Sarah Palin’s Sacraments

“As fourteen year olds, my friend and I took great pride in hanging about with the older ‘cool’ kids in my area. They were seventeen. We were a raucous bunch and I’m sure we annoyed the neighbours, but we were a good group of kids. Stevie was a bit more bold and got into petty theft. One night we were approached by six men in balaclavas. Two grabbed Stevie who immediately started screaming, whilst the other four stood over the rest of us. Stevie was dragged behind a wall. He screamed through both gunshots and didn’t stop afterwards. That was my first experience of knee-capping, I just didn’t know it. I only remember realising that the things under the bed weren’t what I should be afraid of.
“Two years later I was old enough to know what was happening when my English step-dad was dragged from my home screaming into the street. His drunken jokes about the English running Ireland had reached the wrong people. I remember hearing a high-pitched noise as my mum shouted the names of the masked men, trying and failing to shame them into stopping. They didn’t. He was shot in both knees in our garden. I realised later that the noise was me screaming. I couldn’t swallow without pain for days. My step-dad left us soon after. And my love of the country I was raised in was destroyed.”
The story above comes from my friend Kat, from County Down in Northern Ireland. It describes a particular method of torture often used during the decades when the Christian militias terrorised anyone they pleased. It was called kneecapping, and it was the preferred method of spreading non-lethal fear throughout the communities of Northern Ireland. You see, these Christian militias fancied themselves judges and executioners for anyone on the street who was suspected of wrongdoing. The most well-known were the Catholic vigilantes, but there were Protestants who used the same tactics as well.
Sometimes the victims were merely guilty of petty crimes, like poor Stevie. But there were other targets. People who were willing to stand up to the militias. People who were suspected of supporting the wrong militia. People who said the wrong thing. Married into the wrong denomination. And sometimes the parents are expected to collaborate themselves. Put yourself in the situation. You get a phone call. The voice on the other end tells you to bring your child to a certain location at a certain time. If you refuse, you’re advised to buy a little casket. So you do. You put your child in the car, drive them to where men are waiting, and watch them pump bullets into your child’s knees. And there are still cases being reported as late as 2012.
There were 2,500 reported cases of kneecapping, mainly in Northern Ireland but occasionally in the Republic. It wasn’t lethal, but you could expect weeks or months of recovery. Many people had a permanent limp, a few had to have their legs amputated.
Even though I never knew Kat before I came to the United States, I was connected to her.
Because the men who tortured her stepfather, her friend, her neighbours and her people, were sitting next to me in church.
The same men? Highly unlikely. But ones like them. We knew it. We knew where a few of these godly men went when they weren’t sitting in Mass. They snuck into Northern Ireland to help our Catholic brothers fight the Protestant menace. They came back  days later with smiles and smirks. Some people ignored them. Others patted them on the shoulder as they walked through the church door.
It seems unreal that anyone could possibly find justification for pouring bullets into a child’s body, but many did. The Protestant militias were murdering Catholics with just as much zeal. Atrocities like the bombings of Dublin and Monaghan were fresh in people’s memories. Finding Protestant loyalists or Catholic nationalists, shooting them or their children in the knees, was seen as a warning. A deterrent. Unbelievably, terrorising communities and torturing people was seen as fighting terrorism.
I remember a church picnic where a deacon made a flippant remark to a group of parishioners. “There are only two sacraments a Proddy needs. A bullet in the left knee and a bullet in the right.”
I have been in America for more than a decade, and in my foolishness, I believed for a long time that I had left such evil behind. I was wrong.
As Sarah Palin proved on Saturday as she spoke to an NRA rally in Indianapolis, when she advocated using another form of torture, waterboarding, against other people.
“Come on. Enemies, who would utterly annihilate America, they who’d obviously have information on plots, to carry out Jihad. Oh, but you can’t offend them, can’t make them feel uncomfortable, not even a smidgen. Well, if I were in charge, they would know that waterboarding is how we’d baptize terrorists.”
Yes. Not only did Sarah Palin advocate using torture on people who have not been convicted of any crime, who have not yet committed any crime, who may be entirely innocent of any wrong doing, she described it as a Christian sacrament.
Oh, America. It’s beginning to sound a lot like Northern Ireland in here.
While it’s ironic that Palin’s statement proves that she doesn’t give a damn about the U.S. Constitution, as cruel and unusual punishment is forbidden by the Eighth Amendment, it’s even more terrifying that she believes it’s her GOD-APPOINTED DUTY to carry out such vicious brutality against other human beings. Her extreme nationalism is blended with her religion so that she considers herself the agent of a higher power, and therefore above the morality of decent men and women. And above the Constitution.
Somewhere between her run as a Vice-Presidential candidate and a reality television star, Sarah Palin became a Christian of Northern Ireland.
Sarah Palin’s fervor for rooting out terrorism in poor, far away nations filled with brown people has caused her to advocate terrorism herself. When you imprison a person you suspect of wrongdoing, forego all laws and due process, and torture them for information, you have become a terrorist. And when you advocate doing such, you are advocating terrorism.
Many Christians have been horrified by Palin’s use of one of their sacred rites as an instrument of torture. Even conservative writers, such as Joe Carter over at the Gospel Coalition, have called her out on it. Personally, I don’t give a damn what religious symbolism she uses. Baptism has no meaning for me. If that’s what is offending the Christians, I leave them to get up in arms about it.
What I do care about is that I have seen Sarah Palin’s America. I know what it means to have psychotically religious individuals hold themselves above law, and above morality, and torture people in the name of fighting terrorism.
I remember it.
Kat saw it.
2,500 hundred people in one country the size of Ohio felt it as their knees were blown into pieces.
Thousands more, most never convicted of any crime, have felt it at the hands of people who cheered Palin on.
This is Sarah Palin’s America.
And it has a name.
Northern Ireland.
If you like well-spoken atheists and don’t mind earthy Irish vulgarities, follow Kat on Twitter at @alltheway1919.

