The Great Long Island Medium Argument

There’s this show out called Long Island Medium, where a house wife says she can talk to the dead. The first season averaged 1.3 million viewers, which makes it a fairly popular show.

To make a long story short, my wife likes the show. She doesn’t watch it religiously, but she enjoys the personality of the supposed psychic, Theresa Caputo.

On Sunday night, she began to watch it. I hadn’t seen it before. I was dabbling on my tablet and listening half-heartedly, and my wife turned to me and asked if I believed she could actually talk to the dead. I sighed and said I didn’t – that I thought it was a load of malarkey.

My wife then asked (this is where it gets hairy) how I found it possible not to like the personality of Theresa. Without thinking much about my answer, I looked up from the tablet and said I thought what she did was unethical. I also said I thought she was taking advantage of people in a fragile emotional state and basically robbing them, and using their time of weakness to cash in on a TV show.

To my surprise, my wife got pretty upset with me. She asked why I would ruin the show for her. She asked if I considered her unethical for watching the show.

I asked her why she asked me the question if she didn’t want an honest answer, and that no, I didn’t think she was unethical for watching the show, because she probably hadn’t given it much thought. However, I don’t want to support the show, or what I consider to be unethical behavior.

What really interested me was how upset my wife got. She’s normally pretty laid back and we rarely argue. Religious people get like this when talking religion with me. It’s usually after I start poking holes in their theology or asking uncomfortable questions that they’d rather ignore, and here I was, getting the same reaction when doing the same to a ‘reality’ TV show that my wife enjoyed.

So anyways, the show came back on and my wife started pausing it intermittently to ask me questions. After the medium said a name or event that the person she was talking too knew about, my wife would ask how she’d know that if she wasn’t psychic.

I told her to pay attention to the questions the medium asked. They’re unusually vague and open-ended. I told her to pay attention to how her customer answered those questions.  They would usually nod their heads and start crying, then give her lots of information she can use. The medium usually has had the time to research her clients before seeing them – the Internet is full of information on almost anyone, if you know where to look.

I admit that she’s good at what she does, but that doesn’t make it real. Even in interviews, she uses vague language to describe what she does.

For example:

Most communication in these sort of exchanges is the deceased person reassuring the living. Are the dead ever angry at the person who’s still alive?

Caputo: I’ve never had that experience. I was taught and the way I choose to use my gift is I protect all my sessions in God’s white light. My rule is if they’re angry or they’re upset they’re not allowed to talk about it. If it can’t help us or prevent something, then I don’t want know about it. My wish for all my clients is that they receive the most healing or closure if they come, or just comfort, to continue to embrace their life without their loved ones.

On these shows, there’s conversations with the deceased, but the viewer doesn’t often get a sense of what the ‘other side’ is like. Do you have a sense of that?

Caputo: [Spirits] will bring me to like a park or a field or ponds, and then sometimes somebody will show me a beach or a brook. I don’t know if that’s exactly what it’s like. I say ‘I’ll find out when we get there.’ I can only tell you what they show me.

It sounds like religious babble. She uses language that means very little and skirts the edges so that she can’t be pinned down by skeptics.

So I took my wife outside and pulled up a few James Randi videos, where he exposes these frauds for what they are. I explained that the James Randi Foundation has a million dollar challenge that can be claimed by anyone who can who can ‘show, under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event’.

No one has claimed the prize yet. I wonder why? I’d love to see the Long Island Medium take the challenge, but that would probably be the end of a very lucrative career.

I may have ruined the show for her, but it really was unintentional. She’s not upset with me anymore. I think she wanted to believe, but in the end, reason, logic and healthy skepticism won out.


Atheism and Happiness

This is a guest post by Sheldon Cooper, who can be found at his blog, Ramblings of Sheldon. I hope you’ll take a few seconds to visit his blog. Thanks goes out to Sheldon for taking the time to type up this guest post.

I recently read Canadian Atheist’s post titled Is Atheism Both True and Terrible?, where he responded to a writer that felt that atheism was probably correct in it’s conclusions, but was a very depressing point of view, the writer felt that atheism strips away all human dignity, and leads to a sense of emptiness, a feeling that there is nothing left to live for.

