More festive tunes — 4 songs by Weird Al

For my second installment of holiday songs, I’ve decided to feature not one, not two, but count ’em — FOUR “Weird Al” Yankovic songs. As far as I know, Weird Al has never come out as being irreligious or a freethinker, and he may be Christian (in fact, a question from 1995 in the Ask Al archive from his site includes only a very brief answer to the question of whether he “would consider himself a Christian”. His response to the questioner is simply “Yes”). But nothing is sacred in Weird Al’s universe of songwriting, and I’m including four examples of this.

* “Christmas at Ground Zero” is one of my favorite Christmas songs because it definitely desacrilizes the Christmas season and has an anti-war message. It describes a “jolly” Christmas during a nuclear holocaust and includes vintage 50s and 60s video clips from the good old days when they used to scare kids by practicing for nuclear fallout by ducking and covering, as if that would really help if your city is hit by a nuke. (The song was written long before 9-11 occurred, in case you’re curious, so no relation to that Ground Zero). EDIT: click here to view in a new window if clicking on the embed doesn’t work.

* “The Night Santa Went Crazy” is a (slightly) less macabre and funnier take on the Christmas holiday. As the title might suggest, a “disgruntled” Saint Nick finally snaps and goes postal in the North Pole. The video I’ve embedded below is a claymation-type take on the song that someone apparently did for their thesis. An “extra gory” alternate live version of the song can be seen here. With his two Christmas songs being so violent and laughingly depressing, you get the impression that it must not have been his favorite holiday growing up. (Rumor has it, he got notebook paper as a present one Christmas!)

* “Weasel Stomping Day” is perhaps the least obvious choice to include here, but it actually may come the close to criticizing religion of the bunch. As you might guess, people go around stomping weasels in the song, but if you listen more closely to the lyrics, you’ll hear several subtle freethought-like messages (“Bash their weasely skulls right in / It’s tradition, that makes it okay”), and a few nods to Christmas in the video that suggest that he had religious holidays on his mind

* “Amish Paradise” is one of Weird Al’s best-known songs. It’s a parody of Ganga’s Paradise by Coolio (the other three are Weird Al originals). The song isn’t specifically about a holiday, so I’m bending the definition of “festive” tunes here, but it is the only one that openly pokes fun at religious extremism, that of the “crazy Mennonites” (isn’t that redundant?) the Amish are. It’s also the only video I know of that features both Florence Henderson (the mom from the Brady Bunch) and a depiction of hell!

I wonder what Weird Al, who pokes fun at the Amish for “shunning fancy things like electricity”, would think of the recent stories of extremist orthodox Jews attacking a journalist using an electronic device on the Sabbath, or complaining about electric lights turning on at their apartments on the Sabbath.

Selective ban of certain religions, atheism, LGBT from Indianapolis schools’ Internet

Indiana_In_God_We_TrustIndiana Licence Plate — Source wikipedia

Indianapolis public schools, in a clear breach of church-state separation, are banning students from viewing the websites of only certain religions, as well as atheist and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) sites.

According to a Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) press release, Indianapolis public schools are illegally discriminating against certain religious views, banning students from seeing sites containing what they term as “mysticism“, which apparently includes atheism. Here are some key quotes from a pdf copy provided by FFRF of the offending (and offensive) guidelines. “Blocked” categories include:

“Sites that promote and provide information on religions such as Wicca, Witchcraft or Satanism.  Occult Practices, atheistic views, voodoo rituals or other forms of mysticism, […] the use of spells, incantations, curses, and magic powers. This category includes sites which discuss or deal with paranormal or unexplained events.”

Notably absent is reference to Abrahamic religions (Judeo-Christian, Muslim), of course. Not content with just banning information on non-mainstream religious views, Indianapolis public schools have also deemed LGBT sites as off-limits as well.

The people setting up these guidelines don’t realize just how ironic they are, however. The policy also details what types of sites are to be blocked, and their site arguably fails their own test. Under Violence/Hate/Racism (p. 3 of the pdf provided by FFRF), it says that included in sites that should be blocked are

“sites that advocate, depict hostility or aggression toward, or denigrate an individual or group on the basis of race, religion, gender, nationality, ethnic origin, or other involuntary characteristics.”

Wouldn’t a site advocating (and implementing) the banning only resources related to certain religions be “hostility or aggression” or “denigrating” towards those religions?!? Never fear, though. Perhaps they realized this contradiction, since the section on exceptions to the blocked sites includes ones “that are sponsored by schools, educational facilities”. So they are allowed to denigrate other religious viewpoints through their policy as much as they want.

The ban of LGBT sites also says that sites can’t “cater to one’s one’s sexual orientation or gender identity including, but not limited to, lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender sites“. Since it’s not limited to those for, it would logicially including heterosexuality as well. Any sites promoting heterosexual marriage would have to be banned according to the word here. So this document would end up banning a whole lot more than they bargained for.

