Thursday, September 13, 2012

The End of This Blog

I took an unscheduled and unplanned 2 weeks off from blogging, and I missed it. It was fun to work on other things and comment more on Facebook, but I think it’s time to start again.

And start again I shall, for I am retiring Anything But Theist. Instead, I will be posting at My Humorous Agenda, a new blog where the primary mission statement is to be funny, not focus on religion or atheism. If the past is anything to go by, within 4 years I’ll barely be posting anything funny there… but I’ll let the future work itself out.

I am also continuing my online fantasy epic, The Several Adventures of Hugh, at a new site dedicated just to that.

Anything But Theist will not die, however. While I will [probably] not be posting on it anymore, it will forever remain as a digital monument to… whatever the hell it is we did here.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Top Ten: Science Fair Topics for Christians

10. The effect of Noah’s Ark on ants (pouring water on an ant farm)
9. Measuring the effects of prayer on sporting events
8. How to identify and categorize demons
7. Which dinosaur saddle design works best?
6. A study of Cathedral and megachurch architecture
5. Working volcano that obliterates model Sodom and Gomorrah
4. How many angels are in any given cubic mile of sky?
3. Can you catch Gay from a toilet seat?
2. Measuring the concentration of virtue in Roman Catholics
1. At what speed are heathens going to hell?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Friday, August 24, 2012

My Serious Opinion of Atheism+

I don’t understand how anyone can have strong feelings one way or another for the so-called “Atheism+” label. Maybe because of the circles I associate with, I see far more hostility than I see support, but there’s clearly broad-sweeping approval of it out there.

I don’t think this is the time to judge it, because what will ultimately decide whether Atheism+ is a fleeting fad or a meaningful movement won’t be determined by the opinions of early critics or the ideals of hopeful pioneers. Time is the true judge, and time does not care about petty squabbling or lofty dreams. Time cares about results.

I think we can all agree Atheism+ will need to actually accomplish something at some point in order for it to be taken seriously. I certainly wouldn’t put a time limit on success, either, because it’s irrelevant whether it works quickly or slowly. As long as there are individuals laboring under the A+ banner, even if it is fruitless for decades, the movement will remain open to the possibility of achieving what it sets out to do.

What I fear is that Atheism+ will go the same path as that of the Occupy Movement. I can’t imagine atheists being pepper sprayed in the streets, but I can picture atheists not being able to focus enough to really do anything. Atheism+ needs tangible goals.

That has been a big problem in the atheist community in general, because a group as small and disunited as ours needs basically every disparate member to be on board in order to make even the slightest impact. A splinter group within atheism, then, needs some very dedicated, charismatic, and damn near heroic figures at its forefront in order to make a dent in this big, crazy world.

It’s not outside the realm of possibility. The founder of American Atheists, Madalyn Murray O’Hare, helped organize one of the first major political pushes for atheists by fighting school prayer and compulsory Bible education in public schools. It may just be a matter of picking an issue that is winnable for Atheism+, and just going for it.

But if Atheism+ is just a reaction to atheism itself, I can predict with near certainty that it will fail. Unless Atheism+ formulates goals for achievement within the broader world, any efforts to simply function as a critique on other atheists will only serve to poison the well and divide an already weak and under-represented group.

Atheism+ was formed consciously with the idea of “waves” of feminism in mind. What many feminists don’t realize, to their own peril, is that the wave-model of ideological development effectively split feminists by the start of the third wave in the 80s, resulting in stunted success for feminists in the last 30 years. It is only now, with the clear and common enemy of the Republican War on Women, that feminists are poised to make a major leap forward in legislative progress.

I don’t think atheists have 30 years of stagnation and in-fighting to look forward to, though who knows? I’m more optimistic, and I think that after the dust clears that most atheists will remember: we’re all on the same team.

Why Religious People Do What They Do

Years of talking to so many different kinds of people over the years has taught me something simple: people do things for the same reason, no matter what their background, personal affiliations, or personal choices.

The only thing open for debate is what “right” is.

Sometimes, what we choose to do is “right” at the moment we make the choice, but we regret it later. Hopefully, we learn from that and we don’t repeat that mistake. Often, we make the same mistake over and over. But the fact remains, we either do it because we believe it’s right, because it feels right… or because we want it right now.

