Sunday, May 13, 2007

Top ten religious idiots #1

In the spirit of Democratic Underground's Top Ten Conservative Idiots, I'm starting a new feature: The top ten religious idiots. I'll be adding and ranking stories to this post as I find them; when I get to ten I'll start a new post.

If you have any stories of religious idiots, comment on this thread or email me at lrhamelin (at) gmail (dot) com. To be fair, if any nontheists do something amusingly or egregiously idiotic on the basis of their nontheism, I'll include them here.

Update: Thanks to potentilla, we have our first ten religious idiots!

  1. Andhra Pradesh villagers: Villagers burned an elderly couple alive for allegedly practicing "black magic".
    (Reuters India; h/t to Fark; 7 May 07)

  2. Nigerian Muslim Students: Students at Government Secondary School of Gandu, Nigeria, murdered a Christian teacher because she touched a bag containing a Koran.
    (Compass Direct News; h/t to anticant's arena; 6 May 07)

  3. The editors of L'Osservatore Romano: An editorial in the official Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, called public criticism of the Pope "terrorism".
    (; Thanks, Brian!; 6 May 07)

  4. Managers of Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre: Haggling over the toilets in Christianity's most sacred church
    (News of the Weird; 6 May 07)

  5. NEW! The editors of the Hezbollah newspaper: The editors accused Iranian president Ahmadinejad of "indecency" for kissing the gloved hand of his former schoolteacher for Iranian Teachers' Day.
    (TimesOnline; thanks potentilla!; 13 May 07)

  6. Good News Independent Baptist Church: This North Carolina church put up a sign that reads on one side, "[T]he message of 'Islam' is submit, convert or die." The other side reads, "When is the last time you heard of a Jew or Christian with a bomb strapped to their body?" And when was the last time you heard of an atheist murdering an Ob/Gyn?
    (; h/t to Fark; 12 May 07)

  7. Austin "Jack" DeCoster: According to, DeCoster fired Cacy Cantwell because of Cantwell's atheism, and then lied about the reason for his firing.
    (h/t to Fark; 6 May 07)

  8. Don Larsen: Larson, a Utah County Republican delegate, introduced a resolution blaming Satan for illegal immigration.
    (Salt Lake Tribune; Thanks Brian!; 7 May 07)

  9. Michelle Incanno (or Starbucks?): Incanno became outraged when she read a quotation on her Starbucks coffee cup, which was critical of religious belief. [see comments]
    (Dayton Daily News; h/t to Fark; 7 May 07)

  10. Mic-happy John Doe: "The white zone is for loading and unloading only. If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death." An unidentified person at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport gained access to the public address system and broadcast Leviticus 20:13 multiple times. Authorities are investigating.
    (Orlando Sentinel, h/t to Fark; 6 May 07)

This list: Religion 10, Nontheism 0


  1. The Pope himself:

    Vatican calls verbal attack on Pope ‘terrorism'

    Of course, we are now obliged to expand the "war on terror" to include comedians.


  2. I'm not sure regarding the Michelle Incanno story about who precisely is being an idiot.

    I must confess that I would be irritated to have some religious saying printed on my coffee cup. On the other hand, if I knew that Starbucks were at least printing both points of view, I'd be considerably appeased.

    On the gripping hand, even as a staunch secularist, I wouldn't make a giant stink in the media either way. Perhaps the real idiot is the Dayton Daily News for writing a story on one person's coffee choice.

    The article doesn't say, but I'm dubious that Incanno has considered the deep philosophical and political implications of the situation.

    In any event, I doubt that Starbucks has any interest in "promoting conversation" per se. They have precisely one interest: Selling more coffee. At least this article has given them some free publicity.

  3. Another:

    Satan behind illegal immigration, Utah County Republican claims


  4. Yeah, I think that Utah County Republican meeting takes the cookie.

  5. Well this all sounds like more secular moralism. Ultimately, given ethical subjectivism, even Mormonism might be intepreted as a type of economic and biological strategy. Mormons, Fundies, catholics, muslims, etc do what they can to advance their own interests; secularists use other methods. If an irrational code (such as Joseph Smith's) advances one's interests, then it is good, at least according to the policy.

  6. In the Michelle Incanno story, the Dayton Times needs to be considered in the idiot category -- if for no other reason than using "quote" as a noun in the newspaper.

  7. Well this all sounds like more secular moralism...

    Whisky Tango Foxtrot question mark.

  8. Sigh... Steve, I'd really love to agree with you: I'm a hard-core grammar Nazi. My own pet peeves are "less/fewer" and the correct placement of "only", and my own bete noir is "that/which"; I know the difference in my mind, but my finger's haven't quite caught up.