In fact, I just realized that the site actually does address the Abrahamic religions, such as Christianity, Judaism, Mormonism, and Islam. Looking again at the requirements for sites that are blocked, it says:

“This category includes sites which discuss or deal with paranormal or unexplained events.”

Wouldn’t Moses’ parting of the Red Sea in the Torah be considered an “unexplain event”? Jesus’ resurrection in the Bible? God turning the skin of Native Americans dark in the Book of Mormon? An angel appearing to Muhammad in the Koran? These all sound pretty unexplained to me. Maybe they have unwittingly banned students from viewing any religious content.

In spite of these possible loopholes and logical extensions of their hate-filled bans, I am still against the closing of students’ minds on religion, atheism, and sexual orientation and identity. Schools should not promote a religion or sexual orientation, but they also shouldn’t single out sites as worthy of being banned just because they mention viewpoints or orientations that aren’t in the mainstream.

Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac (comedy)

Here’s a hilarious sketch by That Mitchell and Webb Look , a British comedy show, about God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. Thanks to Unreasonable Faith and Friendly Atheist for posting this.

You should definitely check out other irreligious and skeptical skits online by them on YouTube or elsewhere. I can’t imagine stuff like this being broadcast in the US. Maybe on cable/satellite, but even then probably not.

Jimmy Carter: The words of God do not justify cruelty to women

Jimmy Carter

Former US president Jimmy Carter published an op-ed piece in the Observer (UK) earlier this week about the relationship between women and religion. In it, Carter calls on religious leaders to promote the "dignity and equality" of women. Cartner does not, however, come out against the major religions or their holy books as misogynistic. Instead, he just claims that some leaders are just taking "carefully selected" verses to promote an agenda.

I did not know this, but Carter left the Southern Baptists about 10 years ago because they refused to recognize the equality of women. So it seems like this is a very important issue to him. I found a piece in Salon.com entitled "Jimmy Carter: How religion subjugates women", but I think this headline is a little misleading. It’s not an anti-religion piece, but it does bring up some important points that religious leaders will hopefully consider.

Here are some quotes from the article, and my thoughts. Carter says in the Observer

My decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention’s leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be "subservient" to their husbands […] This was in conflict with my belief – confirmed in the holy scriptures – that we are all equal in the eyes of God.

I admire the fact that Carter doesn’t believe women should be subjugated to men, and it’s true that some parts of the Bible say women should be equal, including the Galatians 3:28 quote he includes at the beginning of his op-ed (along with a quote from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights , attempting to show it and the Bible go hand-in-hand I assume). However, as The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible points out many other parts of the Bible where women are denigrated, including verses where women are subjugated to men, such as Genesis 3:16 ("he shall rule over thee", King James Version).

Additionally, the first creation account, in Genesis 1, does tend to indicate equality, but the second starting in Genesis 2 does not. Carter is right that Christian leaders sometimes use "carefully selected verses" to further repressing women, but you also have to carefully select your verses to find ones that promote equality. That’s why I feel his statement is somewhat misleading (although not inaccurate), making it sound like the anti-feminist verses in the Bible are hard to find, when they’re not. I’m sure he feels he’s justified in doing this sleight of hand though saying which verses he believes personally (meaning he must not believe the Bible is inerrant) to try to stop religious people from oppressing women.

I understand, however, why many political leaders can be reluctant about stepping into this minefield. Religion, and tradition, are powerful and sensitive area to challenge.

Very true, but as leaders they are supposed to "lead", right? Sometimes you have to pick your battles, but I think ensuring equality for women is not a battle you pick if you’re in power, it’s a battle you have to fight for the majority of your constituents. Women are half or more than half of the population in nearly every country.

The Elders have decided to draw particular attention to the responsibility of religious and traditional leaders in ensuring equality and human rights. We have recently published a statement that declares: "The justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable."

I think this is an excellent statement. It’s something that both theists and non-theists can get behind.

I understand that the carefully selected verses found in the holy scriptures to justify the superiority of men owe more to time and place – and the determination of male leaders to hold onto their influence – than eternal truths. […] During the years of the early Christian church women served as deacons, priests, bishops, apostles, teachers and prophets. It wasn’t until the fourth century that dominant Christian leaders, all men, twisted and distorted holy scriptures to perpetuate their ascendant positions within the religious hierarchy.

Again, his heart may be in the right place, but he’s not being completely truthful here. While I’ve read that there are indications that the Bible was tampered with (including the end of Luke I posted about earlier), there’s nothing I’ve read that indicates 4th century leaders rewrote Genesis to make it sound like Eve caused original sin, that she should be subjugated, and a host of other verses that indicate that God (or the leaders writing about him at the time) clearly discriminated against women.

The pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world […] is in clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, Muhammad, and founders of other great religions – all of whom have called for proper and equitable treatment of all the children of God.

