The Irish Atheist Reviews ‘Noah’

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Noah, the biblical epic directed by Darren Aronofsky, dominated the box office over the weekend by pulling in 44 million dollars. Despite being highly controversial for months, the film based on the Noah’s Ark myth managed to defend itself against the slews of criticism coming in from all corners of the Evangelical sphere of influence. And they have been coming in non-stop. Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis said “it may be the worst film I’ve ever seen,” citing the various inaccuracies with the original Genesis account.

The irony of a Hollywood film not staying true to a story in which millions of animals survive for a year on one boat is apparently lost to Ham.

He’s not the only one. The movie is being called ‘blasphemous,‘ among other things. With Christian criticism so strong and rumours about rock people and environmentalism and Russell Crowe channeling Aragorn flying everywhere, I didn’t really have a choice. I had to go see it. I probably would have anyway. Noah’s Ark was actually my favourite Bible story back in my Christian youth, and despite being awakened to its many flaws and conundrums, I was eager to see how Aronofsky would interpret one of the most polarising accounts in Western literature. So I forked over six bucks and sat at a 1:00 matinee filled with old church people.

And in the end I….liked it?

Yeah. I liked it.

I think.

CAUTION; HERE THERE BE SPOILERS! YARG.

First, the good. Noah is a visually beautiful film. I fully expected it to be, with a mad genius like Darren Aronofsky at the helm, but I was awed at the imagination and wonder that poured out of the film like a deluge. It was the little things that stood out to me. Like the fact that Adam and Eve had no hair since there was no death in the Garden of Eden. The murder of Abel at the hands of Cain reflecting all murder and violence throughout human history. Most spectacularly, a sequence in which Noah narrates the Creation story as told in Genesis, accompanied by a rapid stop-motion sequence illustrating the history of the planet from the Big Bang through the evolution of life. For a minute I had one foot in Catechism class and another in Cosmos.

Even the colour palate is beautiful. The deep greens of Iceland are a fitting backdrop to the last surviving corner of Creation that Noah and his family inhabit. Aronofsky refused to stick with the typical Middle-Eastern Caucasian Bible culture so often portrayed in Biblical epics, choosing instead an almost Gaulish, barbarian, steampunk vibe for his ante-diluvian humanity.

The casting was adequate, with a few exceptions. Russell Crowe is a powerful yet tortured Noah, with Jennifer Connelly providing balance as his supportive but strong-willed wife Naameh. Emma Watson as Ila was a natural choice for the woman who would become a new mother of all humanity. Douglas Booth fell flat as a soft and weak-willed Shem, doing everything half-heartedly even when the life of his own unborn child is at stake (more on that in a bit). Logan Lerman is a much more effective Ham, a young man who challenges and defies his father and is seemingly the only character who fully comprehends that the entire world is about to drown.

Speaking of drowning….

I was eager to see how a film by atheist Aronofsky would handle the inherent cruelty of drowning all of humanity in an act of divine genocide. Noah doesn’t flinch away from the monstrosity of such an act, but instead places most of the emotional baggage on Noah himself. Yeah, Noah is sort of a dick. Repulsed by humanity’s wickedness, he decides that people are so corrupt that not even he and his family deserve to live on, resolving to die after the Flood without reproducing. Meanwhile, Ham finds a young girl named Na’el among the wicked and connects with her. He attempts to save her life as the deluge begins but Noah forces his son to abandon her, leaving her screaming on the ground only to be killed by an angry horde. The act stays with Ham throughout the film until he finally lashes out saying ‘Her name was Na’el! And she was innocent!’

And so were so many others. Their screams and pleas and begging echoes through the roaring waters. Noah has no pity for them, and neither does his god it seems. When Ila becomes pregnant, Noah swears to kill the child if it’s a girl. Naturally it is (twins girls, in fact), and Noah gets as far as raising a knife over them and their weeping mother before his basic humanity – squashed by the immense act of genocide he took part in – finally kicks in again.

It’s a message that’s of great important to any theist seeing the film. Even if your god were to exist, that doesn’t mean his actions are inherently righteous.

Now for the….less good.

The film has flaws, as all do. It’s overlong (two and a half hours!). The dialogue is stilted and often spoken in bad English accents. Apparently somewhere down the line, English accents started to symbolise antiquity and graveness, but here it often fell flat.

