My six-year old daughter understands the nature of religious texts better than many Republican candidates

On Yom Kippur, my six year-old daughter attended services at the local synagogue. As part of the service, the rabbi gathered the children and told them the story of Jonah and the whale. This is actually a story that can be found in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim texts.   

The rabbi told the story as if Jonah's encounter with the whale really happened. It was accompanied by a song which she and her brother sang all day. 

When I asked my daughter if the story of Jonah and the whale was real, she said, "Of course not."

"But the rabbi made it sound like it really happened," I said.

"Daddy... don't be ridiculous. I don't care if he said it was real. It was just a story. People don't get stuck inside whales." 

"What about a blue whale," I asked. "They're huge."

"Daddy, blue whales are baleen whales. They can't even eat fish."

I laughed. "Then why would the rabbi tell the story of Jonah and the whale if it didn't really happen?"

"Because it was just a fun story. And maybe it was supposed to teach me something, but I can't remember what." 

About 50% of Americans believe that the Earth was created by God less than 10,000 years ago despite the mountains of physical evidence indicating otherwise because it the Bible says so.

These are the same people who believe that Noah built an ark that housed two of every animal on the planet during a worldwide flood because the Bible says so.

And presumably, these are the dame people who believe that there once lived a man named Jonah who was swallowed by a large fish or whale and survived for three days in its belly because the Bible says so.

How is it that my six year-old daughter can see the ridiculousness of this story and so many others cannot? She's in first grade and understands that a literal interpretation of religious texts makes no sense.

I was so proud of her, and yet at the same time, her conclusion seems fairly obvious,. 

At least for her. 

God doesn't want you to dress up in order to worship him. In fact, he would prefer that you dress down.

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you probably know that I am a reluctant atheist. I would like to believe in God (perhaps a kinder and gentler God than the Old Testament version) and have faith in an afterlife, but up to this point, I have not found the capacity to do so.   

As a result, I live in constant fear of the void. I envy people of faith for the peace they must feel about their ultimate demise.

But despite my ongoing, persistent existential crisis, here’s one good thing about being an atheist:

I don’t give a damn about what you wear, regardless of the circumstances. 

Attending a religious service of almost any kind requires a person to dress in clothing that is almost always more expensive and elaborate than what one usually wears on any other day.

Suits and ties. Dresses and other female regalia.

Of course, this wardrobe requirement means that parishioners, worshipers, and other indoctrinates are required to spend money on these clothing items in order to appear presentable.

I have a couple thoughts about this:

First, does God really care about the quality or style of clothing that we wear? This is the same omnipotent being who supposedly brought Adam and Eve into the world in the buff. Yet parishioners are expected to wear their Sunday best when attending services? 

Yes, they are. I see the ladies entering the church near my home every Sunday. Large hats. Elaborate dresses. Heels. Handbags. And they are escorted by men in fine suits and towing children in fancy clothes that they will most assuredly grow out of within a year. 

Do we really think that God give a damn about what his people are wearing?

He doesn't. I may not have the capacity to believe that God exists, but he doesn't. Trust me. The clothes that you wear are the least of his concerns.  

Second, wouldn’t the Lord prefer you arrive to church or synagogue in an old pair of jeans and a tee-shirt and use the money that would've been spent on more formal attire to help someone in need?

I may not believe in the Big Guy, but I've read the Bible cover-to-cover three times, and everything that I have gleaned from my study inclines me to believe that God (and especially Jesus) would prefer that you ditch the expensive threads and put the money spent on them to better use. 

I am absolutely certain of this. 

When we dress up for our religious services and don our “Sunday best”, we may try to rationalize this as a way of showing respect for God and our fellow worshipers, but this, I think, is nonsense. You would earn far more respect from the Almighty if you took the $300 that you spent on that suit or dress and used it to help the homeless. Or the hungry. Or the sick. 

Wardrobe requirements at religious services are man-made artifices, serving only to satisfy the human ego and/or further indoctrinate worshipers by lending an air of importance and formality to what should be a personal relationship between a human being and his or her creator.

And this is why atheists don’t give a damn about what you wear. Atheists are not interested in any of this ceremony, ritual, or means of indoctrination.

Attending the baptism of a friend’s daughter? Where whatever the hell you want. Who are we to judge?

