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Swift
Written by Alison Smith   

creationofstarwarsI've recently been kicking around an idea for an article on the religious beliefs of the American populace. Not an entry to a scientific journal, not a widespread study, but a trek into Tourist Las Vegas to have a look around, get some face time with random people, and see what kind of beliefs are out there. Las Vegas seemed the perfect place to undertake such a task. It's big. There are always a lot of people, and those people are from all over the world.

And I admit, this was kind of selfish on my part. Lately, I've been struggling with the idea of religion - specifically, whether or not to call out stupid when one sees it. Not to say that all religious beliefs are stupid - the point of the article was to go out and see - because I have no idea whether or not religion is stupid. A lot of it sounds stupid to me, but maybe, in actuality, the Jesus folk just consistently talk over my head.

You might think that I was shooting low with Vegas - that all of the people I talked to would inherently be idiots for one reason or another. I mean, Vegas does serve alcohol twenty-four hours a day.

You'd be surprised, then, to learn that I met Tom, a forty-three year old man from Chicago who is a very well-read Catholic. I was sitting nervously in the Wynn when he took the seat next to mine. It's strange - when you know what you're going to say to someone, and that you're probably going to spend the next however-long talking shmack about their faith, it becomes a lot more difficult to strike up a conversation. Not to say he was ever confused about my motivations - I identified myself as a skeptic and journalist right off the bat.

I asked Tom what lay at the core of his faith; what one belief was indivisible from his Catholicism.

"As a general statement," he said, "people on earth, in this life, are trying to find their way home to God."

I could already tell it was going to be a fun conversation. I mean, that's a helluvan answer, and not just because it's so vague. It implies a certain amount of give in his belief structure. In other words, his first move was not to "hit me over the head with a crucifix," a practice Tom says he hates. I don't think he meant literally.

For the article I had in mind, I planned to interview dozens of people and get very general answers. But, Tom was so willing to defend his belief system and talk about it at length that I kept going, figuring I could be beaten with a Jesus stick another night.

It was odd to me that, in answering my question about the core of his beliefs, Tom didn't mention the Bible. Most of the Christians I have encountered seem to - and many cherry-pick the parts that suit their lifestyle. Tom's belief in the Bible is not at his religion's core.

"The Bible is fascinating from the standpoint that it is not only initially a confrontation of the Hebrew religion, but also one of the oldest and most reliable historical documents," Tom said.

Whoa, whoa, there are so many things to talk about in just that one sentence that at this point my pen nearly exploded trying to get it all down. First of all, there are many gods. What makes this one better than any of the others? Did someone put together a Deity Olympics and award the gold?

"Well, [choosing] is an issue of faith. The search for faith and the review of various religions led me in this direction. This is the road that I believed, if I followed it, would bring me back home," Tom said.

The argument was leaving rational discourse. There's nothing, really, to say about faith. If you have it, I'm sure it seems like the greatest thing in the world. But I don't, and I know lots of other people who don't, and that just seems like jamming a holier-than-thou attitude down my throat, which rarely makes me appreciate anyone's religion.

So, what about this ‘historically reliable' claim? I pointed out that Exodus seems to be full of crap - there are no records, beyond the Bible, that the Egyptians kept that many Hebrews as slaves, or that they rose up and fled, or that anyone parted a sea.

"The Skeptics want to target that story because every miracle in the Bible up until the Exodus could have a scientific explanation." *cough* Genesis *cough*, "But, once you get to Exodus, the Passover story, belief in that story is a matter of faith. It's unlikely that the Egyptians would allow over 100,000 Jewish slaves to just leave the country. In order for that story to be true, there has to be a divine miracle," Tom said.

I frowned a little, because that wasn't a real answer. I pressed again, and asked where the records of the Hebrew slaves were.

"The only record is that story - in the Bible. The question is: Why would you portray your people as a slave race if it wasn't true?" Tom said, "The credibility of the story lies in the fact that it is not something someone would volunteer."

I was, at this moment, flooded with about a dozen comparable stories. "What about Star Wars?" I asked, "Were you on Luke's team or Vader's team?"