The film also carries an overt environmentalist message. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The spoiling of Creation was vivid and relevant to the film. But I had wondered how the film would depict a people so evil that mass murder was the only viable solution. Their greatest crime? Eating meat.

Not even kidding. Noah watches the descendents of Cain rip apart an animal for food, and that’s what convinces him that men have no right to live upon the earth.

The bacon cheeseburger I had eaten beforehand suddenly sat uneasily in my digestive tract.

The rape of the earth becomes a central theme of the film. Tubal-Cain, the evil antagonist, practically channels the spirit of Ann Coulter when he waxes eloquent on how men are made to create their own destiny and dominate the earth beneath them. Noah, a movie that had managed to not be preachy in any other aspect, unleashed the preachiness at the worst possible opportunity. Convincing me that a large group of innocent people deserved to die.

Also, there are rock people.

The Watchers, in fact, figures from the apocryphal book of Enoch. Neither Enoch nor Genesis really goes into who these beings were, so Aronofsky  had a bit of artistic license to play with. He chose rock people. Fallen angels encased in stone when they came to earth to help mankind. They exist for two reasons, apparently. To help Noah build the ark in ten years instead of 120 like in the Genesis account. And to provide an opportunity for rock-em-sock-em special effects at the Battle of Helm’s Ark.

I was disappointed. There were a thousand different ways you could have gone with this, Mr. Aronofsky, and you picked the rock people.

Altogether, it’s a film that almost would have worked better as a 1920’s silent movie than a blockbuster epic. A stunning work of art that manages to climb out of it’s own seriousness by pulling the audience into a simultaneously engrossing and utterly bizarre landscape.

I’m glad I saw it. And I will be seeing it again.

 

Also, where the hell did Methuselah get a flaming sword? I’ve never seen those lying around Costco.

An Atheist’s Parable: The Evangelical and the Gay Man

 

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A rich Evangelical Christian was walking on the street in a large city in the dead of winter.

On the way, he found a young man, alone and homeless and shivering from the cold.

“Come,” said the Evangelical. “Get on your feet and follow me, and you will be warm for all of your days.”

And the young man got on his feet and followed him.

An a little further along, the Evangelical came across an old man, curled up in a doorway and shivering from the cold.

“Come out from that doorway,” said the Evangelical. “Follow me and you will be warm for all of your days.”

And the old man stood up and followed him.

And as they neared the place where the Evangelical lived, they came across a woman with her child, lying on a mat by the river and shivering with the cold.

“Come,” said the Evangelical. “Pick up your mat and follow me, and you and your child will be warm for the rest of your days.”

And the woman picked up her mat and followed him.

So they walked on until they reached the mansion where the Evangelical lived. It was filled with light and warmth and good food to eat.

The Evangelical stopped on the doorway and looked at his followers.

“The Master of this house is a good man, but just,” he said. “All you need to do to enter is confess your sins and he will forgive you.”

The woman and child stepped forward. “My child was not born in wedlock,” said the woman. “My parents threw us out and I have stolen food to feed us.”

“Come,” said the Evangelical. “Your sins are forgiven. Now you shall be warm for all of your days.”
And the young woman entered the house.

The old man stepped forward. “I’m a veteran of many wars,” he said. “I have killed innocent people and stolen land. I have raped and hurt others. I am not worthy to enter the house.”

“Your sins are forgiven,” said the Evangelical. “Now you shall be warm for all of your days.”

And the old man entered the house.

Finally the young man, the first to follow the Evangelical, stepped forward.

“I do not know if this matters to your Master, but I am gay.” he said.

“Your sins are forgiven,” said the Evangelical. “Now you shall be warm for all of your days.”

And he took the young gay man out back to the woodshed, locked him inside, and set it on fire.

 

The End

Why I’d Rather Debate Ken Ham Than Ben Corey

Anti-science, anti-gay, psuedoscientist who thinks I will burn for eternity in hell

Anti-science, anti-gay, psuedoscientist who thinks I will burn for eternity in hell

VS.

Anabaptist, progressive, anti-violence theologian who doesn't care that I poke fun at his hair

Anabaptist, progressive, anti-violence theologian with good hair for his age.

 

When I first ‘met’ Ben Corey I burned him pretty hard.

I mean, another Christian blogger on Patheos talking about the meaning and purpose found in a life with Jesus Christ? How could I not?

