Penn & Teller, vaccines, and the reason for language

Penn & Teller’s show “Bullshit” is as good as it gets on TV these days, amidst an ocean of worthless, cookie-cutter “reality” tv shows and equally repetitive “who’s going to be the next star” type shows.

They’ve taken on many topics including pseudo-scientific ideas, paranormal beliefs, and popular fads and provided their flavor of debunking to each one.
In their 8th season finale, their latest episode, the duo tackles the dangerous Jenny McCarthy and her groupies of anti-vaxers with the truth about vaccines.

Now, I posted a little while ago about Mormons and rated-R movies and how stupid the whole thing is.
My argument then was related to how the church uses an almost random, third-party SECULAR set of standards to dictate what the sheep should avoid in the privacy of their own homes or at the nearest theater.

My other argument against all this unnecessary censoring is that “bad words” are just as part of our language as any other word, and thus a very important way of conveying a message; yes, even if that message is one of anger or distaste or hate or anything else.

Take Penn’s closing argument in this clip:

“So even if vaccination DID cause autism, WHICH IT FUCKING DOESN’T, anti-vaccination would still be bullshit!”

While the word “fuck” can be used in many ways as a direct insult towards someone (I do not condone insulting people, whether you use a curse word or not), the word “fucking” in this case was utterly necessary to convey Penn’s disgust with the idea that vaccines cause autism and those who believe such nonsense. Sure, he could have used a different word, perhaps, or reworded the entire thing to avoid cursing, but the message would’ve lost its poignant delivery and maybe failed to highlight the stupidity around the whole anti-vaxer “movement.”

It’s the difference between insulting someone with a curse word and simply being insulted by the existence of such word.

Take these two phrases as examples:

You are a fucking asshole!


I fucking hate that asshole (when used towards Glenn Beck)!

It is clear that both phrases use the same curse words, but in very different contexts it is also clear to see that the first phrase is very insulting, while the other is only stating a truthful and accurate observation.

Why I deny Joseph Smith’s Claims

Joseph Smith

Living With Mormons has reached 50 posts!!!
To celebrate, I would like to share with you some of my thoughts on one of the most motivating drivers behind my apostasy and eventual rejection of all religions: the rejection of Joseph Smith’s supernatural claims.

As I’ve stated here before, I was not born nor raised LDS. Although I joined the church at a young age (15) for mostly social reasons, I revisited my beliefs at a later time and can honestly say I really believed (and wanted to believe) the history and doctrine of the church. I became interested early on in its doctrines and eagerly wanted to teach the youth in the church. I was in Scouting and taught Primary. I did firesides and youth conferences and was generally involved in everything good the church had to offer.

Needless to say, the more I learned about the history of the church and its doctrines, the more I started to see the ugly side of it all. Between the obvious dealings with polygamy and racial discrimination to more involved topics such as Smith’s past, the Book of Abraham Papyri, or the Mountain Meadows Massacre ,I found myself truly disenchanted with the responses to such issues provided to me by the church. I became more and more confused about the church to which I belonged.

But my doubts really all started with ol’ Joe, however, so I’ll dedicate my post to him and his genius in conning the folks in this great land. The man is indeed amazing if he foresaw a fraction of the empire he helped build.

So, without further ado, here are 4 reasons why I deny Joseph Smith’s claims:

1) There’s no reliable evidence
“The weight of evidence for an extraordinary claim must be proportioned to its strangeness” said Simon Laplace, which the great Carl Sagan reworded later on as “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”
I contend that, in this day and age, at least in most developed countries, Smith’s claims of visions and magical tools would be highly scrutinized and eventually deemed ludicrous and borderline schizophrenic by most (unfortunately there are still plenty gullible people who still believe in enough woo to give credence to such tales). I would hope to believe they would not survive or, at best, it would exist a la Scientology, which is today a laughing stock among anyone seriously considering a theology.