Invited to attend your niece’s first communion? No need to change those jeans. As long as your sex organs are covered by something (denim, gabardine, or even fig-leaf), we are fine with your choice of attire!

Unencumbered by ritual and routine, free from indoctrination and the judging eyes of peers, I propose that the atheist is better able to see through the artifice of custom, ceremony, and law to the essence of what human being's relationship with God is supposed to be.

The relationship as it's described in the Bible.

The relationship I would want with God. A relationship based solely on my thoughts and deeds and not upon my physical appearance. 

Atheists (or at least this atheist) may live in fear of the void and suffer from an unending series of existential crises, but at least we can wear jeans and sneakers to the most formal, religious services and still feel good about ourselves.

This does not mean that atheists will always wear whatever they desire to their friend or family's religious ceremonies even though they think they should. Sometimes ethics and principles are trumped by the sheer power and will of one’s familial expectations, as annoying as that may be. 

My book launch party was filled with many surprise guests and references to Dungeons & Dragons

My most recent novel, The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs, published ten days ago on September 8. Originally my book launch party was slated for September 10, but that was the date of the Patriots home opener at Gillette Stadium, and I have my priorities.

My publicist understood completely, so the launch was moved to September 14.

A few weeks later, I had to point out that September 14 was Rosh Hashanah, and given the fact that my wife and many of my friends are Jewish, this date would also not work.

Please not that it wasn’t my wife or my in-laws or any of my many Jewish friends who noted the conflict, even though the date was made public and added to calendars for more than a month. It was me, a former Gentile turned reluctant atheist, who first realized the problem.

After I realized the conflict with Rosh Hashanah, we moved my launch again to September 17, which was last night. It meant that I needed to leave Colebrook, CT in the midst of a weeklong trip with my students to a YMCA camp to return home for a few hours, but that was fine.

Better than missing the Patriots game or disrespecting my wife’s holiday.

It was a terrific evening, and I thank each and every person who attended for making it a fantastic night. One of my friends counted well over 100 people in attendance, and I had many surprise guests, including:

  • My aunt Paulette from South Carolina, who I haven’t seen in almost ten years and have only seen a handful of times in the last 30 years. She and her husband were traveling to Niagara Falls to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary and made a detour in order to attend the event.
  • Sarah, a high school student in Rhode Island who I have been corresponding with for almost two years about writing and publishing. I visited Sarah’s high school last year – where my former high school vice principal and nemesis is now principal – and she returned the favor by making the almost two hour trek to Connecticut to join us for the event.
  • Sara, my friend and author from Vermont, who has now driven more than two hours to attend my last two book launch events.  
  • My superintendent, who told me that he would try to attend the event, but knowing the schedule of someone in his position must keep, I hardly expected him to make it. His willingness to give up an evening to support my work meant a lot. 
  • Many of my fellow teachers and colleagues, including one who had just returned from our YMCA trip hours earlier and was sitting in the front row.
  • Maybe best of all, dozens of my former students, many all grown up and some who left my classroom just last year, all sitting or standing (there was a large standing-room-only contingent) in support.

Rather than reading from my latest novel, I spoke about how a high school teacher and an assignment on satire turned me into a writer and launched my first business, and how 20 years later a friend's request that I play Dungeons & Dragons with him and some buddies saved my writing career. I also recommended some books (including The Boy Scout handbook), took some questions, handed out some prizes, and signed many books. 

It was an incredibly fun night and well worth the wait.  

Five important questions to ask about a religion before joining (or choosing to remain a member)

On a recent episode of Marc Maron's WTF podcast, comedian Kurt Metzger explains how he evaluates a religion by asking three questions:

  1. How much does it cost?
  2. Does God do the killing or will I be required to kill on his behalf?
  3. Do I need to stay in the religion for Mom or Dad, and what penalties (if any) will I suffer if I choose to exit the religion?

I think it's an excellent list. All three questions are extremely important. The answers to his three questions should be:

  1. Contributions to churches and other religious institutions should always be voluntary and anonymous.
  2. Religions should not ask its members to kill, which sounds both obvious and ridiculous but sadly is not.
  3. Members should be able to exit the religion without any repercussions from family or community. Faith is an individual decision. Coercion should never play a role in a person's decisions regarding faith or the lack thereof.    