It was the usual “wow, your theology is really convenient to your personal set of ethics; wow, you conveniently cherry-pick the Bible; wow, you like the Pope because you have no idea what it’s actually like to live somewhere that is directly influenced by the Catholic Church,” sort of thing.

You know that atheist who knows a lot, but unfortunately knows that he knows a lot, and is highly skilled at provoking difficult conversations with theists who weren’t looking for a fight? That was me.

Sorry, Mr. Corey.

We’ve gotten to know each other a bit better over the last few months, mainly because Mr. Corey refused to accept that he was my enemy and consistently reached out by insisting that we could be friends. It’s been both an unexpected and positive experience for me.

So, to repay Ben Corey for his friendship, I’m going to use him in a blog post meant to criticise Christian theology.

You’re welcome Mr. Corey. I know I owe you a beer.

One thing Ben and I haven’t been able to do yet, considering that we’ve never actually met face-to-face, is have a real one-on-one debate. It’ll probably happen sometime in the years to come. But when I initially challenged him on his own blog, I was thrown off because his theology wasn’t something I’m familiar with. I have a passing knowledge of Anabaptism, which is how Ben loosely identifies, but not enough to know the hermeneutics or apologetics that Ben utilises to defend his faith.

Which is a huge problem when an atheist challenges (or is challenged by) a Christian in the public forum. We have to do this sort of ritual mating dance to figure out what species they are and what language they speak.

There are an estimated 40,000 Christian denominations in existence. 40,000 ways to interpret one book. Never mind all the additional religious texts and treatises like the Apocrypha and the Book of Concord that some Christians take as doctrine and others don’t.

When atheists debate each other in matters of science, you can be reasonably assured that they’re going to be following a strict set of rules. They’re going to adhere to the scientific method, they’re going to try to avoid logical fallacies, and if they don’t they can be held accountable and their argument is weakened. There is no such advantage with Christians. When Christians challenge our arguments we have no idea what parts of the Bible we can use to refute them because we don’t know what they take seriously or literally and what they dismiss as allegorical or of less importance.

Which is why I’d rather debate Ken Ham then Ben Corey.

One of the first articles I challenged Mr. Corey was one in which he asked whether certain parts of the Bible were literal or metaphorical and if the question even mattered. One of the arguments he asserted was that the Book of Exodus, whether literal or not, is a strong statement on the evils of slavery. When I pointed out that there are verses in the very next book of Leviticus that are very pro-slavery, his answer basically said that there are certain parts of the Bible that can only be understood through the lens of Jesus, and that if it went against the message of Jesus than it doesn’t literally mean what it says.

Which was frustrating, to say the least.

Essentially, I feel unable to use the Bible to defend my own atheistic stance because I will always be accused of not taking it in the right context. Almost every Christian will assert that the passages of the Bible need to be viewed with the right system of hermeneutics, the right apologetics, the correct translation. And if you don’t use all the correct systems, then you loose the true meaning.

Which translates into “Of the 40,000 possible meanings behind this verse, you haven’t chosen mine.”

So when I bring up the more violent parts of the Bible, the parts that directly contrast his own anti-violence worldview, I’m not viewing it through the right lens. When I challenge a blogger like Mark Daoust on how the Canaanite genocide matches the idea of a loving God, I’m told that the Book of Joshua is to be taken as a literary epic that shows the just nature of God and not a historical record. Whatever that means. The literal 6-day creation, Noah’s Ark, Jonah, the Plagues of Egypt, they’re literary, allegorical, parables.

But the literal death and resurrection of Jesus, his miracles, his divinity, those are absolutely true and literal and must be taken on faith.

Head. Pounding. Desk.

Now over to Ken Ham, who I’m sure you’re all familiar with after his highly publicised debate with Bill Nye. Ham, one of the leaders of the Answers in Genesis movement and the founder of the Creation museum, is a Biblical literalist. He takes all of the Bible to mean exactly what it says. Creation, Flood, Exodus, crucifixion etc.

I think Ham’s beliefs are ridiculous bordering on dangerous, but at least I know what the rules are. At least I can be confident that when I bring up an incident in the Bible he’s not going to interrupt and say “Now you need to understand, that may not have actually literally happened.” Ham may be borderline delusional, but at least he’s honest. He’s trying to sell a collection of ancient texts as the literal Word of God. And he’s adamant that it’s all the literal Word of God, not just this part and that part and maybe this bit right here. He’s drawn the line in the sand. All or none. Ken Ham at least has enough respect for his intellectual opponents to not expect us to have to use guess work to figure out his theological standards.