And yes, I know Star Wars didn't actually happen (Okay, no I don't. I BELIEVE IN YOU, HAN.), but still - such stories are written to unite a group of people against a common evil; to give them underdog status; to seem like the enlightened ones. And it doesn't sound at first like an apt comparison, because we know Star Wars is false. But what if we didn't? We'd all be Jedi. There would be statues erected to Sir Alec Guinness.

Tom agreed that the underdog story is important, but I don't think he much liked my Star Wars analogy. It was difficult for him to see that Star Wars and the Bible have equal status to me.

I switched gears and asked Tom if he believed in hell.

"I have a very limited concept of hell," he said, "but I do believe that if what we're all seeking is to return home to God, then the eternal separation from it is something we can all understand. To be eternally separate from that is a form of significant torment. Which I guess is to say - if people seek religion because they are concerned about heaven or hell, they're missing the point. The point is to continue the search for God, understanding and accepting that we're all imperfect and all fall short of what we want to be. Self-actualization of this greater, eternal truth."

Aha, an opening back into that Exodus argument. I phrased my next question very carefully, because I didn't want to put Tom off. I kind of respected Tom and his faith. And he was doing an excellent job of defending himself against some random skeptic girl who accosted him in a casino.

"Isn't believing that we eternally fall short a type of subjugation similar to acceptance, and even advertisement of slavery?" I asked.

"Yes," Tom said, "But why would I say it if it wasn't true? If I actually thought I was perfect, why would I sit here and say that I'm not?"

"But... isn't saying that you are a slave of God's a self-imposed slavery?" I asked.

And we disconnected again. It's this problem of being unable to liken Star Wars to the Bible. It struck me, at this moment, that in every debate I could possibly have about religion, I was going to hit this impassable wall of faith. Tom can't see the slavery as self-imposed because there is definitely a God who definitely finds us imperfect. If you don't agree with that, the conversation halts there.

But, believing in God doesn't mean believing the entirety of the Bible. Aha, the cherry-pick.

"As we talk about historical documents," Tom said, "reliability is relative."

But what does he think about the morality of the Bible?

"If you're asking if I believe in Sola Scriptura, the answer is no. I don't think you can read the Bible and get actual, definitive instructions from it. If you're asking me if I think it's a good idea to follow the Ten Commandments, then yeah, I think everyone believes that."

I laughed. I couldn't help it. And Tom was quick to add, "And by that, what I mean is that I think most people understand that it would be a miserable existence to live killing other people and coveting their neighbor's wives."

I set my pen down for a moment. "I'm going to Stephen Colbert you," I said, "Name the Ten Commandments."

Tom paused for a minute in thought. "I can't," he said, "I'm not gonna do that. Not on my fourth cocktail."

Until that moment, by the way, I hadn't realized Tom had four cocktails. More power to him. But, he did end up trying to list the Ten Commandments. He got seven, which was way better than Lynn Westmoreland

The ones he left out, though, are telling. He forgot to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, to not bear false witness against his neighbor, and to not take the Lord's name in vain.

And I still can't get onboard for thinking it's a good idea to follow all ten, goddammit.

I was impressed with Tom. He knew his religion, and that, at least, was reassuring in a way. He didn't tell me that Jesus loves me, or offer to take me to church. He seemed to just enjoy the conversation. And because I respected Tom so much, I feel like an asshole for relaying this next part of the story. But I'm going to, because there is a point to it.

After I put down my pen and Tom and I were chatting about normal things, we kept drifting back to religion for brief little sojourns and then back out into normal things like work and the weather and the weirdness that is Las Vegas. But he said one thing that gave me such serious pause that afterward I had to excuse myself to go to the restroom so I could send a text telling a friend they would not BELIEVE what this crackpot just said to me. Yep, Tom went from well-respected believer to crackpot in the amount of time it takes to relay a single prophetic dream.

Tom told me how, years prior, he had a dream about two buses crashing. One bus was full of believers, and the other was full of non-believers. He stood, looking at the wreckage, and a wise child came forward and told the group that there were survivors still, buried within the wreckage. Months later, terrorists crashed airplanes into the World Trade Center. And Tom believes his dream foretold that event. In fact, so did the people from his office, when he came in after the planes hit and relayed the dream to them. They believed it so much that one person pulled him aside to ask, desperately, "What happened next?"