Well, I’ve had that feeling that there’s nothing left to live for, I’ve even been suicidal at one point in my life, but it wasn’t because of atheism (in fact, during the period in my life when I was suicidal, I was actually a fundamentalist Christian). You see, I have had depression since I was about 9 years old (yes, seriously), and it’s been a constant fight against it that I am now winning, thanks to my anti-depressants.

My past unhappiness in life had nothing to do with atheism, in fact, my depression has been better since I finally admitted to myself what I am, an agnostic. When I finally found the courage to admit to myself that I could no longer hold onto my past Christian beliefs, it was a relief. I could finally be honest with myself about who I am, and let go of all the painful doubts, and struggles to make sense out of what I believed.

It freed me to look at the world around me, and its beauty, no longer believing that there’s an afterlife doesn’t take away hope and purpose for living for me (though I can understand the appeal of such a belief, and how it brings comfort to some people).

It’s freed me to try to be able to enjoy (when my depression doesn’t get in the way) the simple pleasures of life, like good food, and the joy I see in my dog, (a jolly 5 year old Black Lab/hound mix) when I come home after work. He runs in circles, and bounces around the room, wagging his tail when the door to his crate comes open. The pure joy in his expression, the eagerness to see me never ceases to give me a good laugh.

I have a sense of awe when I’m out in the woodlands of Missouri, looking at the wildlife, the dense oak forests, and the night sky that I often can’t see in the St. Louis suburbs. Just simply seeing stars clearly enough to easily identify them is a nice experience. Contrary to what Oprah seems to believe, atheists and other non-religious people can have a sense of awe and wonder about the world around them.

Atheism doesn’t cause unhappiness and an empty feeling inside, it’s what it is happening inside a person’s mind, and what is going on around them. If someone is feeling this way, they need to look at what needs to change in their life, or find out if it’s due to untreated mental illness, and not blame atheism.

Is Atheism Both True and Terrible?

I consider words like ‘sad’ and ‘happy’ to be sloppy language. If someone tells you that they’re sad, what leaps to mind? Tears, frown, depression, wretched, dejected?

The truth is that all of us experience sadness differently. That becomes obvious to me when my girlfriend and I watch a sad movie together. She will immediately begin to cry (or sob) and I might get a lump in my throat or feel empathy but not a whole lot of emotion. If someone were to ask me what sadness feels like to me, it would probably differ greatly from what it feels like to her. The word ‘sad’ is merely a blanket term without specifics of any kind.

Today, while I perused the news, I came across an article titled: Where are the honest atheists?

It was pretty interesting because the author admits that atheism is probably true due to lack of evidence, but then goes on to say that the atheistic worldview is ‘terrible’ and quotes Nietzsche as saying it was an ‘awe-inspiring catastrophe for humanity’.

Here’s a bit of that article:

If atheism is true, it is far from being good news. Learning that we’re alone in the universe, that no one hears or answers our prayers, that humanity is entirely the product of random events, that we have no more intrinsic dignity than non-human and even non-animate clumps of matter, that we face certain annihilation in death, that our sufferings are ultimately pointless, that our lives and loves do not at all matter in a larger sense, that those who commit horrific evils and elude human punishment get away with their crimes scot free — all of this (and much more) is utterly tragic.

“Honest atheists understand this. Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche proclaimed the death of God, but he called it an “awe-inspiring catastrophe” for humanity, which now faced the monumental task of avoiding a descent into nihilism. Essayist Albert Camus likewise recognized that when the longing for a satisfying answer to the question of “why?” confronts the “unreasonable silence of the world,” the goodness of human life appears to dissolve and must be reconstructed from the ground up.

“In our own time, physicist Steven Weinberg admits that he is “nostalgic for a world in which the heavens declared the glory of God” and associates himself with the 19th-century poet Matthew Arnold, who likened the retreat of religious faith in the face of scientific progress to the ebbing ocean tide and claimed to detect a “note of sadness” in its “melancholy, long, withdrawing roar.” Weinberg confesses to his own sorrow in doubting that scientists will find “in the laws of nature a plan prepared by a concerned creator in which human beings played some special role.”