2) His dirty past
From an early age, Smith and his family were actively involved in folk magic and claims of mystical visions which they said were from god. They also practiced treasure hunting via seer stones to augment their income. He was eventually arrested in one of his treasure quests and eventually forfeited his business, double crossing his partners in the process. Smith himself tells of his first vision at age 15, in which god told him his sins were forgiven and no church existed that was true. His wife’s parents never approved of their marriage and his dealing in polygamy were mostly kept secret from her. This portrayal of a young man highly influenced by religion is not unlike the youth of today involved in organizations such as Christ Triumphant Church and others around the country.

Joseph Smith's Past

3) It’s the same old story
Smith was definitely not the only one to have ever created a following or started a new religion, and especially during the early 19th Century’s Second Great Awakening, which led to the beginnings of many new denominations and gave upstate New York the nickname of “Burned-over district,” giving rise to Adventism, Restorationism, the LDS church, and the Holiness movement, among others.

4) The bottom line
“Is it more probable that nature should go out of her course, or that a man should tell a lie? We have never seen, in our time, nature go out of her course, but we have good reason to believe that millions of lies have been told in the same time; it is therefore at least millions to one, that the reporter of a miracle tells a lie.” – Thomas Paine.
A friend of mine was telling me the story of a co-worker who one day said he had a vision from god and that god had spoken to him. This man took to write down the message on pieces of paper and placed one on each person’s desk. He was called into his boss’ office and told that the workplace was no place to disseminate religious claims. The co-worker repeated the offense and was fired. I’m willing to believe no one in the company thought they had just got rid of a true prophet of a god, but a zealous (or maybe even crazy), religious person. The bottom line is, if Joseph Smith wasn’t outright lying and swindling the people around him, he was just truly delusional.

For a complete, unbiased account of Joseph Smith’s history, check out Fawn Brodie’s No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith.

(post context borrowed respectfully from “Unreasonable Faith.”)

Utah’s Memorial Crosses Unconstitutional – Thank God!

The quote from Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff sums up this issue very nicely

“When someone driving sees that white cross, what goes through their mind? Someone died here, and not Jesus Christ.”

And indeed Jesus Christ is exactly of whom most people think when they see a cross, especially in the context of a memorial or funeral.

Man, that's a huge cross!

A three-judge panel in Denver’s 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals have agreed to exactly that and found the 14, 12-foot-high, crosses erected to honor fallen State Highway Patrol Troopers to be a violation of the US Constitution.

The word “cross” alone was introduced into Old English specifically to describe the torture device Catholics wear around their necks today and it’s been used and reused in many variations throughout Christianity and other religions.

Robert Kirby of the Tribune, who was originally involved in erecting the crosses, has this to say about the affects of religion in this country

“Historically, the things that have torn hardest at the fabric of America — slavery, anti-suffrage, bigotry, war, fluoridation — were not driven by atheists. Quite the other way round, actually”

It’s always refreshing to see religious people acknowledging the destructive and discriminatory side of their own religion.

America and Freedom of Religion when it suits you

I’ve been meaning to post this clip for a little while now, but life with a newborn sure is hectic.

Enjoy it, nonetheless. Jon Stewart nails it again.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Municipal Land-Use Hearing Update
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party

Really, the hypocrisy is overflowing with the religious right, in this country. The people screaming against this building are the same people complaining about “taking god out schools” and the such.

Religion endorses animal killings

A rhinoceros lies dead after being killed at Krugersdorp Nature Reserve outside Johannesburg

Poachers have allegedly killed the last adult rhino at the Krugersdorp Animal Reserve, in South Africa, by cutting off her horn and leaving her to bleed to death.

The horn trade in China and Vietnam has increased the killings of these beautiful animals in the last 40 years, accounting for the slaughter of 90% of the world’s rhinos.

The demand, in turn, is driven by the woo spouted by Traditional Medicine and rich people who believe in that sort of nonsense.

So why do I say religion endorses animal killings?  Because the same evidence-free mentality pervasive in the dangerous world of non-medicine is also what drives religious beliefs.

Not only these idiots believe finger nail shavings (basically what these horns are equivalent to) can give them boners or grow hair, they also ignore evidence to the contrary and the killings continue.