To Metzger's list, I'd like to add two more questions:

  1. Do women enjoy full and absolute equality within the religion?
  2. Is the church open to all people, regardless of race, nationality, marital status, sexual preference, criminal history, occupation, etc.? 

I am a reluctant atheist, but if I were to ever fortunate enough to find faith, I would only join a church that could answer an unequivocal yes to both of these questions, and I would encourage people to severe tires with any religious institution that cannot answer an absolute and unequivocal yes to these two questions. 

Not an easy thing to do, of course, but the right thing. As I have said before, the easy thing and the right thing are rarely the same thing. But is has been done.  

For example, my latest hero, Jimmy Carter, severed ties with the Southern Baptists in 2000. Carter was a third generation Southern Baptist for more than 70 years, but after they refused to allow women to serve as pastors in the church, he left the church.

A difficult decision to say the least, but absolutely the right decision, and one to which I admire him immensely.    

6 thoughts about this crazy-ass video from

1. I'm so happy to hear that the bigoted people in this video love their gay friends so freakin' much. And they conveniently have so many gay friends, too. I'm sure that their gay friends love them right back.  

I guess it's totally fine to support the restriction of basic civil rights to a group of people as long as some of them are your friends and you love them a lot.

After all, I may have friends who don't support same sex marriage. If so, they are bigots, but I love them, and it's my love for them that makes it okay to think of them as bigots. Right?

2. I assume that the argument that "Everyone is entitled to their own opinion" would not apply if I told the black guy in the video that he shouldn't be able to marry a white woman or play in Major League baseball or eat in any sushi restaurants in America because he's black.

Or if I told the women in the ad that women aren't qualified to run for President because they are too emotional and cry too often and are indecisive.   


3. It's fascinating to watch people who were once safely in the majority panic when they discover that they are in the minority and no longer enjoy the legal support that they once had. 

And yes. They are in the minority. Only 39% of Americans oppose same sex marriage toay, and that number has been declining since 2004. 

Actually, 56% of Catholics support same sex marriage, making these morons a minority in their own damn church. No wonder they sound so ridiculous.  

4. If wants to make an advertisement supporting their cause, they should avoid posting a video that left me wondering if I was watching a hilarious parody from a website like or an actual advertisement designed to change minds.

That video was insanely confusing. It honestly could've gone either way.

Honestly, I can't believe they haven't taken it down already.   

5. Frankly, if CatholicVote wants to create an effective, non-embarrassing, non-confusing, advertisement opposing gay marriage, call me. For the right price, I promise that I will write and direct an ad that supports your bigoted position and doesn't embarrass you in the process.

Creating a video like that would go against my principle, but everyone has a price.

6. The Biblical rationale for the opposition to gay marriage is presented in this video.

God says no to gay marriage. 

But having read the Bible cover to cover three times (which is more than the morons in this video, I'm sure), I also know that God says a big, fat, enthusiastic yes to slavery. And stoning people who work on Sunday. And slaughtering nonbelievers.  

I really, honestly, sincerely want to know how these people get around this hypocrisy.

It’s a shame when people pose as Christians and give Jesus a bad name.

A Walkerton, Indiana, pizza shop is the state’s first business to declare it will not service gay weddings after the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was signed into law last week.


“If a gay couple came in and wanted us to provide pizzas for their wedding, we would have to say no,” Memories Pizza’s Crystal O’Connor told a local news station. “We are a Christian establishment.”

It’s astounding that a person could claim to be following the teachings of Jesus and believe that discrimination based upon sexual orientation is something he would support.

Recently Washington Post book critic Ron Charles tweeted this:

Seriously, how do you study the Gospels and conclude that Jesus wanted his followers to turn away people they disapprove of? #Indiana

I replied to Charles, offering a possible (and probable) explanation:

In all likelihood, there has been no study of the Gospels. At best, this pizza shop owner has probably listened to out-of-context selections of the Bible, read to her on Sundays by a person who is employed by an organization that discriminates based upon sexual orientation and demands that its employees teach this doctrine to their congregants.

This does not qualify as study. At best, it amounts to biased, second-hand browsing. At worst, it’s a form of indoctrination.

Study requires a careful examination of source materials. It requires an open mind and skepticism. It requires a person to ask difficult questions and give serious consideration to opposing views.