How to Be an Atheist Without Being a Total $%!# About It



Let’s be honest. Atheists in America have an image crisis.

And by image crisis, I meant that we’re trusted less than rapists.

I’ve written about Christian blogger Benjamin Corey a couple of times in the past. His most recent article, a list of ten ways to be a Christian without being a total &$!# about it, is an attempt to remedy the rather obnoxious public image Christians have cultivated for themselves in America. In a couple of his comments he mentioned that he was hoping one of his atheist blogger friends would write a similar post.

And because I have nothing better to do on a Saturday morning than basket-weave as the sun rises….

Oh wait, I have plenty of things I should be doing. You owe me another beer, Mr. Corey.

To be fair, it’s a valid point. If Christians have a terrible public image in America, atheists aren’t much better. The atheist professor in ‘God’s Not Dead’ is somewhere between a straw man and an SNL caricature, but that stereotype of the elite and bitter atheist has to come from somewhere.

It does. It comes from us. Because we’re not always good examples of what it means to treat people who are different from us with respect and dignity. In fact, we’re bleeding terrible at it sometimes.

So here are ten ways to be an atheist without being a total dick about it. Ten ways I selected because I know that I’m consistently guilty of all of them. There are more. But these are the ten greatest failings of the Irish Atheist.


1. Let’s stop referring to religious people as mentally handicapped or incapacitated.

Because they’re not. The vast majority of theists are not in any way mentally challenged. For every raving lunatic who believes he’s Jesus Christ reborn in Kansas City, there are a hundred  educated men and women who are kind, sane, and rational and also religious. Some are casually spiritual, others are deeply devout. Some are extremely educated, and others are eager to plaster their ignorance on Twitter. But they make up 85-90% of the world’s population at a rough guesstimate. So let’s use the minds that 4.5 billion years of evolution gave us and stop smearing all these individuals as mentally handicapped. It does us no favours and makes us look just as petty and vicious as theists are so eager to paint us.

And, more importantly, it’s just not true. Religion is not a mental handicap. It is a complex and extraordinarily varied cultural phenomenon that influences individuals from a young age through the power of social conditioning. Any type of person can be religious – handicapped, brilliant, and everything in between. And frankly, it’s insulting to people who do live with mental handicaps. So seriously, knock it off.

2. Stop inferring that LGBT people can’t be devoutly religious.

They can. I personally don’t know how they do it. I do believe that the LGBT community is currently religion’s favourite and easiest target. But let’s stop insinuating that writers like Ben Moberg, who is gay and Christian and brilliantly well-spoken about it, is somehow ‘sleeping with the enemy.’

I don’t know how Moberg or people like him balance their identity with their religion, but it’s his life, not mine. Challenge ideas, always challenge ideas, but respect that some people are going to have life experiences that you can not identify with and that it’s not always your place to condemn the choices they make based on their experiences.

3. Stop saying that all wars are a result of religion.

They aren’t. Here’s a brief list of things that can start wars: racism, language barriers, economics, greed, nationalism, poor communication skills, they-have-nice-things-and-I-want-them, oppression of rights, assassinating Archduke Ferdinand, cutting off the ear of a man named Jenkins, and a football match. Sometimes, religion is a factor. Sometimes it’s the main factor. Not always. So let’s stop with this whole ‘religion causes all wars’ speech. It’s neither accurate nor cute.