I sat there, blinking at Tom. All my debate skills left me. I stared. And stared. And excused myself to the restroom to write a text calling him a whackjob.

We parted ways immediately after that.

I was pissed, because when I was thinking about penning this article, I was so excited that I'd found a well-read individual to chat with me. I looked forward to writing something up that, for once, wasn't acerbic and nasty.

But there are only two options here: Either Tom is a prophet, and could have prevented the destruction of the World Trade Center and the massive loss of life, or he had a dream that could have been interpreted as anything and therefore chose not to act on it.

I lean toward the latter. I've had dreams that could later be interpreted to have meaning. But if I didn't recognize what the meaning was in the first place, when I had the dream, then there isn't any. There is only what I'm slapping on it so I can call myself a prophet.

And if I'm wrong, and the explanation is the former, then Tom should probably be held responsible for the loss of all those lives. I mean, he dreamed it. He could have prevented it.

And here's the really funny thing: Tom said, during the Exodus argument, that he couldn't fathom of a reason why anyone would call themselves a slave if they weren't. I offered three possibilities: to unite against a common evil, to give underdog status, to seem to be enlightened. Tom had, at this point, already admitted to being a slave of God's. And that dream? Fulfills all three possibilities.

And if I'm wrong about that, too... well, have fun with that Cassandra complex, Tom.

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Horrible headline
written by isaacklinger, August 29, 2009
I'm very dissatisfied with the "dumbing down" of the JREF that followed Phil Plait's ascent to president. The JREF is transforming, or has already been transformed, from a respectable organization into a casual weblog that sounds like it's catering to airheaded teenagers.

If this sounds harsh, I'm sorry. I care deeply about the JREF and I don't want to see it turned into a mockery of its former self.
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Alison, you lied to your interview subject...
written by Human Person Jr, August 29, 2009
You might be, and probably are, a skeptic, but calling yourself a journalist was the last straw for me. You're not even a writer.

From your article: "...that he couldn't fathom of a reason why anyone..." It's never "fathom of;" it's just plain "fathom." Good writing takes time. You can't just text it in from the bathroom.

isaacklinger, you got it right, and quickly. I couldn't agree more.

This writing is (as usual from this author) terrible, self-indulgent and terribly self-indulgent. (And yes, Alison, I've read your past defenses against charges you're a bad writer. They don't hold water, no matter who's lying to you about your supposed abilities.)

Those who publish your work are awfully much like a dowser's family, supportive as hell, with no real basis. Read some goddamned Hitchens, or somebody, and try to imitate! I give up! This is my last comment ever at this site, so, if this offense is egregious enough to get my account banned, have at it, good sirs! It'll be no loss to me.
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written by Steel Rat, August 29, 2009
You'd portray your people as slaves to garner pity, and hatred towards the slave masters. Isn't that obvious? Isn't it more likely that the exodus coincides with the Hyskos expulsion from Egypt?

As for the 10 Suggestions, they came from human ideals on how people should treat each other. No god needed to see that they're mostly good ideas. Did you ask him why, after receiving the 10 Suggestions, the Israelites when and murdered 10s if not 100s of thousands of people on their way to the "promised land"?

Honestly, you can't have an intelligent discussion about this crap.
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Great Headline
written by Northernskeptic, August 29, 2009
@isaacklinger

Having had the pleasure of meeting Alison at TAM and attending her workshop I can attest that she is most certainly not an "airheaded tenager". If changes in the JREF mean that people who rely on vague comments and ad hominem have a problem then the problem is yours.

As for this post the title perfectly fits with the key moment Alison was drawing our attention to, and I must congratulate her for making such an effort to delve into the reasoning behind what many of us consider strange beliefs. Much of what was discussed could apply to the woo that is followed by many, and the reasoning used to continue without critical assessment.
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Tearing people down to build yourself up is just dumb
written by Northernskeptic, August 29, 2009
@Human Person Jr

You should find out a person's background before flying off the handle, it only makes you look bad.

don't let the door hit you on the way out.
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I find it a sad state....
written by CasaRojo, August 29, 2009
"A lot of it sounds stupid to me, but maybe, in actuality, the Jesus folk just consistently talk over my head."

