPamela now continues on message boards all over the internet.

There are those who hate her for her glassy eyed praise of god bringing death and destruction to the Japanese. There are those who hate her more for being a troll. There are Christians who hate her for satirizing their beliefs and, finally, there are atheists who hate her for the potential backlash her actions could create if it turns out she was motivated by some sort of misguided atheist agenda.

Whether she really was a troll or just made that claim in an attempt to cool the flames, TamTampamela is definitely the best illustration to date of Poe’s Law; "Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of Fundamentalism that SOMEONE won't mistake for the real thing."

Who is TamTamPamela? In my opinion she is what is known, in forum parlance, as a 'Poe'.

Monday, March 14, 2011

God's Bet!

A short story by - Heather Spoonheim

As the oxygen in her blood began running low, Joan Sabbath’s mind began to cloud over. She was surrounded by the familiar, loving faces of people with whom she had so long been unable to communicate. They were her children, grandchildren, and two great grandchildren, but she could no longer be certain who was who. As if to remind her one last time, a stream of images from her life began rushing past. The blur of the images obscured the faces though, and then everything began to fade. Darkness was closing in, but a bright light remained at the center. From the depths of her mind, one abstract memory surfaced and she realized that this was exactly how death had been described to her many times.

The light above her became more focused, revealing the silhouettes of several heads grouped around and staring down at her. Joan searched the depths of her mind for memories of the people she expected to see, but as the faces above her began to come into the light she found them completely unfamiliar. The faces seemed to be laughing and as Joan recognized this she began to hear their laughter.

“Finally!” one of them exclaimed.

“I can’t believe it,” laughed another.

“Sabba, are you with us yet?” one of them inquired.

Still very confused, Joan sat up to the sound of applause. There was a large audience staring at her, and the people around her began helping her to her feet. As they did so, Joan felt something being pulled from her head like a stocking cap. One of the men near her called out to the audience, “Fourteen rounds! Let’s have another round of applause for Sabba!” The audience began to cheer even louder.

“But my name is Joan,” she protested.

The audience burst out into laughter and one of the men laughed, “Oh no, she hasn’t cleared yet. God, can you run the purge again?” An old man with a white beard stepped around from behind Joan and began shining a small light into her pupils. In horror, Joan dropped to her knees and bowed her head to the floor to avoid seeing his face. The man reached down and began to pull her to her feet, saying, “Relax, Sabba, everything is going to be alright.”

Still avoiding eye contact, Joan asked timidly, “Are you God?”

“Yes,” God said, “but it’s not what you think.”

Joan’s head reeled and she begged for an explanation. The old man laughed hysterically and began to explain that Joan’s real name was ‘Sabba’ and she was a contestant on a game show called “God’s Bet!” All of her memories of being ‘Joan Sabbath’ had been interactively induced but were going to be cleared momentarily. Joan was horrified and pulled away from God.

“Please, God, don’t erase me!” she screamed.

The audience gasped; no one had ever woken up with such clear memories before. One man, standing near God was still laughing and, resting his hand on God’s shoulder he quipped, “This is great!” God turned to the man and scolded, “This isn’t funny, Mohammed! Her fear is real.”

“Mohammed?” Joan screamed, “You mean I picked the wrong religion?”

God approached her, speaking slowly, “There is no wrong religion, Sabba. The bet was whether or not you would fall for any of them. You actually made it fourteen rounds before you took the bait.”

“So Jesus isn’t real?” Joan whimpered.

“Yes, Jesus is my son. He works on the show as one of the programmers,” God responded.

“Programmers?” Joan asked, still terribly confused.

“Yes, he writes hypotheticals for the interactive memory inducer, they all do; Jesus, Mohammed, Abraham, Zeus, even that idiot Xenu.”

It was too much for Joan to take and she began to cry, sobbing, “They are ALL real?”

By this time God was close enough to put his hand on Joan’s shoulder and he said, “They are all real here, but none of them are real in your memories. You have been through the simulation fourteen times. There are only a dozen contestants left who made it this far. We really upped the ante this time though, letting all the programs run simultaneously. I guess we went too far.”

The reality of it all began to sink in and Joan’s memories began to fade again. She began feeling a slight inkling of recognition of herself as Sabba. She looked at God and said, “Has anyone beat round fourteen yet?”

God replied, “Just one. His name is Hitch and we’re about to wake him up.”