So if I, for example, bring up the Canaanite genocide, I already know that Ham views the account exactly how the Bible portrays it. As a literal event condoned and commanded by God. No guesswork on my part as to how allegorical I’m supposed to take it.

Christians like Ham claim that if you reject the inerrancy and literacy of one part of the Bible, you can do the same to the rest. I agree. And I do. Christians like Ben Corey claim that you can dismiss the literal meaning and sometimes even the importance of certain parts of the Bible but not others. Because…well, I don’t really know. That’s the point. And everyone but a literalist is going to have a different answer.

See why I find Ken Ham to be strangely refreshing?

I know Mr. Corey better than I ever will Ken Ham, but I know so much more about Ham’s beliefs than Corey’s. I know Mr. Corey believes in the literal death and resurrection of Jesus. I’m pretty certain he accepts the divinity of Jesus. He says he’s accepts the Theory of Evolution but I don’t know if that applies to human beings. I don’t know if he believes in Adam and Eve or what that means for the doctrine of original sin. I have no idea what his beliefs are concerning hell. For that matter, I don’t know if he believes that I’ll be in hell.

With Ken Ham, I do. I may not like it, but at least I know. I can engage. I can stand on a level playing field.

So, to my Christian readers, this is what I’m asking of you. Stop saying that atheists don’t understand the Bible. Be honest with us and say that we don’t accept the interpretation you choose to work with.

 

Pictures found at answersingenesis.com and formerlyfundie.com

We Gotz Yo’ Back! (And Other Unfortunate Attempts at Teenage Vernacular)

I woke up this morning after a long day of arguing with religious extremists, fully prepared to take a day off from the front and do far less important things like working out and grocery shopping. Alas, it was not to be. For no sooner did I log into Twitter than I saw a call to action from my friend Rah (@francosoup) calling the banners to march with the sounds of tympani and trumpets and many a song of battles fought and won.

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t that dramatic. Humour me.

Rah, who in real life is a nurse in the UK, was recently contacted by a teenager here in America who was looking for some counseling and advice. This unnamed teenager is a high school student and an atheist who until recently kept her lack of religious beliefs very private. Several of her classmates recently discovered her Twitter account and outed her to her school as an atheist. The atheist teen has since endured a great deal of harassment from her peers over her personal convictions, including being called vile names as she walks down the halls. She is afraid to seek help from the administration, most (if not all) of whom are devout Christians.

Rah’s call to action has led to the creation of the hashtag #AtheistTeen for messages of support. I wanted to include myself among those who have already given excellent advice and support, but being the wordy bastard that I am, I had a difficult time fitting something meaningful into 140 characters.

So, Atheist Teen, you are forced to endure my much longer ramblings. #SorryNotSorry

First, encouragement. I know what you’re going through is tough. I’m not going to be the person who tells you that it’s just high school, they’re just kids, it will pass and your real life will start. Because I understand that even though it’s ‘just high school,’ it’s your life right now. Your education, social circles, possible even your hobbies are rooted in that building currently filled with hostile religious peers. That is rough. Do I know what it’s like? Not exactly. I wasn’t (to my regret) an open atheist in my Evangelical high school. I was an immigrant kid with a funny accent who did the jig, however. So I know the pain of vocal barbs. Kids can be cruel.

But that doesn’t make it right.

Please understand that you are an inspiration right now to people who are ten, twenty, fifty years older than you. Many of us are grateful that we didn’t have to deal with the social stigma of atheism in our formative years. So many of us can’t imagine the courage it’s taking you to walk down the hallway to English class right now. It’s awful and amazing. It’s brutal and brilliant. You are a strong and beautiful young woman who’s walking through the furnace right now. Each and every one of us are going to be right there by you, available for encouragement and support.

I would say that we’re all with you in spirit, but that would be silly since there’s no empirical evidence for the existence of spirits. #AtheistInsideJokes

Secondly, advice. I know that you said (or Rah said) that you’re afraid of the repercussions of going to the devoutly Christian administration. I understand, but despite this I advise you to consider it. It is the job of the people who run your school to create a non-hostile environment for the students who are required to be there. That is the law. This is something that should be brought to their attention. And if the harassment continues, it needs to continue to be brought to their attention.