Not exactly the way that services are typically run on a Sunday.

I am not a religious person. I call myself a reluctant atheist. I have spent a great deal of time in Catholic and Protestant Churches and attended Sunday School and Vacation Bible School for years, but I simply could not find the faith required to believe. I desperately want to believe in a benevolent God and a glorious afterlife, but I have yet to be able to do so.

But I have read The Bible cover to cover three times – twice in college and once on my own – and based upon those careful readings, I can conclude that there is no way in hell that Jesus would supported the position taken by this pizza shop owner.

If the pizza shop owner actually sat down and read and studied The Bible from beginning to end, the message of Jesus becomes abundantly clear. I may not believe that Jesus was the son of God, but I think he was a brilliant philosopher and teacher whose belief in accepting all people regardless of their differences is clear and profound.

Jesus – without a doubt – would stand against any opposition to same-sex marriages.

Still, I suspect that Jesus would happily eat a pizza from Memories Pizza – especially if their pizza is good – because amongst the many things that Jesus espoused was his belief in both acceptance and forgiveness.

Crystal O’Connor may be wrong about her interpretation of The Bible, and her position on same-sex marriage may be bigoted, but that doesn’t mean that she shouldn’t be able to make a living. It doesn’t mean that she doesn’t make good pizza. I suspect that she is probably a good person – better than me – but misled by a church that picks and chooses its Scripture in order to support its own discriminatory positions.

Let’s be honest:

Any institution that places the text of Leviticus over the teachings of Jesus can hardly be called Christian.

Stephen Fry explains what he would say if he was “confronted by God” and nearly knocks the interviewer out of his seat.

Regardless of how you feel about Steven Fry and his position on the Catholic Church and faith in general, you have to admire this answer on purely rhetorical grounds. It’s structured beautifully.


But my favorite part is the look in interviewer Gay Bryne’s face at two or three points during this two minute video.

Appalled is probably the best way to describe it, but even that doesn’t seem to do it justice. He seems to almost knock Bryne right out of his chair by his words. 

Economy of blessings is paramount to my son. Either that or he’s already rejecting religion.

When my wife says, “Bless you,” to our two year-old son after he sneezes, his most common response is, “No bless you. I okay.”

At first I thought that he was concerned with the economy of blessings or the implication that he required a blessing when one was clearly not needed.


But it occurs to me that perhaps this is my son’s first steps into his rejection of organized religion. Maybe his, “No bless you. I okay,” is really his way of saying:

“Spare me your superstitious nonsense. My soul is not in danger of fleeing my body when I sneeze, nor am I vulnerable to attack from some unseen demon, which is how this ridiculous tradition began. Sneezing isn’t even a precursor to illness in most cases. I feel fine. Besides, offering a blessing assumes that the receiver possesses a religious belief that can accommodate such a blessing, and though you may have forcibly conscripted me to a religion and plan to indoctrinate me into your belief system and ancient traditions, I am only two years old. My religious belief, if I ever possess one, will undoubtedly be a process that requires a lifetime of introspection and learning. Who knows? I may even start my own religion someday, or I may reject religious belief altogether. My the presumption that my religious belief will match your own is unrealistic at best. So spare me your unnecessary and meaningless blessings and just give me a cookie. I’m fine.” 

Yeah. I think that might be it.

Self love is a battlefield. In Idaho, at least.

Brigham Young University’s satellite campus in Idaho released a motivational video encouraging students to report friends, roommates or themselves if they suspect that they are masturbating too much.


This would be bad enough, but the World War I battlefield imagery used in the video is completely insane.

Bigots are better than naked priests

Methodist minister Frank Schaefer was defrocked on Thursday for violating church law by presiding at his son’s same-sex wedding.


Obviously the Methodist Church sucks for doing this.

But in addition to ending their bigotry and buffet-style application of Biblical law, I would also suggest removing the word defrock from the church’s lexicon as well. 

I understand that defrock means to “deprive a holy person of ecclesiastical status,” but since a frock is an item of clothing and the prefix de- is used to add the meaning “opposite. reduce or remove,” the word also engenders the image of stripping a priest or minister of his or her clothing.

At least it does for me.

I don’t think that any church should allow the mental image of a forcefully stripped, naked priest to stand.