4. In fact, let’s not use historically inaccurate arguments at all.

Remember that meme that’s passed around pretty regularly about Jesus and Horus? The one that claims that Jesus of Nazareth is basically just a carbon copy of a more ancient Egyptian deity? It’s pretty much a load of bullshit, as any reputable Egyptologist could tell you. In fact, most of those memes comparing Jesus to other deities are rubbish.

We’re supposed to be the ones who care about facts and rational arguments. Silly memes that could be refuted by an ancient history undergrad at the University of Omaha don’t help us much.

5. Let’s stop wasting money on silly billboards that poke fun at religions.

We’re not proselytisers. Let’s spend that money on something worthwhile. Like those 10,000 kids that Christians abandoned a couple of weeks ago because gay people.


6. Let’s pick our battles with discretion.

When a young Buddhist boy in a public school is forced to partake in Christianity-affirming projects and is told that he should transfer to a school with more Asians if he doesn’t like it, that’s a battle worth fighting. When a child is put down for his religion in a federally funded place of education, we need to stand up on his behalf. When a girl is forced to leave her private school because she doesn’t look ‘feminine’ enough, we need to speak out and let her know that she has a place to go and people who love her just as she is.

But when a piece of religious art like the 9-11 cross is going to be placed in a museum, is this really something we should be up in arms about? Can you imagine if federally funded museums removed every work of art with a religious message? In the art world, religious artwork is a small niche commonly known as ‘Everything before 1750.’ I don’t think one more cross in a museum is going to threaten my First Amendment rights.

Do we really need to get involved when a grieving mother keeps a cross up for her son on public land? Yes, the land was owned by the public, yes, it was technically a driving hazard. Yes, I suppose it could technically breach the Establishment Clause. But is this really a fight that American Atheists should be involved in? Is this what we want the face of our community to be? Hairsplitting?

There are some battles that need to be fought, and others that could be fought but frankly aren’t worth our time. Let’s focus less on crosses and more on people.

7. Stop saying ‘Tax the churches.’

Separation of church and state goes both ways, and I sure don’t want any church paying into the government I help elect.

8. Let’s stop implying that we’re always right.

Theists constantly stigmatise atheists as ‘privileged elitists,’ and too often we do nothing to counter-act this claim. We’re wrong. A lot. About a lot of things. And we’re really, really bad about admitting that we’re wrong when we are. The conversation between skeptics and the faithful is too often laced with insinuations of intellectual superiority from both sides. Let’s knock it off. Respect each other. Recognise that each individual has a reason for taking the position they do. Find out that reason. Talk about it. Challenge it. Learn about it. Take the role of the searcher. Don’t set yourself up on the pedestal of Dawkins and insist that you’ve found the true answer and everyone below you is too stupid to figure it out.

Also, lay off the petty insults, even when you didn’t take the first shot. This shouldn’t have to be said, but type ‘atheist’ into a twitter search and let the fireworks fly. For myself, I recognise that it’s not necessary to refer to the Christian god as a Bronze Age goat herder’s idol, or to Islam as a paedophile’s misogynistic cult. No matter how satisfying it can be, such things are based in shock value and have no worth in a rational discussion beyond my own self-satisfaction.

We’re known for our doubt and our skepticism. Let’s start being known for our civility as well.

9. Stop assuming that every theist is out to get you.

This one is mainly for me. One of my biggest flaws as a writer and as a responder is that I tend to read everything a theist says in the worst possible light. I’ve had more than one person ask me how I could possibly have inferred such animosity into their statement when to me it seemed blindingly obvious. I had a reaction a few days ago when a writer on Patheos used the word ‘gypped,’ a racial slur against the Roma people (of whom my mother happens to be one). I was so disgusted by his use of this word that I never seriously entertained the thought that he had no idea what it meant. It lead to a very terse interaction between us that left nothing positive in it’s wake. And I’m sure I helped cement in his mind that atheists are often spiteful aggressors who are more interested in fights than dialogue.

10. Start looking past the religious differences.

Theists are the majority in this world, and that’s not going to change in any of our lifetimes. Atheists are often an insular tribe, isolating ourselves from the big bad religious powers-that-be in favour of congratulatory self-affirmations. Let’s break out of our bubbles a bit. Let’s start accepting invitations to attend church. Let’s insist on and enforce a level of civility in our interactions with theists. If we can stop insisting that our theological differences are the defining trait between us, the debate between skepticism and faith will start to matter less and less.