I think where the author goes wrong is assuming that all people think or feel the same way. Maybe some atheists do feel that way. Maybe they wake up feeling bleak and alone. I find the idea comforting in many ways. To me, the idea that my life is planned out for me; that there is a deity in the sky listening to every thought; that this deity will not only punish me while alive, but will do so for eternity once dead is oppressive, frightening and evil.

Religious people often go on about being humble, but then many believe that there is a deity who values them so much that what they do (and their souls) will live on for eternity. I don’t find that to be a humble thought. I don’t think I’m all that special.

I find science beautiful. I have no need or want to live on forever. I try to make each day something to remember and a God doesn’t play any role in any of that. I agree with the author that some of the music and rituals religion offers are beautiful. In fact, I did a project recently on Catholicism and found myself spending a few hours listening to Catholic hymns because I found them hauntingly beautiful.

However, I feel that way listening to other music and I can get the same spiritual feeling some get through rituals by meditating or even working out hard at my local gym. God has no part of any of that. I’m comfortable waiting for evidence of the divine.

I also want to point out that many things are true and terrible. That doesn’t mean we should make things up so we don’t have to face it. From my perspective, religion doesn’t make anything easier to handle. For example, if I attend a funeral, I find the ‘they’re in a better place’ or ‘it was part of God’s plan’ sayings to be both ridiculous and condescending. It’s one of those ideas that make me shiver – the idea that the suffering of that person and the grieving being done by the family was somehow part of a divine plan is abhorrent to me. That’s the best plan a divine being could come up with, especially one with unlimited power?

No, I don’t find atheism terrible or catastrophic. I find it to be evidence based and it’s up to me to deal with the realities. I don’t wake up feeling empty inside, bleak or angry. I’m just thankful to have the opportunity to live for a short time and try to make a small difference in the world around me while I’m here.

I understand that some people may view it differently and feel they need a deity, but that’s not me. I don’t experience the world the same as the author of the article, and I’m cool with that.

No all-powerful deities required.

An Atheist Attends A Catholic School Assembly

Not something to be proud of

My step-daughters go to Catholic School. Not so much because their mother is a devout Catholic, but because the Catholic Schools get far higher ratings in terms of education than the public schools here in town.

I can’t say I really blame her for sending them to a Catholic school. She’s trying to give her kids the best education she can, and unfortunately, that means sending them to a Catholic school.

Tonight one of her daughters received an award for getting an average of 80% or higher. They call it the ‘honor society’. This meant that I had to do my step-fatherly duty and attend the assembly that went along with it. I’m not good with crowds. They usually cause me to get a migraine, but I felt as though I had to support my step-daughter so I was determined to bite the bullet and attend.

Anyways, as I arrived at the school, I was struck by how much nicer it was than any public school I’d ever been too. In Canada, the government subsidizes Catholic schools, while discriminating against the rest of the religious groups (including Christians ones) so it wasn’t a huge surprise to see that their school was well outfitted. I wondered how much nicer our public schools would be and how much better educated the kids would be in the public school system, if the government were sending the tax dollars they spend on Catholic schools to them instead.

Probably wishful thinking, but there it is. In my opinion, if parents want their kids going to a religious school, they should pay for it themselves. The government shouldn’t be in the business of endorsing any religion, Catholic or otherwise. They also shouldn’t be discriminating based on religion, either.

Anyhow, we funneled into the auditorium and had to sit through a prayer. They started out with a few speeches from the heads of the school, most of which included some reference to God. Not really all that surprising, considering it’s a religious school.

There was a large banner at the back of the auditorium, with ‘Crusaders’ in large letters. It’s apparently the name of their sports teams. This took me a bit by surprise, since I thought the crusades weren’t something most Christians took pride in.

For example:

So terrible, it is said, was the carnage which followed that the horses of the crusaders who rode up the mosque of Omar were knee-deep in the stream of blood. Infants were seized by their feet and dashed against the walls or whirled over the battlements, while the Jews were all burnt alive in their synagogue. In the midst of these horrors Godfrey the church of the Sepulchre, clothed in a robe of pure white, but bare-footed as well as bare-headed and knelt at the tomb to offer his thanksgiving for the for the divine goodness which had suffered them to realize the yearning of their hearts. In the profound enthusiasm and devotion of the moment his followers beheld the dead take part in the solemn ritual, and heard the voice of Adhemar rejoicing the prayers and resolutions of penitence offered by the prostrate warriors of the cross.