Even with all the Bible quoting, the majority of religious people do what they do regardless of what the Bible says. You find in the Bible what you are looking for, so if you go in looking to hate a particular group, you’ll either find that exact group or some analogous one. If you go in looking for reasons to love others, even when they hurt us, you won’t have much trouble finding that, either.

People don’t read the Bible to learn what it says about how to live, they learn how to live with what the Bible says. The decisions someone makes are weighed in a much more complex manner than simply, “What would Jesus do?” There are circumstances, and sometimes people make decisions you wouldn’t expect, even decisions they themselves wouldn’t expect.

Everyone is a moral person before the shit hits the fan. All the religion, ethics, morality, politics, and introspection in the world is insufficient for preparing anyone for being able to predict how they will act in many situations, particularly in the most dire or extreme circumstances.

The choices anyone makes are bound to haunt a person. Maybe this is why forgiveness and atonement rituals are so common in religions, to help people relieve themselves of crushing guilt and embarrassment, from life’s little foibles to deadly errors.

How do I know religious people are using their own judgment, not following some sort of elaborate mental programming regimen? Well, for one thing, religious people within the same religion exhibit a broad range of stated views and visible actions. Then you have the fact that most religious people aren’t very good at interpreting their own religion, let alone following a religion’s impossible and often contradictory standards.

There is no religious person who only acts according to their religion because there is no perfect follower. Maybe this bothers some religious people, but I doubt it. Most believers don’t think of themselves as perfect, but as flawed people little different from others. And it should be easy for most non-believers to see, because we can spot religious hypocrisy like sharks can detect a drop of blood in the water from miles away.

I say this, then, not for the benefit of religious people. I doubt I’ve said anything they haven’t known already. Rather, I say this to atheists who may find it useful to keep this in mind when making broad, sweeping generalizations that don’t apply – or help.

Religious people have done some amazing things that had nothing to do with, or even went against, their religion. As we move into the future, it’s inevitable that some believers will continue to help in the effort for progress, so there’s no sense in alienating any religious allies in the context of larger issues.

There are theists on board with many important issues for atheists. Gay rights, racial equality, economic opportunity, access to healthcare, closing the gender gap, even fighting religious extremism.

It’s inevitable that atheists will say things that ruffle the feathers of theists, because atheists are rejecting and often ridiculing that which is seen as sacred by theists. But, as a minority group, non-believers must learn to work with believers, because we cannot accomplish anything alone. Thankfully, we don’t have to.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Several Adventures of Hugh, Part 20

The dwarf was sent off to the market to get something to eat while the giant worked the bellows and Hugh tried to work the Vulcan steel. It wasn’t particularly heavy, but after Hugh was positive that he had heated it up as much as he possibly could, it was still as solid as cold steel. He hammered it harder and harder, until he split the handle of the hammer.

He held it up before a shocked looking giant, wiggling it about on the last wood fibers still holding it together broke and the head clanked on the ground. The giant started laughing.

“What’s unfortune,” said Hugh, “Is that I might have the strength to work it… if I had a set of tools already made of the same material.” He pointed to a small dent he made.

“I wonder how they got this stuff in the first place,” said the giant.

“Generally, you get iron by heating soil that is rich in iron, then you usually have to work it a bit to get it to the point where it’s steel. Or, it can be mined from rock… but not in a huge slag like this.”

“Can we get the furnace any hotter?”

Hugh looked at it. “I can modify the forge to make it more efficient, and we would get a lot more heat if we had additional or bigger bellows… I guess that’s what we need to do, is have both you and your brother on the bellows.” Hugh shook his head. “I don’t even know if this will make a good weapon. It’s so hard, I bet when I hammer it out, it will be brittle and have no bend.”

“So make it thick,” said the giant. “He said don’t make only one weapon with this. You could make two big weapons from this.”

Hugh shook his head. “Three, at least, probably with a bit left over, maybe enough for a dagger… I’m thinking a sword, a mace and an axe. Then I guess the dagger, if we have enough left after the axe.”

“You have it all planned out,” said the giant, “Except for the part where we actually work the metal.”