Why not just say that you fired the guy because the leaders of the church are apparently a bunch of stupid bigots who only read the passages of the Bible that most conveniently support their bigotry and ignore those passages that prevent them from eating bacon cheeseburgers, watching football on Sunday or wearing cotton blends?

I honestly think a statement like this would sound better than defrocking.

But perhaps it’s only a writer and wordsmith like me who would deconstruct the word defrock and end up with the image of a forcefully stripped naked priest.

This piece in Slate by Allison Benedikt is ridiculous link bait. It’s also offensive to my children.

I love Slate. I probably read Slate more than anything else on the Internet. But occasionally Slate publishes pieces that amount to nothing more than link bait, and Allison Benedikt’s piece entitled No Thanksgivukkah: The portmanteau holiday is bad for Jews and bad for America, is clearly one of them.


Bad for America? The hyperbole in the subtitle alone is ridiculous, and it’s an argument that she fails to address at any point in the piece.

Not once is her perceived threat to America discussed.

Pure, unadulterated link bait. I should stop right there. This alone should be indictment enough. But I’ll proceed, because I was so annoyed by this piece.  

As you may know, Thanksgiving and Hanukkah overlap this year for the first time in 125 years this year. This won’t happen for another 70,000 years, so even the need for making an argument like this is questionable at best.

Get over it, Benedikt. It’s one year.

But the rationale behind Benedikt’s objections are just as ridiculous, probably because link bait is hard to write. If it’s not hyperbolic nonsense, readers won’t click. But hyperbolic nonsense is difficult to pass off as rational. 

Benedikt has three objections to Thanksgivukkah. Here they are in the order that she presents them:

I don’t want my kids to think Thanksgiving is a “present holiday.”

And while Thanksgivukkah is a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence, I guarantee that every little Jewish boy and girl who gets a gift on Thursday will, going forward, expect gifts on the fourth Thursday of November—forever.

Ridiculous. Jewish children will receive presents immediately after the lighting of the candles as a part of Hanukkah,, as it has been done every year before. The traditional will remain the same, except that it will be buffered by turkey and stuffing. Unless you wrap the child’s gift in the turkey carcass, it will be crystal clear that these presents have nothing to do with the Pilgrims, cranberry sauce or football.

Even if there are children who are stupid or monstrous enough to expect gifts the following year, they will not receive them, thus ending all future expectations.

As parents, we say no and move on.

And let’s be realistic. This isn’t going happen. Perhaps the most demonic and materialistic children might expect gifts for one additional year, but these monsters are few and far between, and their expectations will only last one year. For children of such ill repute, this kind of  disappointment is probably needed and deserved.

I also find it  fairly offensive to assume that my children will expect gifts on Thanksgiving next year, which Benedikt does when she “guarantees” that “every little Jewish boy and girl… will expect gifts on the fourth Thursday of November—forever.”

Hyperbole? Probably. But don’t lump my children into your exaggeration. I am confident that many, many little Jewish girls and boys are smart enough to understand the difference between the two holidays, even when they overlap, including my own. Leave my kids out of your link bait. You insult them and all their sensible brethren when you do so. 

Sweet and sour braised brisket with cranberry sauce is an abomination.

The argument here is that Jewish food and Thanksgiving Day food does not mix well.

I realize how important food is to the Jewish tradition, but the need to bifurcate these food items lest they be ruined is obviously stupid.

Because my favorite thing about Thanksgiving is that it’s secular.

Allison Benedikt is a Jewish woman married to an atheist man who celebrates the traditions of Christmas. This describes our family as well. My wife is Jewish, and I am a reluctant atheist who loves Santa, Christmas trees and holiday music.

Benedikt struggles with the issues surrounding these religious differences, as did her parents for a time. She expresses as much on a recent podcast, and it’s also hinted at in her piece.

But this sounds like much more of a personal problem for Benedikt than one that impacts a large number of people. It’s really not hard to differentiate between the two holidays, even when they fall on the same day.

It’s really not hard at all.

Besides, in my experience, Hanukkah is celebrated in most Jewish homes for about 15 minutes every night.

Maybe longer if dinner is part of the celebration.

Light some candles, say a prayer, open a gift, and perhaps eat a traditional Jewish meal on one or more of the nights. In fact, I have been told on many occasions (sometimes with great vehemence) that Hanukkah is actually a minor Jewish holiday that has only gained notoriety because of its proximity to Christmas and the desire for retail establishments to capture the Jewish consumer as well.