So sleep soundly tonight, Christians, in your anti-abortion veil of morality.  Your continued insistence that we let your baseless views go unchallenged give weight to plenty of other destructive ideas such as this one.

How to hold a chopstick

I came across this article lately on a forum.  I really didn’t know there were many ways of holding a chopstick. Really. I always thought you either could use one or couldn’t.  I figured my chopstick skills have always been pretty good. I worked at a Chinese restaurant for 3 years in my teens and got to practice every day and learn from the pro’s.  One thing we miss when learning other culture’s habits is the context.  Such things as the do’s and don’t’s of those habits.  Things like not sticking your chopstick into the rice to rest your hands (I do that all the time) is considered rude or bad luck. This guy goes into pretty good detail on how to hold it, spacing in your hand, how high up the stick to place your fingers, etc.  So check out the video and improve your chopstick skills and quit looking like a rookie at your favorite Chinese/Japanese restaurant.

The Periodic Table of Irrational Nonsense

Period Table of Nonsense

Oh, the hypocrisy!!!

It’s Independence Day and Councilwoman Stephanie Miller has invited pastor Maria Montalvo of the Church of God Ebenezer, Hyrum’s only Spanish-speaking congregation, to give the closing of the two prayers that surround the city’s 4th of July’s celebration every year.

I know what you’re thinking right now, if you have any ounce of common sense. The city’s council is joining much of the country in perpetuating the unconstitutional habit of injecting religion into government-sponsored events by offering opening and closing prayers during this celebration.

But, of course, this is not at all what the fine citizens of Hyrum are up in arms about.
Oh, no sir, they’re angry alright, but only because pastor Montalvo offered the prayer in Spanish. The prayer was translated at the same time as she gave it and all seemed fine until emails started pouring into councilwoman Miller’s in-box, screaming of the horrific, unpatriotic actions taken by the city council when they allowed this calamity to occur.

“If I had my way, I would have the city council members impeached and sent to Mexico. If they don’t like America enough to have a prayer in English, then they hadn’t ought to live here.” -World War II veteran LaVon Hansen

It seems like most of the people in Hyrum feel just as warm and fuzzy as grandpa above.

After apologizing to the public, councilwoman Miller reassures us that the prayers won’t stop, but they’ll be always given in English from now on. I’m extremely surprised these bigoted assholes aren’t waving their red and white at the fact that the pastor was a woman! God would never approve!!!

I wish I had a better way to express my feelings about this mess, but I don’t, so screw you, Mr. Hansen, and screw you, too, Councilwoman Miller along with all the people in Hyrum. Yes, all of them; for not standing up for our Constitution during Independence Day and for condemning the work of our Founding Fathers, work done cautiously to keep this nation’s government from sponsoring any one religion yet protecting these hateful people’s astonishingly stupid beliefs.

And for those of you who believe, like Miller, that “We’re not forcing anybody to participate that doesn’t want to” in response to the few sensible complaints about prayers being offered at all during public events, screw you, too. You wouldn’t be protecting anybody’s “right” to pray in a public forum if they weren’t praying to your white, blue-eyed flavor of a god.

Rational Thinking for Children

Hi everybody,

After a long hiatus filled with perilous adventures, I’m back again. My wife and I just welcomed our third child into our little corner of the universe; he’s also a boy (I have three boys now), so I have been very busy consoling her every time she hears a burp or a toot at the dinner table.

With all these kids around and growing, our life in Mormon country is becoming a lot more dynamic in dealing with the church. My kids are still attending with mom once every other week (which they hate, by the way) and occasionally topics such as baptism and baby blessings come up directed at both them and me.

In order to keep my sanity and have a clear mind in addressing these issues with my family, I’ve taken up to searching for external resources and none other than Dale McGowan et al’s Raising Freethinkers: A Practical Guide for Parenting Beyond Beliefhas come to my aid lately.