“I have that figured out, too,” Hugh said. “If we have to, we’ll just keep adding people on additional bellows.”

“At some point,” said the giant, “There won’t be any room for more, and what then?”

“We’ll have to build a bigger furnace,” Hugh said, smiling.

“You’ve got it all figured out,” she said, grinning as she shook her head.

The dwarf came back with several small fish, as well as three star shaped fruits. After they were done eating, they set about making two large bellows. They finished around sundown, and decided to give it a try in the workshop’s furnace before retiring for the night.

Even with both the giant and dwarf, it was not enough. Everyone got sweaty, and the fire got white hot, but still the Vulcan steel remained unworkable. Before Hugh could break another hammer, he decided to call it a day.

The next morning they went about creating a furnace over twice as large. The first step was securing a space. They had Henry send a request to Walker, who immediately granted them a small tract along the Lys river on the outskirts of the city. When they got there, Hugh noted a strange contraption attached to the side of the building across from their lot. It was a large, wooden wheel that spun with the current.

They decided the best thing to do was just build the forge out in the open. It had seemed silly to Hugh that the other workshop was indoors. They went back to the barracks and began firing bricks. They loaded a wheelbarrow, and then the dwarf slowly brought it to the site. When he returned, he loaded the newly completed bricks and made another trip. This continued until the dwarf said they had enough.

They then brought shovels and plenty of wood with them to the new site, and when they arrived they began building the furnace. It would be only slightly larger than the one they had built at home on their island. When it was complete, they began to stoke a massive fire with fresh wood to coat the inside of the furnace with ash and tar, helping to seal it. By the time they began digging a pit to make charcoal, the sun was starting to go down. They abandoned work on it, deciding they didn’t have enough wood anyway.

The next morning they returned, dug a shallow but large pit, and filled it with all the wood they had. They went to get more, and ended up making two more trips. They covered it with the dirt they had excavated and sod they cut from the ground, creating a large mound of dirt-covered wood. They left a hole in the middle open, where they poured lantern fuel, then lit it. Once they knew it was burning, they covered the hole with a large piece of sod.

The dwarf was on mound watch first, as any breaks in the dirt that showed fire had to be quickly covered with dirt again. The giant prepared the forge while Hugh went to fetch an anvil, tools, and some iron and steel. He decided he would make a set of tools in the new forge while he waited for the charcoal.

Hugh crafted several hammers, swages, fullers, a few different sized punches, a couple broaches, some chisels, a handful of auger bits, and a chopping axe for felling trees, as he could see woods off in the distance that were actually closer than the walk back to the workshop.

As the axe head was cooling, the sun began to go down. The giant and dwarf brought the axe head to the workshop to affix a haft, while Hugh stayed to watch the clamp. The giant promised to come relieve him later that night.

Hugh sat in the grass watching the sun setting over the city. The moon was barely a sliver in the sky. The rushing sound of the river was enough to make Hugh want to close his eyes and fall asleep… so he got up and walked around the clamp, looking for any spots where the dirt had fallen through or rolled away.

“Hey!” someone shouted. It was distant, from across the river. Hugh squinted in the twilight and saw a woman waving at him. “How are you?” she yelled.

“I’m fine, how are you?” replied Hugh.

“What?” she yelled.

“I’m fine, how are you?” hollered Hugh.

“Great, now that I have a new neighbor!” she said. She went inside her house, the one with the strange wheel in the water, and came back with a bow and arrow. “Here, take hold on this,” she shouted, then shot an arrow across the river some ways away from Hugh. It landed with a thud. The arrow had a metal weight on the end of it, and was trailed by a rope. “Tie it off on that tree stump, I want to cross over.”

Hugh tied the rope to the stump while the women dragged a small boat into the shore, which she carefully set in the rushing waters. Using the rope, she pulled herself and the boat across, debarking and pulling the boat up onto shore when she got to Hugh’s side. “Sorry,” she said, “All the bridges have been knocked out for miles.” She pointed to a stone structure further up stream, and Hugh saw another just like it on the other shore.

“I’m Hugh.”

“My name’s Theora,” she said. “What are you building over here?”

“A forge,” said Hugh. “And over there we’re making charcoal.”