    The game is over, sadly, on the "quote/quotation" front. Even the dictionary has gone over to the dark side on this one. And it does seems a tiny bit unfair to criticize a journalist for usage that is deprecated as "journalistic or breezy."

  9. My advice: Just let it go, James. If Perezoso wants to comment on one of my many posts putting forth my actual position on ethics, I'll be notified and I'll respond there. If he makes a halfway decent objection, it'll probably end up as a new post.

  10. Huh? NO, it's called consistency, pops. No moral facts guessed moral facts. And really no moral facts (as per MESR) also implies that machiavellianism (say using religion to advance one's own interests, even while knowing it was BS) and deception might be a valuable a political strategy as truth. Anything goes! That's subjectivism: and again I assert that MESR really entail what Hume's denial of moral facts entails: that ethics is a type of subjective, individual-based aesthetics. I don't agree with that view, but that is what Hume suggests. Your opposition to Fascism, say, is equal to your taste in oh, movies, or books, or the drapes....................

  11. And, of course, few comments on grammar can escape the Murphy's Law of grammar flames. I do know that one does not use an apostrophe to pluralize "finger".


  12. You're quite the persistent fellow, Mr. P. If sheer repetition could establish truth, you'd be a very wise man.

  13. Likewise. I am simply pointing out that your emotional outrage and indignation seem very inappropriate, given your amoral views. On what grounds--apart from subjective aesthetics---do you presume to criticize, well, anyone, whether fundamentalist, conservative, or persistent commenter? You yourself have admitted that MESR presumes that there are no moral facts: thus, when you begin to attack conservatives, or even fundamentalists, I think you should preface your criticism with something like, "this perspective seems appealing to me, at least today." And as I said, a fundamentalist could sort of justify his own views quite easily on subjective, hedonistic grounds as well: he's a mormon because it's good for business, suits his politics, keeps wife and kids in line, etc. You (and I) might not care for that view, but you have no grounds to criticize him. However obvious that seems, I think you are overlooking it. You seem to want to sneak in some type of emotivism or intuitive ethics, while at the same time denying any sort of moral realism. It's a common feature of the PC blogger left.

  14. Perezoso: When you're ready to argue your position, I'm ready to respond.

  15. It's a common feature of the PC blogger left.

    Ah. The image becomes clearer; 'twas obscured by the idiot verbosity.

  16. Perezoso: I think you actually do have a point. I think you're incorrect, of course, but your wrong in an interesting way.

    I'm both willing and interested in discussing your point in considerable detail and depth. I'm not willing, however, to try to address a fairly deep philosophical issue in response to snarky potshots in the comments of unrelated posts.

    I've asked you politely, and I'll ask you again: Write up your objections in a thorough, coherent form. Either publish them on your own blog or email them to me and I'll consider publishing them here, conditioned on my standards of grammar and composition.

    I've been very patient with you, but I think you're starting to annoy not just me but my other readers as well. Not because you disagree with me, and not because you make snarky put-downs, but because you seem unwilling or unable to do anything other than make snarky put-downs.

    It's time to shit or get off the pot.

  17. Perezoso: Your comments will be deleted unless you are 100% on topic until such time as you publish or submit an essay addressing my views.

  18. We're surrounded -- on our currency, in our schools, in our leadership, in our laws -- with God-talk. To make a stink because a vaguely non-religious view is printed on a coffee-cup is outrageous, definitely belongs in the theist idiots camp.

    What's behind this is the ridiculous thin-skin of religious people in this country (I guess really everywhere) that leads them to feel like victims while having it all their own way short of instituting another Inquisition; and did I mention their overblown sense of entitlement?

    I can't think how often I read and hear vague fluffy feel-good God-talk in the public sphere. It's so pervasive, I hardly notice it. And yes, I remember reading God-talk on Starbucks' coffee cups. The sort of quotes they like to put on there are the Helen Keller type of thing, and of course, spiritual stuff (and anything calculated to laud the human spirit) figures prominently.

    I think, actually, that the fact that this was front-page news is another religious propaganda tactic. If some atheist had been offended by a religious view, fat chance that it would've made it into the news (except perhaps to promote the view that atheists always want to destroy everything beautiful). Of course, if God is being oppressed by a mega-corporation... now that's news.

    All this talk of Starbucks...I want to go grab a mocha.

  19. You've persuaded me, honey.

    Starbucks is definitely not being idiotic here: They're getting great publicity.

  20. Starbucks is no stranger to this sort of thing. Last year, their was a bit of a liberal kerfluffle because they printed a Jonah Goldberg quote on some cups. Their quotes are usually pretty much across the spectrum of views.

  21. The Pharyngula comments column was recently in a tizz because Starbucks had printed a quote which appeared to support ID in a vague way (possibly this was the Jonah Goldberg one referred to already? I forget). Are you going to do a top ten atheist idiots post some time? Because, sadly, we do have them.