You see, it’s an almost certainty that you are not the only atheist in your school. What’s happening to you is going to happen to another, maybe while you’re there, maybe not, but it will happen. You have an opportunity to make your school a better place for the next person. It’s a hard choice and a hard road to take, but if we chose what was easy and popular over what’s right, we wouldn’t be atheists.

When people in the hallway call you things like ‘atheist-slut’ and ‘Christian-hater,’ it is your right to decide how to respond to such abuse. If you choose to take the high road and ignore it, good for you. They are trying to prompt a reaction out of you and the classy thing is to not give bullies what they want. That being said, please understand that it is your absolute right to make your feelings and desires known. We tell our girls that if a man touches them in a way they don’t like, they have the right to say ‘no’ and he is required by law to stop.

Well guess what, the same thing applies to any sort of abuse. You have the right to say ‘no.’ You have the right to turn and tell your abusers, “Stop calling me that. It’s hurtful and untrue. Stop it now.” Not only does this put the spotlight back on the bully (something that he or she tries to avoid at all costs) it is a vocal expression of your intent and you have the right to be heard. They must stop. That is the law. And you have the right to use the law to your advantage.

Finally, there seems to be nothing else to say except to post inspiring messages with cartoons.

You’re braver than you know. Be brave.

cartoon-disney-mulan-princess-swag-Favim.com-236934

You’re stronger than you know. Be strong.

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Do what is right over what is easy.

This historically inaccurate gif is meant to be inspiring. Just...go with it.

This historically inaccurate gif is meant to be inspiring. Just…go with it.

Who you are is beautiful. Embrace it.

03EvhW

If there is anything I can do personally, feel free to contact me. And please keep us updated.

To my readers, please consider leaving a brief message with the hashtag #AtheistTeen on Twitter today.

Christians Will Let Children Starve Because Gay Marriage

WorldVision-Logo

Dear Christianity,

I’m done.

Fuck it, I’m done.

I’m done refraining from using coarse language to describe you on this blog, because you haven’t proven yourself to be worthy of even the basic civility.

I thought I was done with you when you helped paid for the bombs that blew up my people.

I thought I was done with you when you hid child rapists from the authorities and then claimed that you were the most transparent and responsible organisation when it comes to rooting out kid-fuckers among your holy men.

I thought I was done with you when you insisted Jesus was white, when you asked George Zimmerman for autographs, when you told the parents of a Buddhist kid that he should transfer out of his school to ‘one with more Asians.

I thought I was done with you then.

I guess I wasn’t, because I’m done with you now.

Because you essentially are going to let children starve in your ongoing crusade against gay people.

Dear World Vision: I see that you have made a decision to allow married gay people work for your organisation. Congratulations for finally reaching a position that allows you to maintain basic decency. I have plenty of sarcastic and cutting comments about the fact that it took you this gods damned long to realise that gay people can feed the hungry too, but I’m not going to indulge in them. Because you made the right choice. And I understand that after decades of repeated indoctrination saying that LGBT people should not even be tolerated, breaking your mind and your conscience free and making that first step is a big deal. So you know what, good on you.

Edit: At this time, World Vision is reportedly reversing their policy change. Well World Vision, way to compromise what you know is right to do the easy thing. I sponsored a child yesterday, and I will continue to because I don’t treat hungry children like trophies to demonstrate my piety.

Dear Christendom: Your reaction to this reversal in policy is disgusting. It is absolutely beyond comprehension. Should we take a look at it?

AFA, you’re calling for a boycott of World Vision.

Matt Barber, you’re claiming gay people feeding kids is an abomination before your god.

Linda Harvey, you’re going to stop donating to World Vision and let children starve.

WV2

Thousands of Christians commenting on their websites, you’re resolved to join her.

Because fuck the starving children. It’s more important to kick LGBT people down and keep them in their place. Again.

Dear conservative Christians: You have, once again, disgusted me. World Vision is an organisation that links people to specific children in need across the globe, and you are abandoning them in droves because…of what? Gay marriage? The thought that gay people might find jobs in Christian organisations that do wonderful things for people? I’m not surprised. I know the nature of your religion, I know how far you are willing to take the hatred that permeates everything you touch. Why should anyone be surprised by this? You have shown, time and time again, that your hatred trumps your compassion, your dignity, your own decency.