“What’s charcoal?”

“It’s wood that has been burned in the absence of air,” said Hugh. “When it’s ready, it will burn much hotter than a wood furnace.”

Theora nodded. “Interesting. So you’re a blacksmith?”

Hugh nodded.

“What do you make?”

“Pretty much anything,” said Hugh.

“I’m glad you’re here, then,” she said. “I have all sorts of things that could use forging. I’m sick of changing the shaft on my water wheel, which is wood and breaks every few weeks or so.”

“Is that what that is?” Hugh asked, pointing to the large wheel.

Theora nodded. “I use it to turn a few large vats which I put gemstones into. The vats spin as the wheel spins, which causes the stones to rub against each other. I also pour in some abrasive materials like sand or little bits of marble. The constant rubbing causes the gems to become smooth, like river rocks. I call it ‘an infinite stream,’ and I end up with several pounds of shiny, lustrous gems every month or so.”

Hugh nodded. “Clever. I’m sure I could forge an iron axle for that. Just give me a length and diameter measurement.”

“How much will it cost?” asked Theora.

“Don’t worry about it. I can get the iron I need from Walker and have it forged tomorrow. The charcoal will take a few more days, anyway, so I have nothing to do while we just wait.”

Theora’s eyes went wide. “Thank you! That’s very generous of you… though if you know Chancellor Edward enough to still call him ‘Walker,’ I guess that’s hardly much of an imposition.”

“You don’t know me?” asked Hugh. He had gotten used to people staring at him and whispering knowingly as he passed.

“Sorry, I don’t get out much,” she said. “I’m what you might call a bit bookish. Should I know you?”

“No,” said Hugh. “I would prefer this was how you first heard of me.” He smiled.

“Well, it’s a pleasure to meet you Hugh,” she said, walking back to her boat. “Would you like to come over for some tea?”

“I would love to,” said Hugh, “But I can’t. I’m watching the charcoal to make sure it stays covered in dirt. I will be relieved of my watch later tonight, but I fear you might well be asleep by then.”

“No need to worry there,” said Theora. “I don’t sleep well. Just come on over whenever you can, day or night. Odds are good I’ll be awake, probably reading. Just give one single knock at the door and I’ll know it’s you.” With that, she boarded her boat and pulled herself back across the river. On the other side, she shouted, “Better untie the rope so any ships that pass by don’t snap it.”

Hugh untied it and she pulled it back over to her side.

Hugh inspected the clamp again, adding more dirt to some areas that seemed thin to him. Late in the night, the giant came to relieve him. He walked into the waters of the river.

“Where are you going?” asked the giant.

“The woman across the river invited me over tonight,” Hugh said.

The giant shook her head. “Scandalous, Hugh, scandalous.”

“Just watch the clamp,” said Hugh, before diving beneath the water. He swam effortlessly to the other side through the current. When he got to the far shore, he removed him cloak and wrung it as dry as he could. He came to the door, knocked, and heard rustling inside.

“Hugh!” she said, looking him up and down. “You’re soaked to the bone! Come in, sit by the fire.”

They stayed up talking in front of the hearth. Theora had inherited the house from her father, who was a foreman for a company of lumberjacks. He had built the home himself. Theora’s mom died in child birth, and she was raised mostly by her uncle, who was a retired magician. She never took to magic, but she did see the value in harness nature without spooky words, fancy hand gestures, or sacred runes.

“Yet, it’s all I know,” she said. “These gems I make will be inscribed with spells and curses, or made into charms. I also make lead tablets, which people inscribe with the name of the one they hope will fall in love with them, or else the name of a charioteer they hope will win… or lose.”

“Do you think they work?” asked Hugh.

“I find that magic tends to favor the faster horse,” said Theora.

Hugh smiled and nodded.

“What about you?” asked Theora. “Who were your parents?”

“My mother was a water nymph, and my father was a cyclops. People say I look like my father but act like my mother, which I suppose makes sense, since she stuck around to raise me.”

“What brings you to Polity?”

“It’s a long story,” said Hugh. “Suffice to say, I didn’t really intend to be here. It just sort of happened.”

“You don’t miss your home?”