I’m not sure why any institution would think it appropriate to name a sports team after such carnage and stupidity.

After the speeches, there was a video. The song in the background was a bit disturbing. The wording was something along the lines of ‘despite the effort of thousands of unbelievers, we keep the faith’ or something along those lines. Unbeknown to them, there was an unbeliever in their midst, witnessing the way the people danced in their seats, while watching pictures stream by of their crusader mascot (uniform, spear and all) mugging for the camera, surrounded by impressionable children.

It wasn’t bad enough that their team names boasted about the crusades, but they had to glorify the murder of thousands of people over religious beliefs with a life-sized mascot.

I could feel my head begin to pound. My twelve year old step-daughter leaned over (she also attends a Catholic school) and asked me why the banner said ‘crusades’, since she was under the impression they were a bad thing.

Good for her. All I could do was nod my head, and mutely wait for the awards to be handed out. After my step-daughter received her award, I left the gymnasium. I’d had my fill and wanted nothing more than to go home.

What a disgrace. I hope that the Canadian government starts treating the Catholic school board like they do any religious group – fund it yourself. Our tax dollars shouldn’t be going towards endorsing a religion or teaching our kids that the crusades were a good thing.

Was The Biblical Goliath The Real Underdog?

I watched a very cool video yesterday about the biblical story of David and Goliath. Here’s what it says in the description box of the video:

It’s a classic underdog tale: David, a young shepherd armed only with a sling, beats Goliath, the mighty warrior. The story has transcended its biblical origins to become a common shorthand for unlikely victory. But, asks Malcolm Gladwell, is that really what the David and Goliath story is about?

I found it extremely interesting. I’d heard the hypothesis that the real Goiath might have been sick with Gigantism before, but it never occurred to me that Goliath might very well have been the underdog in the story, instead of the other way around.

Once you think about it, it makes sense.

Food for thought, I guess. Watch the video and let me know what you think. I hope you find it as interesting as I did.


Clinical Screenings to Detect Homosexuals

Many Christians have asked me in the past, ‘why does my opinion on homosexuals matter? I’m not hurting anyone’.

Well, here’s a news story just for you.

Gulf states are going to implement screening to detect homosexuals so that they can bar them from entering.

From the news story:

Kuwait and other states could conduct medical tests in an attempt to “detect” homosexuals trying to enter Gulf states, a senior official has announced.

Yousouf Mindkar said routine clinical screenings of expatriates entering Gulf Cooperation Countries (GCC) such as Kuwait would be introduced under new proposals. Persons who are identified as LGBT through the tests would then be refused entry into the country.

This is where your discriminatory, mythology based thinking leads. But it gets worse.

Those under the age of 21 living in Kuwait found to be taking part in homosexual acts currently face prison sentences of up to ten years. Homosexual acts are banned in all GCC member countries, which include Saudi Arabia, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.

And Kuwait isn’t even close to being the only country with discriminatory practices against the LGBT community.

Homosexuality is illegal in 78 countries across the world and is still punishable by death in five countries, which include Iran and Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

That’s why your beliefs matter. You might not be directly hurting someone with your mythology laden beliefs, but you’re part of the problem – not part of the solution. Your irrational hatred for homosexuals, backed by your religious book of choice, are only adding to the misery of the planet, specifically when it comes to the LGBT community.

Could you imagine if this were happening to any other group of people? I personally don’t give a crap what your ancient book of fairy tales and magic have to say about this – discriminating against a minority is not right. You’re lending to the culture that allows stuff like this news story to happen.

If your God is so powerful and the creator of everything, he can handle business himself. Nobody appointed you the judge or executioner. Hell, if God is so against homosexuals, why  did He create them in the first place? Did He fall asleep on the job? Or was He too busy making donkeys and snakes talk?

Like Edmund Burke once said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

It’s time to do something. I know there are Christians out there on the side of the LGBT community. I know there are some good-hearted Christians who abhor the amount of discrimination they face. It’s time to get louder. Stop sitting (or clasping) your hands and do something within the church community itself.

The next time you hear someone disparaging or discriminating against people, say something. Speak up and tell them that it’s not okay to do that. Do your part to change the culture that supports this type of needless human suffering.