I’m not going to refute all of these, but as you may suspect, all of these figures also have times where they do not treat "all the children of God" equally. Moses kills entire races of people under God’s command, Paul tells women to be silent in church, etc. Some anti-feminist verses may be later manipulations, but they can’t all be, can they?

If there are widespread additions, deletions, or changes throughout the Bible on what would seem to be a fundamental issue like whether or not women should be equal to mean, then how can you tell what God wants in the Bible at all? The Bible would seem to be so untrustworthy as to be useless. A better explanation is that the Bible, and other holy books, are not divinely inspired, they were written by men (regardless of the century) who generally wanted to oppress women, with a few dissenters who squeaked in there.

So while Jimmy Carter should be applauded for actively supporting women’s rights and trying to engage the religious community in this pursuit, I disagree with him making it seem like he is fully supported in this by the Bible, The Quran, etc. It is he who is carefully picking and choosing from the same overwhelmingly misogynistic religions that largely served to oppress women in the first place.

Robert Wright’s “new atheism” delusion

"The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins

Robert Wright , who I mentioned in a recent post is the author of The Evolution of God , has now gone on the offensive to attack in an opinion piece in the Huffington Post what he calls "new atheism."

His book, reviewed in episode 58 of the podcast American Freethought , gives a history of the evolution of the Abrahamic God (of the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian faiths). Wright reportedly gives an account of the historical reasons behind the development of these religions, leading up to the modern day. While not taking an openly theistic stance in the book, he does include some enigmatic references to notions such as a "greater purpose".

In American Freethought, Wright criticized some of the so-called atheist leaders (Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Dawkins, etc.), while co-host John Snider made it clear that atheism is not a unified movement and these people do not speak for all atheists. In the Huffington Post piece, however, Wright again depicts atheism (or at least "new atheism") as one voice. In the Huffington Post , Wright says:

When it comes to foreign policy, a right-wing bias afflicts not just Hitchens’s world view, but the whole ideology of "new atheism" […]

Atheism has little intrinsic ideological bent. (Karl Marx. Ayn Rand. I rest my case.) But things change when you add the key ingredient of the new atheism: the idea that religion is not just mistaken, but evil — that it "poisons everything," as Hitchens has put it with characteristic nuance.

This does not represent all atheists, and not even all the prominent he mentions. Richard Dawkins specifically counters such a notion in The God Delusion . In response to the title of a television program(me) on BBC 4 that was entitled "The root of all evil?" (the title of which he had reportedly fought against), Dawkins said on the very first page of the Preface:

From the start, I didn’t like the title. Religion is not the root of all evil, for no one thing is the root of all anything.

The Wright article is filled with mischaracterizations and overgeneralizations about both atheism and historical events. Does he truly think the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is "basically" unrelated to religion? Does he know for a fact that most atheists agree with Hitchens’ right-wing views on the war on terror? Where is the proof that new atheists think religion is completely evil? It makes me wonder what his agenda is, but it does seem like he is more openly criticizing atheism when before he seemed to be straddling the fence. The fact that he would still present atheism as some organized mass conspiracy, with no proof of this, is disheartening.

For a more in-depth critique of the article, see John Snider’s post on the American Freethought website.

Proposed game show should be called “Who Wants To Be A Believer?”


Mecca. Photograph: Bazuki Muhammad/Reuters

There’s a new game show which is causing controversy in Turkey. The basic premise of the game, "Penitents Compete", is trying to convert an atheists by offering them a prize to the holy site of whatever religion they are converted to. It sounds like a joke, but it’s not. From Yahoo! News:

Turkish television station Kanal T hopes the answer is a ratings success as it prepares to launch a gameshow where spiritual guides from the four faiths [Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism] will seek to convert a group of non-believers. […]

But religious authorities in Muslim but secular Turkey are not amused by the twist on the popular reality game show format and the Religious Affairs Directorate is refusing to provide an imam for the show.

"Doing something like this for the sake of ratings is disrespectful to all religions. Religion should not be a subject for entertainment programs," High Board of Religious Affairs Chairman Hamza Aktan told state news agency Anatolian […]

"We are giving the biggest prize in the world, the gift of belief in God," Kanal T chief executive Seyhan Soylu told Reuters.

"We don’t approve of anyone being an atheist. God is great and it doesn’t matter which religion you believe in. The important thing is to believe," Soylu said.

My guess would be that the last quote by Soylu is the problem: Turkey is officially Islamic, and this show would appear to put Islam as on equal footing with 3 other religions. I guess this goes to show that people from different religions, who fight over just about everything, can agree on one thing: atheists are bad and need to be converted. Even converting them to a religion you don’t believe in is apparently better than them just not believing in any God. If I find any updates on this, I’ll keep you posted.

UPDATE: Here from the Guardian’s website is an audio discussion of the new show. In it, it is claimed that 3 out of 4 Turks say they would not want to live next to an atheist. Sounds like similar polls I’ve read in the US (such as this one from Gallup ) where people would be willing to elect pretty much anyone over an atheist to public office.