“Sometimes,” said Hugh. “But me, the giant and the dwarf are the only ones living on our island. I imagine some traders might wonder where we are, but they’ll just pass on through.”

“I wish I could do that,” said Theora, “But I’m not suited for independent living.”

“You seem to take care of yourself,” Hugh said, looking around her house, which had strange objects strewn across every surface, including on top of piles of books and tablets.

“I rely on the city,” said Theora. “If I went off to live by myself, even if I found a place safe enough, I wouldn’t be able to make my own food, let alone build a home.”

“It’s not that hard,” said Hugh. “You learn quickly when you’re forced to do something.”

“I hope I’m never forced to give up this life,” she said. “I make a very comfortable living doing very little work, and I get to spend my time on my own projects, like this.” She stood and picked up a strange looking object that looked like a bow with a large box running across the middle. “I made this to shoot the arrow across the river, though I’m still working on getting it to work well. I bet metal parts would help.”

She handed it to Hugh and he looked at it a bit. He noticed a little peg, which moved.

“Come on,” she said, going outside. Hugh followed her. She took the contraption, pushed something, stuck her foot in a loop at the end, and pulled up. She handed it to Hugh. He gripped it in his hand awkwardly, and she pointed to the movable peg. He fidgeted with it, and when he moved it, the string on the cocked bow released. It shocked Hugh a bit.

“That’s nothing.” Theora went back inside, brought back an arrow attached to a long length of looped rope. The arrow was very short and appeared to be made of metal. She took the contraption, loaded the ammunition, and aimed it over the giant. “Incoming!”

In just a few moments, the whole length of rope was out and pulled taut, the other end held tightly in her hand. The giant looked at the rope as it hit the ground near her.

“It can go twice this far, probably farther,” she said.

“You’ll have to show me how this works,” said Hugh. “I could definitely make you metal parts for this.”

They went back inside and Hugh looked at all her things, as she explained them. He learned about wooden puzzle boxes, which have a trick to opening them. He saw dozens of wooden, bone, horn, clay, and reed instruments. She played a few to show how each sounded, and Hugh took a crack at using a bamboo flute, to squeaky results. He inspected piles of glistening gems. In the candle light, their surfaces glimmered.

“I need to get going,” said Hugh. “I need some sleep. I’m sure I’ll be back tomorrow.”

As Hugh lay in bed that night, he had trouble falling asleep. His mind was racing.

To be continued…

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A+? What Next? Oh, I Know...

Since we atheists are apparently adding symbols to the end of the letter “A” to signify what kind of atheist we are now, here are some suggestions:

A$$: for those who see the profit potential in Atheism; it’s atheism dollar dollar bills, y’all. In gold we trust.

AK: for those atheists who like to not only pack heat, but also demand the sort of firepower usually reserved for frontline soldiers


A*: for atheists who aren’t really atheists; perfect for those who believe in “spirituality” or just love going to church, even though they know there’s no god

A&W: for atheists who like their root beer in a frosty mug

A++: for people who want to be even snootier than those at FTB

Am: for young atheists (get it… it’s a music pun on “A minor”)

AP: for young atheists who are taking college classes in high school

Ah-ha: for atheists who just realized that they don’t believe in gods

A-: for atheists who don’t think things are going to get any better

A™: a wholly owned subsidiary of Godless Inc.

A?: for people somewhere between atheism and agnosticism

A∑: for talking about all atheists as a whole, added together

A1: for atheists who enjoy steak

A. : for those who are just an atheist, period

Specious Etymology: Douche

Calling someone a “douche” derives from the term “deus,” which is a Zoroastrian term for “god.” Because Zoroastrianism has two gods, the name “deuce” was given to the “two” in a deck of playing cards by the Romans, who actually named all of the cards (the Jack, for example, retained his name). Roman soldiers in the field loved to play cards to pass the time, but they had to stay quiet so as not to alert the enemy to their presence. So, when one of them had to go off and relieve themselves, they couldn’t just announce it, so they would raise one finger as they left to indicate they were just going to urinate, while they would raise two fingers if they were going to defecate (thus giving rise to the terminology for “going #1/#2”).

So, in essence, calling someone a douche is calling them a shit. And that’s completely not true.
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