This book is a MUST-HAVE for rational parents of all walks; it is filled with practical advice and resources for instilling a sense of wonder, discovery, curiosity, moral and ethical behavior in your children.
The authors also make a clear distinction between respecting people versus their beliefs and promote rational thinking and analysis for all facets of life. You will learn ways to teach your children how to use the tools of a scientific mind to analyze problems they may face in their lives while learning that there are no questions which cannot be asked.

The book also covers ways of explaining tough scientific concepts such as evolution or the size of the universe by using analogies and simple experiments, some of which are born right out of Camp Quest’s activities.

Raising Freethinkers

Raising Freethinkers

Whom to Thank

I was recently pointed to this story on ESPN The Magazine about a high school football team whose fans agreed to give the opposing team their own cheer section during the game. The rival team was a Gainesville, Texas team made of high-security correctional facility teenagers who went from city to city to play football.

Gainesville has a lot of kids with convictions for drugs, assault and robbery—many of whose families had disowned them

The person who linked to this story was discussing the effects of prayer along with action, and how this beautiful story highlighted its positive results.

The story goes on to describe Gainesville’s loss as the expected result after a long season without any wins however highlighted by a feeling of victory by its players from the experience they just received, of acceptance and camaraderie.

But there are several messages within this story which, to me, brings out many issues; issues revolved around the players’ beliefs, motivation, and integrity.

Let’s start off with the most obvious one, from this quote:

After the game, both teams gathered in the middle of the field to pray and that’s when Isaiah surprised everybody by asking to lead. “We had no idea what the kid was going to say,” remembers Coach Hogan. But Isaiah said this: “Lord, I don’t know how this happened, so I don’t know how to say thank You, but I never would’ve known there was so many people in the world that cared about us.”

I would hope Isaiah’s first instinct would be to thank the people who organized this, then the ones who participated in it, then the coach, the rival team, so on and so forth. Religion, in this case (and in many cases like this), steals the show, so to speak. It’s fair to speculate that many people donated a significant amount of time and effort to pull that whole thing off and they should be first and foremost in line to receive gratitude.
I see this over and over again from people who undergo amazing recoveries, thanking a deity before they thank the doctor who spent years studying and researching in order to perform a successful surgery or line of treatment.
If God was the motivation for such a good deed, then of course, thanks are due to him; but was he?

Would you rather your children help around the house because you make them do it or because they truly understand their role in the family and are sincerely pleased to contribute for the sole sake of their kindness? Were the fans from Faith (the home team) motivated by God, if one would argue, truly altruistic, more so than the ones who decided to do good that day for the sake of seeing a smile on another man’s face? Is gratitude due to a person whose actions are based on promises of salvation and fear from condemnation or to a person who built their character on a foundation of integrity and naturalistic empathy?

I will not speculate on each person’s motivation in this anecdote and I am inclined to think that most of those people were acting out of goodness sake, which is innate, when they gave those players this beautiful present. But this gift so nicely wrapped in the religious bag-o-goodies doesn’t come without extras:

As the Tornadoes walked back to their bus under guard, they each were handed a bag for the ride home—a burger, some fries, a soda, some candy, a Bible and an encouraging letter from a Faith player.

Ah, the ever-so-completing gift that keeps on giving: The Bible.

The last time I visited a friend at a hospital, I brought him doughnuts, some magazines, and new razors. I also gave him my business card… you know, just in case he needed some web sites done while he was nearing his death.
What an underhanded slap in the face that must feel like for someone with an ounce of reasoning in their brains.

Religion is used over and over again as a cloak for kindness and altruism, but it represents exactly the opposite. Its proponents are quick to explore emotionally charged experiences in order to sell their despicable pamphlets. It is a conduit for false pretense and condescension.
I would be a million times more grateful to one of those parents and students if they had come up to me after the game and said: “My only motivation to coming here tonight was to hopefully show you that there are genuinely good people out here who will give you another chance, without expecting anything in return.”

Most of these boys will fail to recognize the underlying hubris in the faithful’s actions, but I’ve seen it way too many times to not consider it present here. I believe all those involved could potentially act out of genuine care for those young men, but religion will do its best to obscure their natural motivations and present it within its shiny coat of arrogance.