You have told every LGBT individual out there, Christian and not, that they are so vile, so damned, so unworthy of the love of your god that they are not even fit to feed starving children. That you are willing to let the misery and squalor and pain around the world go on if it means that you don’t have to see them, interact with them, act as though they are capable of just as much generosity and empathy as you are.

The Gentile woman begged Jesus to heal her daughter. He called her a dog, and she told him that even dogs at scraps from their master’s table. You don’t even have the decency to do give LGBT people that. You have kicked the dog out the door and into the street, calling out ‘It’s all in love!’ as you shut the door.

So enough. Enough of this pantomime you play, this charade that you are acting with morality and love, that you are loving the sinner and hating the sin, that you are expressing the truth in love, that all sins are equal under the sight of god and that you don’t treat them any different. Because it’s sickening. The stench of your hypocrisy is rising to the heavens you worship. You want to believe that gay people are doomed to a eternity in hellfire and damnation? Fine. That’s you’re prerogative. It makes you an awful person, and I wish you no good in your life.

But, gods damn it, you’re going to stop feeding a child that has been relying on you for everything they need just because a gay person might touch the food or water or schoolbooks?

Fuck.

You.

Dear Progressive Christianity: I’m tired. I’m tired of this. I’m tired of being assured that this isn’t what Christianity is all about. I’m tired of been admonished when I criticise your religion and told I’m focusing on people and not the message of love you claim your god is about. I’m tired of waiting for you to step up and clean up your religion and turn it into something that actually contributes to the betterment of human existence.

You have had 2,000 years to shape Christianity into something that actually resembles a group of people following Christ. You have failed. You have succeeded in a hundred wars, a thousand massacres, a million rapes, a billion deaths, and today you have succeeded in leaving hundreds of children without the necessities they rely on. You claim that you’re about love, you claim that you advocate tolerance, and Christianity continues to burn the world to the ground if it means they can get rid of those icky gays. Or blacks. Or Roma. Or Jews. Or transgendered people.

This is your religion. This is the face of Christianity, these are its works. This is what it produces. Claim whatever you want, but the cruelty of your brothers and sisters in Christ is the modus operandi of your religion, and more importantly it is backed up by your own Scriptures. And the rest of us have lost patience with it.

Dear Christianity: We are done. Thank you for what you have done today to aid the cause of atheism.

 

I encourage everyone who can to consider sponsoring a child in need through World Vision or another reputable organisation that you prefer. This is an issue that goes far beyond theological disagreements and grudges.

 

This child was fed by a lesbian. He will also go to hell.

This child was fed by a lesbian. He will also go to hell.

This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things Part 3: Christianity Declares War on Trans-Neptunian Ice-Balls

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If you haven’t been watching Cosmos I’m deeply disappointed in you.

It is, quite frankly, one of the best things that has happened to me this winter. Neil deGrasse Tyson carries viewers through the history of our planet, our species, and our entire universe with that rare gift so few individuals have. Not only is he one of the most brilliant men alive, he has an incredible ability to communicate with less-educated individuals without talking down to them. Instead, he lifts us up to his level, not expecting us to have the background he does but also not acting as though we don’t have the ability to grasp the concepts he’s expanding on.

I love it. For a man who follows exactly two television programmes, it’s one of the best efforts at educating a populace I’ve ever seen.  I appreciate the effort and motives behind Cosmos because I’m exactly the audience the programme is geared towards. As I’ve mentioned before, I went to an Evangelical high school in America after I immigrated. I was spoon-fed the whole Christianist mythos they have the gall to call ‘science.’ The earth is 6,00 years old, the Flood actually happened, God created a young earth that just appears old in order to trick you. We didn’t learn about carbon-dating, we learned what was wrong about carbon-dating. We memorised the scientific method, but added the step that the works of God were mysterious and superseded the efforts of mere men.

Sure, I knew it was wrong, I knew it was hysterically manipulative and damaging, but I never challenged it because I didn’t have the necessary information to counter it. There were no books on evolutionary biology in my school, I didn’t have access to the internet at home (it was banned for fear of the terrible enemy of pornography) and any science books from the local library had to be kept in the building. I graduated from high school at the age of eighteen, moved on to university, and was steamrolled by the terrible truth that I was essentially scientifically illiterate.

Cosmos is giving me back a little bit of the education I was cheated out of in my fundamentalist high school, and for that I thank them.

But not everyone is so happy.

Not everyone is looking up at the stars with a new sense of wonder.