The overlap between the two holidays is hardly daylong. 

Benedikt suspects that she is not alone in her desire for the secular and the religious to remain separate, and I agree. But I also think that she’s in a minority, and it’s a minority that has yet to work through their religious differences with themselves and their spouses. When it’s “a relief it is to have this one major holiday that isn’t in some part about what I am and my husband is not (Jewish), or what he is and I’m not (Christmas-celebrating),” you haven’t exactly embraced the religious diversity in your home.

Instead of worrying about explaining to your kids why mom believes this and dad believes that, why not just embrace a multi-religious view in which all religious views are treated equally, absent any pressure for anyone to conform?

If that seems too radical, remember that this threat to Jews and America will not happen again for another 70,000 years.

Grin and bear it for 24 hours.

There are simply too many excellent religions to choose from today.

When I was about ten years-old, my mother brought me to my first CCD class. I came home from that experience and declared that I was no longer a Catholic.

To my mother’s credit, she accepted this declaration but told me that I needed to have some kind religion in my life.

So began the process of allowing her son to choose his religion.

She brought me to several churches in the area over the next few weeks, allowing me to experience services at each one. I ultimately chose a Protestant Congregationalist church in my hometown because of it was the most basic, stripped down version of religion that I could find.

The minister also addressed the children during the service with a sermon of their own.

Just imagine: A parent not imposing her own beliefs upon her child.

It’s hard to fathom.

Unfortunately, religion did not stick with me. Today I am a reluctant atheist who would love to believe in a higher power but who finds himself unable to do so.

This is essentially how I felt when I was ten years-old, so little has changed since then.

I can’t help but think that had I been choosing a religion today, however, the choices would’ve been much more interesting.

There is The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, of course, which worships the Flying Spaghetti Monster and strongly opposes the teaching of creationism in public schools. I actually own the Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and have read it cover-to-cover at least twice and find it quite compelling, and I’m considering becoming an ordained minster of the Church, even though I am also an ordained minister of the Universal Life Church.


Then there is the Jedi Church, based upon the philosophy espoused in the Star Wars films which purports that there is one all powerful force that binds all things in the universe together. It may sound silly, but it’s currently the largest alternative religion in the world and the seventh most popular religion in the UK ,with hundreds of thousands of followers worldwide.


Had The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster or The Jedi Church existed when I was ten years-old, I might have been slightly more excited about my search for religion.

And now there is a theology class at Rutger’s University which studies the work of Bruce Springsteen. While not an actual religion (yet!), I would’ve loved the opportunity to study the work of my favorite musician in a religious context.

Who knows? Had this class existed when I was younger, maybe I could’ve founded the first Church of Thunder Road.

Sunday Assembly, an atheist's version of church, seems a little too good to be true.

Sunday Assembly, an atheist's version of church that is growing exponentially, seems a little too good to be true. 

The idea is simple: it has all of the community spirit, engagement, and inspiration of a church without any of the religious aspects. Each service has at least one guest speaker, from economists to poets, a moment of reflection and, above all, repeated entreaties to get to know the rest of the people there.

Add to this already near-perfect format a combination of “mini-rave” breakout sessions, ‘80s power ballads, competitive games and mass karaoke, and Sunday Assembly becomes almost impossible to imagine.

I think I may have to see it to believe it.


I have a friend who says that for him and his family, God stands for the Great Out Doors, and this allows him to honor and worship what he believes is most important by playing golf, tennis, kayaking or hiking on a Sunday morning.

Not bad, I’ve always thought, but this might be better. 

I think I would still prefer a round of golf or a Patriots pregame tailgate to Sunday Assembly, but if there is snow on the ground and the golf courses are closed or the Patriots are playing out of town, this might be a reasonable alternative.

God must be so angry about this.

Teenage pregnancy rates have dropped to the lowest levels ever recorded in the 73 years that the government started collecting data.

The reason for this dramatic decrease?

Not a decrease in teenage sexual activity. Those levels have remained stable for the past two decades.

Not abortions. Those rates have been flat for the past 15 years.

The decrease in teen pregnancy is the result of increased contraception use.