    One to add to the current post is the trouble Ahmadinejad is in for kissing the gloved hand of his old primary-school teacher.

    BTW, cop-out on the debate with Fuller on Julian Baggini's post! I have considered going and recruiting half of scienceblogs, but I think it would be counterproductive.

  22. potentilla:

    I'm very impressed with your work on the Fuller debate. Fuller's argument seems thin, and his sophistry is unbecoming, IMnsHO he's been completely pwned.

    Are you saying that I'm copping out? If so, I'm not: I have a cunning plan. I'm interested in how Julian or the editors will respond: Do those who are not professional philosophers have standing to make substantive comments?

    I may write about the debate here in a day or two.

    The top ten religious idiots specifically includes atheists and other non-theists. The guidelines are the same: The idiocy has to be funny or appalling, it has to be directly related to the idiot's beliefs about religion, and it has to be sourced in something resembling a publication of record. The Ahmadinejad story is a perfect example and I'll post it shortly.

  23. BB - thanks! I am supposed (an entirely self-imposed "suppose") to be writing a defence of Parfitt's views on personal identity, but the Fuller thing is more interesting.

    I was indeed accusing you of copping out, but I didn't discern the cunning plan. I too thought Julian has been conspicuous by his absence and my last post (which crossed with yours) mentioned this tangentially.

    Apart from being interested in the topic under discussion there, I am also interested in the difficulty of this sort of very detailed debate (I have done a lot of it in a legal drafting context). Most people just get tired and give up and stop making detailed point-by-point answers. Fuller shows some signs of doing this. But I don't think anyone who holds themselves out as a philosopher gets to be allowed to do it, except by the "you are not a foeman worthy of my steel" gambit. (The blog comment box adds to the difficulty because of narrow columns and small type.)

    Do you suppose that the Open University will give me any marks for an essay that says "Parfitt is a good bloke and anyone with half a brain can see he's on the right track"? As my last essay was over the allowed word-count, perhaps they will take the average.

  24. parfitt:

    One of the reasons that I have my own blog is because here I have absolute standing to discuss whatever I please.

    I don't know what Open University will do, but I certainly agree with your opinion on Parfitt.

    If you're interested in the philosophy of personal identity, I highly recommend Axiomatic, a collection of short stories by Greg Egan; about half of them deal directly with issues about personal identity. I may write more on Egan's philosophical ideas in the future.

  25. I'm interested it in a kind of mind-games way, but not seriously. I think the whole concept (personal identity) exists only as an epiphenomenon of the evolution of the human brain. So it deals adequately with situations that arise in nature, but has nothing much to say in respect of situations that don't and almost certainly never will (despite the philosophical claim that they are theoretically possible). I only like Parfitt because he says very sensibly that some questions about personal identity are not conceptually but only conventionally decidable.

    An example that may amuse you as an IT guy; a while back I did an online philosphy course based on Stephen Law's "Philosophy Gym". The bit about personal identity had a thought experiment based on a "tele-matic machine" allowing travel over enormous distances at the speed of light (actually maybe faster but let's not get hung up on that). You stepped into a machine at one end. It copied you. Then it destroyed you. At the same moment a machine at the other end created a perfect copy from the data.

    Leaving aside the (essentially boring IMHO) question of whether the copy was you or not, I could not think about this within the terms of the thought experiment. It's theoretically possible that a machine (made by humans) can copy something with 100% fidelity 100% of the time and then the transmission is 100% accurate 100% all of the time and the reproduction part at the other end you would be happy with a procedure that destroyed the original before creating the copy, and not keep back-ups, and so on (all of which were necessary for the thought experiment). But the likelihood of it being actually possible is so vanishingly small.....

  26. Potentilla: I think you have an interesting point, but I don't think the comments to this light-hearted post would give this important issue the visibility it deserves.

    Would you be interested in writing up something essay-ish and either publishing it on one of your own blogs and/or letting me publish it here?

    If not, I could bump the topic up in my own queue, perhaps sometime this month or early June.

  27. Presumably the point you're interested in is the "epiphemomenon of evolution" one, not the demerits of philosophical thought experiments so much?

    I am busy/away this coming week, but I could post something towards the back end of next week. It wouldn't be terribly essay-ish though; don't know if you have read any of 'metastases' but it doesn't tend to the formal....

    If you like, I will post something in my usual meandery style about the epiphenomena of evolution (personal id, but also morality, free will and probably some other thinsg I've forgotten) next week, and then if you like you can take the ideas up and make them more formal over here.

  28. Actually, I was thinking about something more along the lines of the philosophy of personal identity.

    But evolutionary epiphenomena is good too.

  29. You missed out this:

  30. Sorry - that link is


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