Because there’s a large group of people that Cosmos threatens by its very existence.

No points for guessing who. It’s the religious. The people who demand you stop looking at the stars and instead get on your knees and bow your head. Who possibly could have guessed?

The criticism has come from multiple sources. Cosmos’ first crime was in the first episode, when it suggested that the Church’s long history of suppressing scientific advancement and discovery was sort of a bad thing. Christians came out in droves to suggest that by showing Giordano Bruno’s execution by the Christian Church as a heretic, Cosmos is nothing short of propaganda and that Tyson is historically illiterate.

So, first lesson: Tyson encourages people to learn, discover, and grow. Christians maintain that unless you depict their Church in the best possible light, you are essentially illiterate.

The second episode revolved around the Theory of Evolution, masterfully weaving the narrative of dogs with the origin of life on our planet. Again, outrage, from news syndicates that censored any suggestion that humans and apes have a common ancestor, to creationists from Answers in Genesis demanding that Cosmos give them equal airtime to voice their beliefs.

Lesson number two: Educational programmes are dishonest and incomplete if they don’t also include a talking snake. Because the scientific method is antithesis to religious doctrine Jesus Christ our Lord says so.

Last Sunday’s episode was essentially a history lesson on the laws of science as discovered by Newton and Halley, with a special focus on comets. Comets are arguably one of the coolest and most fascinating phenomena in our solar system. Surely, no one can have an issue with comets, correct?

Oh wait, the science behind our understanding of comets flies in the face of the Word of God, so yes, you can bet the creationists are going to have a problem with these trans-Neptunian agents of Satan.

You see, comets sail through our solar systems in orbital ellipses that take many thousands of years to complete. Many are destroyed in collisions with the heavenly bodies, others run out of steam (literally) and become asteroids, but there are always more. Astronomers have theorised that many comets come from the Oort Cloud, a sphere of ice and rock chunks that orbit the sun beyond even Pluto. When one is knocked out of its orbit, it plummets towards the sun, eventually becoming a comet. The Oort Cloud is verifiable because we can see the evidence it leaves, including the existence of the Kuiper Belt.

But the existence of the Oort Cloud flies in the face of the idea that the universe is several thousands of years old, since the time it takes for a comet to travel from the cloud to the inner solar system can be many times that period. To the surprise of absolutely no one, the Christian response is base denial. From the AIG website:

Actually the Oort cloud, like Peter Pan’s Neverland, has never been observed. The Oort cloud was imagined to provide a birthplace for new comets, since comets like ISON could not exist in a billions-of-years-old universe without some renewable source. The Oort cloud is thus a convenient fiction, but a fiction nonetheless.

I want to pause a moment so we can savour the rank hypocrisy in this statement. Doesn’t this sound familiar to you? Haven’t we all been told that we’re close-minded when we mention that no one has ever seen god? Supposedly, existence of God is proven through the evidence he leaves behind. Depending on who you ask this can range anywhere from the ‘perfect’ prophecies of the Old Testament to the existence of beautiful flowers. However, when it comes to the Oort Cloud, it’s absolute fantasy because no one has ever seen it. Never mind the astronomical, physical, verifiable evidence of its existence. It’s all a Satanist ploy to lead you away from Jesus.

The second hypocritical aspect of this statement is that it flies in the face of another Young Earth Doctrine: the idea that God created the universe with age. You see, there’s something else that takes a long time, millions and billions of years sometimes, to reach Earth. It’s called light. It comes from stars. Stars that are billions of light years away. Christians don’t have the luxury of explaining away the physics behind light by calling it a fantasy no one has seen because, most unfortunately, we can actually see the stars. So Christians claim that God created the light in transit, giving the appearance of a 13.5 billion year old universe. If they wanted to be consistent, AIG would claim that their deity just created comets in transit from the Oort Belt. But no, this is evangelical Christianity, and despite their claims to a superior method of science, they can’t even get their own hypotheses correct.

Lesson number three: If you can’t see it, you’re rejecting the love of God. If we can’t see it, scientists made it up to trick you.

These three lessons should put to rest an idea that more progressive Christians like to claim; the idea that religion and science are not at odds with one another. Some Christians are willing to give concessions to science, amending their holy book when it’s proven that all life evolves to adapt, or that the earth rotates around the sun, or that the stars are not fixed in the sky. But it’s done with much resentment, and always with the caveat that God definitely still exists. Many Christians claim that science is just the way we know about God’s Creation, even as they perform impressive mental gymnastics to demonstrate how a book that says the earth rests on pillars and that Joshua stopped the sun in the sky isn’t at odds with our modern understanding of the universe.