Speaking to NBC News, Dr. John Santelli, a professor of population and family health at Columbia University, attributed the change to a greater emphasis on getting effective contraception to teens, especially long-acting methods like the IUD.

Just think:

No rise in teenage sexual activity. No rise in abortions. Yet historically low levels of teenage pregnancy.

It’s practically a miracle.

Except it’s not. It’s just contraception, which has resulted in fewer unwanted pregnancies (and the resulting economic devastation) without any other significant changes in teenage behavior.

But if you’d listen to some, the idea that teenagers have better access to contraception and are using contraception in greater numbers signals the end of days. The four horsemen of the apocalypse. The crumbling of the very bedrock of our society.

God must be so angry about this. 


I’m not as concerned about the link between contraception use and God’s wrath. but then again, I am not a right-wing, religious ultra-conservative who believes that abstinence (and the inevitable pregnancies) is the only acceptable form of contraception, and that any other use of contraception prior to marriage (or even thereafter) will send you straight to hell.

And don’t fool yourself. There are a lot of these people out there.

For them, the news that teenage contraception use has increased (and teen pregnancy has dramatically decreased) without an increase in abortion or even sexual activity must be devastating.

I love news that makes crazy people crazy.

Why I am a reluctant atheist

I describe myself as a reluctant atheist.

Essentially, this means that I do not believe in God, but I wish I did. I have tried to believe. At this point in my life, I simply lack the faith required to believe. Despite reading the Bible cover to cover three times in my life, I have been unable to find truth in those words.

Truthfully, the more I read, the less I believe.

Adding the word “reluctant” to my atheist label has had an interesting effect on others in terms of their reactions to my position on religion.

For people of faith, the word “reluctant” seems to have added a level of approachability and acceptance that did not exist before. While many people of faith have a difficult time understanding the non-believer and are often offended by the criticism of their religion, they seem to have an acceptance of the idea of a crisis of faith, and they often assume that this is what I am experiencing.

Even when I take a hard-lined stance against a practice or policy of their religious institution, the addition of the word “reluctant” has seemed to temper their anger and outrage.

This has been good.

I tend to believe that my position on God is not a crisis of faith and more rationale and cemented than some of these people of faith seem to believe, but perhaps I am wrong and someday faith will come to me.

Either way, we seem to be able to engage in discourse more easily now.

For some atheists, the addition of the word “reluctant” has been greeted with skepticism and disappointment. They believe that I do a disservice to nonbelievers when I fail to take a strong position on my atheist views.

I try to explain to these people that my position on atheism is actually quite strong. While I wish that I believed in a higher power and an afterlife, I am convinced that neither exists.

“Then why try to believe in something that you know doesn’t exist?” they ask. “Why wish for the impossible? And for someone who has read the Bible carefully, why would you wish for the God described in the Bible?”

They have a point. The Biblical God, particularly in the Old Testament, is not a friendly guy. 

There are tough questions. I often find myself feeling like the little boy who has just discovered that Santa Claus isn’t real but still desperately wants him to be real. It’s a difficult position to explain or defend.

But I think I’ve found my answer. I’ve found my answer in Antoinette Tuff, the Georgian woman who saved the lives of untold numbers of students and teachers with her quick thinking and steel nerves. Listening to her describe the role that her faith in God played during her encounter with the gunman and the humility that her faith has given her in the wake of all the attention she has received was inspiring.

As I listened to her speak, I found myself jealous of her faith, wishing that I could believe with the absolute certainty that she possesses.

There is nothing wrong with wanting something as powerful as faith, even when you are convinced that it is predicated on something that does not exist.

Comebacks for sale. Cheap. Highly effective. Brutal if desired.

I’ve recently expressed admiration for Pope Francis and his comments on homosexuality and his willingness to be accessible to the people. Unfortunately, I’m not as excited about the pope’s recent decision to offer indulgences for following him on Twitter:

According to the Vatican's Sacred Apostolic Penitentiary publication, Pope Francis will be giving "plenary indulgences" — which is a special act that is said to reduce time in purgatory — to his Twitter followers. The Pope typically offers indulgences to those who see him in person, but for the first time this year, it will extend to virtual visits, too.

For social followers who have previously confessed their sins, have been absolved by a priest and have attended mass, they can follow along live through the social networking site and receive that special forgiveness.