If there is one atheist commandment that we can all agree on, it’s this. Leave the world a better place than it was when you got here, because we only have one chance to visit this planet. Let’s start treating our theist neighbours like actual neighbours and copilots on this trip through the cosmos.

And stop being a %&#! about it.


On the Wrong Side of the Walls of Jericho


I was born on the wrong side of the walls of Jericho.

I’ve lived here all my life. I’ve built my house here, made a life here. My friends and neighbours are here. My people. My home.

We are a massive population, although sometimes compared to what’s outside we seem quite small. Atheists and agnostics, apostates and in-betweens. There are gays and lesbians, queer, bisexual, transgendered. Single mothers, Romani travellers, the poor, the dispossessed, the immigrants, the disenfranchised, the women, the children. A multitude every color and creed and race and orientation have built a city together. They live and love together. Their children play together.

I was born inside the walls of Jericho. And I’ve lived here all my life. And I would never leave, not for anything and anyone.

We have come here for different reasons. Some of us were born here, others came of their own accord. Some were thrown in here. Tossed over the walls like so much rubbish. Not all of them land safely. We catch as many as we can, but there are some injuries that can never be healed. We tend to those as best we know how.

I am living inside the walls of Jericho. And outside, I can hear the trumpets playing.

The army camped outside our walls flies many banners and goes by many names. Catholics, Evangelicals, Sunnis, Orthodox, Shi’ites, and more. They are marching around our walls. They are blowing trumpets. They are shouting war cries.

They will not stop until the walls fall down and they rush to put an end to us.

They are not content in that we live behind these walls. They are not content because we live.

We are still cleaning the wreckage from the most recent battle. Last week, World Vision announced that they would allow people who are both LGBT and married to work in their company. The trumpets from the Evangelical encampment sounded, and 2,000 children were left without the funding they depended on. The citizens of Jericho brought in as many as we could. And then, almost in the space of a heartbeat, World Vision reversed course and flew the Evangelical banner high, joining step with their generals around the city that was now feeding the children the Evangelical army abandoned.

And then, curiously there was an immigration into Jericho. An immigration of Christians, people who where horrified and appalled at the monstrosity of their comrades. People who realised that to remove food from a starving child’s mouth in order to kick down the people stuck in Jericho was evil. Was wrong. Was indefensible.

They came to us, talking about setting tables up in the wilderness, eating together with us. They told tales of throwing off the Evangelical banner, of leaving the army and the war behind. They asked to set up a banquet with us. To eat among us. Among the LGBT and the poor and the immigrant. Among our people.

Are they welcome here? Yes.

Do I believe they will stay?


Because in every city of Jericho, there’s always a Rahab.

Rahab, looking out to the Evangelical banners. Rahab, longing for them to come in. Rahab, harbouring the spies and lowering the scarlet cord.

I read an article from Jen Hatmaker today. She preached a message of love towards her LGBT neighbours. She encouraged others to treat them with respect and honour as Jesus would have. But with the caveat, always with the reminder, that their loves and lives and marriages aren’t right. Aren’t good. Aren’t what her deity wants or desires. And she is assured that breaking these people down again, invalidating their very lives, is alright. Because she is doing it in love.

And I literally screamed in rage. And others screamed with me. NO NO NO. You don’t get to do this. You cannot tell these people that their marriages are worth less than yours. They are in Jericho now. They are my people. You have walked into this city still blowing the trumpet you brought in from the siege.

So either cut your scarlet cord, or leave this city. Jericho is not a place where people’s lives and marriages are up for your debate.

The Christians who joined us in the city now want to fling open the gates and let the army march in. They want the walls to fall. They want the walls of Jericho to come tumbling down because they believe that we can all live together in peace. That we can disagree on issues but camp together as neighbours and friends.

But oh, Christians, when will you learn? Haven’t 2,000 years of Church history taught you the lesson?

Those of you saying you want to be here and remain Evangelical, keep a camp in the army outside, not cut your ties with your comrades in Christ, you are lowering a tapestry of scarlet threads down the walls of the city. It’s the people you are eating at the table with who are going to pay the price.

What Evangelicals did in regards to World Vision was evil. When you throw children off for the sake of your bigotry, that is the face of evil.

You cannot align yourself with evil and live in Jericho. We all have flaws here. We all hurt people. But our neighbours come first. Religious banners, if flown, have no authourity here.

Welcome to the wrong side of the walls of Jericho. You are welcome here. You ARE welcome here.

But scarlet cords are not.