This is not just a kooky gimmick, or a eye-rolling fringe of people. This is a majority of Americans. This is another generation of children who are being denied the wonders of our world like I was. This is a crime, and it needs to stop.

The Day I Went Back to Church

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There are an estimated 3.7 million church buildings in the world. I am willing to walk into one of them. And only on one day of the year.

The church is the Dublin Unitarian Church. It’s Good Friday. The streets of Dublin are empty as people file into the great cathedrals of Ireland to commemorate the crucifixion. The people shuffling through St. Stephen’s Green towards the massive greystone building could have come from any other corner of Ireland on this day. We’re all bent against the cold wind of another Irish spring, our shawls and scarves and woolen coats flapping as hard as the banners around us. But we’re not here for Scripture readings or sacred oil. We haven’t come for chants or prayers or homilies read in loud booming voices as choirs raise hymns in the lofts. We’ve come for a reason much more solemn, much more raw. We’re here for the reading of the dead.

The congregation is a small collection compared to those who are crowded into St. Patrick’s or St. Mary’s elsewhere. We’re dwarfed by the old stone columns and soaring stained glass, a dripping wet, motley collection of world-worn people who greet each other with soft words and warm smiles. Strangers remain so for a minute or less until they’re brought into the circle. A few of us sit alone, near the back by the door. Most of us cluster forward into the warm.

Here, there is no Catholic or Protestant, atheist or pagan. No one cares that I’m an ex-Catholic, now godless. Such divisions are petty at the best of times, and on this afternoon they’re absolute sacrilege.

There is a ceremony of sorts. A god is invoked, a song is sung. We huddle together in the pews. Strangers hold hands. Protestants rest their heads on the shoulders of Catholics, the tears beginning to brim even before the reading starts.

Someone – a priest, a lay person, it doesn’t matter – stands and begins the list.

“Anthony Abbott, of Manchester.” Shot dead by the IRA in Ardoyne.

“Paul Witters, of Derry.” Killed by the RUC at the age of 15.

“Kathleen Irving, of Belfast.” No one knows who set off the bomb that killed her, but bombs murder all the same regardless of religious affiliation.

The Tricolour flutters in the breeze as the names continue. First one person will speak, then another. Some say only one name, others several.

“John O’Reilly, of Drogheda. Gary McCartan, of Belfast. Bertha Armstrong, of Enniskillen.”

There’s a woman a few pews down from me, holding a framed picture in her hands. The young boy has a haircut not seen since the late seventies but the tears pouring down her cheeks come from a wound that could have been dug out yesterday.

“Fran O’Toole, of Bray.” Shot by the UVF 22 times with a machine gun. Murdered alongside the rest of the Miami Showband for no other crime than playing music..

“Sylvia McCullough of Gillford.” She was sitting in the wrong bar at the wrong time.

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I don’t say any names. I keep my head bowed and let it wash over me, a silent vigil to the still forms I saw in Omagh.

It’s a different sort of prayer. No pomp, no ritual, just the primal rage and grief born out of forty years of religious warfare. While the churches of Ireland fill the coffers of the cardinals and talk about sacrifice and redemption and original sin and atonement, we remember our dead.

And we are the only ones, on this rainy Good Friday.

It’s either one long prayer or thousands of short ones, but they go on for three hours. 3,500 names. Infants and old people, men, women, children, policeman, militants, constables, civilians, all caught up in the games that our parents and grandparents played over crosses on the walls and lines drawn in the sand. The wind grows a bit stronger. Maybe someone left a window open. Or maybe the ghosts can hear us.

“William and Letitia Younger, of Ligoniel.” A man and daughter, stabbed in their home.

And with the intonation of the Youngers, the names finally cease.

We clasp hands, wipe away the final tears. Those who came alone stream out, or sit for a while longer, staring up at the glassy angels. There are invitations to dinner and promises of catching up over pints. The church empties, until next week, next year. The candles go out.

The list of the dead has not grown longer in fourteen years. The sound of reconciliation is the echo of names not spoken.

Happy (belated) St. Patrick’s Day.

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This post was originally conceived as a response to “Your Church Stories,” by Rachel Held Evans.