The whole idea of purgatory is fairly insane, but the idea that Catholics can spend less time in this invented realm by clicking the Follow button on Twitter is ridiculous.

I understand that the pope wants to use social media to better communicate to his people, but purchasing their attention through the distribution of indulgences is not far removed from a time when the Catholic Church sold indulgences for money.

However, that will not stop me from making an even better offer:

If you agree to follow me on Twitter, I promise to offer you my expertise in the realm of verbal sparring.

Without trying to sound self-congratulatory, I am a master of the verbal comeback. The king of quips. An expert in the art of the rapid retort.

It might be my greatest talent.

If someone says something mean, insulting, scathing or passive-aggressively cruel to you, send me the remark via Twitter and I will send you the ideal comeback.


Also, feel free to also send me the intensity level that you would like the comeback to achieve, and I will try my best to tailor the retort to meet your specific need.

Perhaps you want a comeback suitable for use in a public setting. Maybe you’d prefer a no-holds-barred, sword-to-the-gut comeback (my favorite). Or perhaps the circumstances require a more passive-aggressive approach.


You can even send me anticipated cruelties in order to be better prepared for your next encounter. Does your mother-in-law constantly complain about the way you’re raising your children? Does a coworker disapprove if your lifestyle choices? Is your spouse critical of your eating habits?

Send me their constant refrains and be armed with an appropriate comeback for the next encounter.


Whatever your need, I will have it, and all for the price of a Twitter follow.

Which would you prefer:

A shortened stay in a non-existent spiritual realm or access to a master in the art of verbal sparring?

Mormons find doubt online

In a fascinating turn of events, Mormons, including many high ranking officials, have begun to leave their faith after venturing onto the Internet and discovering that “credible evidence that the church’s founder, Joseph Smith, was a polygamist and that the Book of Mormon and other scriptures were rife with historical anomalies.”

They could’ve just watched South Park’s All About Mormons or seen the musical and been entertained in the process, but as a friend of mine is fond of saying:

“The truth is one. The paths are many.”


My own religious doubt began when I was young. An unfortunate, apparently genetic resistance to authority and conformity caused me to refuse to attend CCD classes as a child. My mother insisted that I have religion in my life but allowed me to choose the church that best suited me, but she later told me that she didn’t have much hope for me in terms of spiritual belief.

“You started reading The Bible while sitting in the pews every Sunday and asking lots of questions. You were never the believing kind of person. You were always such an instigator.”

Truthfully, I only started to read The Bible because it was the only reading material available to me during the service. Had comics books been placed in the pews instead, I might be a comic book collector today instead.

Since those early days of reading in the pews, I have read The Bible from cover to cover three times in my life:

  1. Once over the course of a summer as a teenager out of curiosity
  2. Once during the time that I had been arrested and tried for a crime I did not commit, in hopes of finding hope and strength within its pages
  3. Once in college as part of my English degree

I’ve also read many large portions of it many time, and for a while, I had begun a fourth cover-to-cover reading as part of a blog that I was writing. I cannot quote chapter and verse, but I have spent a great deal of time reading and studying this text.

While my mother was probably correct and my road to reluctant atheism was already paved when I was child, I recall feeling the same way that these Mormons have recently felt. The more I read The Bible, the less I believed, and to be honest, the less I wanted to believe.

While my respect for Jesus as a man grew with each reading, my desire for there to be a God as he is described in the Old Testament waned considerably.

My vision of a Sunday School God, full of kindness, forgiveness and unwavering benevolence was replaced by a vengeful, violent and wrathful being who I genuinely feared.

It is often said that the quickest way to atheism is to read The Bible. While my path was probably determined long before I started serious reading of the book, there is some truth in this statement.

Apparently it can now be said that the quickest path to rejecting Mormonism can be found online.

Another bad day for the bigots

This is the second day in a row that I write about Pope Francis, and in a fairly positive light both times.


Today, it’s just one sentence, spoken yesterday by the pope and reported in the New York Times among many other places:

“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” – Pope Francis

My mother was a Catholic. If she were still alive, I suspect that she would be feeling especially proud of her faith today.

It took them long enough to come to their sense, but still. It’s a great day for the human rights struggle. 

More importantly, when the religious defense for bigotry disappears, the only thing the bigots have left to stand on is their own hatred and stupidity.