As I tell religious people, I am not capable of being able to make sense out of the bible. I've tried, can't do it. If their god damns me to eternal hellfire for lacking the mental capacity to understand "his word" then so be it. I tell them that it's important to me to be able to make sense out of something that I believe to be true and I simply can't do that with religion.

I'm not much for wanting to debate religious people anymore as I can't find any sense in that either. I met a Seventh Day Adventist the other day that informed me that everything on TV had to be true or else it wouldn't be allowed on TV. That added a whole nuther level to the issue that I wasn't interested in dealing with at the time. He seemed like a very nice, deeply conflicted person. I don't know how one could have significant knowledge of and belief in the bible and not have conflict made manifest in some undesirable way.

I shared a couple of my magic tricks with him and wished him well. Whachagonnado.....
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written by iiwo, August 29, 2009
Their being a Seventh-day Adventist has nothing to do with the "it's on TV/it's true" idea. I've met many people who say that, from many walks of life.

I forget the name of that fallacy, but it is one none-the-less.

That said, I'm glad they were pleasant enough and I, too, hope their dischord sorts itself out, whatever the conclusion.
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written by pervel, August 29, 2009
Wait, what? Star Wars is nothing like the Bible at all. The entire Star Wars mythology is much, much more coherent and internally consistent than the Bible. Star Wars is also much, much better fiction. Please don't offend us Star Wars geeks by comparing it to such petty literature as the Bible.

May the Force be with you!
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written by Michael K Gray, August 30, 2009
Congratulations a great article, Alison!
I enjoyed it immensely, and sympathise with the strain of attempting a sane conversation with someone who's mind is so obviously split in two, to the point of rendering them partially insane.
Such is the 'power' of pernicious religious indoctrination.
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@Northernskeptic
written by Voice of Dissent, August 30, 2009
@isaacklinger

Having had the pleasure of meeting Alison at TAM and attending her workshop I can attest that she is most certainly not an "airheaded tenager". If changes in the JREF mean that people who rely on vague comments and ad hominem have a problem then the problem is yours.
Isaac did not call Alison an airheaded teenager. He said the blog now caters to "airheaded teenagers". So at worst, you can interpret that as saying that we are airheaded teenagers, but even that is a stretch. There was no ad hominem attack in his post.
While I may not agree with what he says, I think he was quite respectful in addressing his dissatisfaction with the course the JREF has taken. And I must say I'm somewhat taken aback by everyone voting his post down far that. I can appreciate dissenting opinions even if I don't agree with them; there has to be room for that. Voting posts to obscurity should be left for spam and abuse, not for opinions or arguments you simply do not agree with.
(Perhaps comments should have different voting options; one option to vote for removal and one to show disagreement)
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written by epok205, August 30, 2009
I like stories like this because it reminds me how to use proper etiquette when confronted someone with opposing beliefs. I understood a lot of what you were trying to convey and you can't expect everyone to agree with you or understand you. It bakes my noodle when the older generation tries to discredit you based on your age. Is that what they call a "Strawman argument"? And for that matter why throw a temper tantrum just because of a typo? That doesn't sound very rational.

James Randi has been doing this for years so he has had a lot of time to practice his skill. If there isn't anyone there to carry on that torch then the woo woos win. Science is constantly changing so what is wrong with the JREF doing the same?

Phil Plait is a friggin scientist and does a good job of explaining science to a layman like me. Alison Smith did a superb job of writing that article, I couldn't have done better. Discrediting someone for their age and threatening to run away just seems petty to me.
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written by MadScientist, August 30, 2009
"I was impressed with Tom. He knew his religion, and that, at least, was reassuring in a way."

Actually if you were familiar with catholic doctrine and even vaguely familiar with canon law, you would have arrived at the conclusion that Tom doesn't have a very good understanding of his religion. That would be no fault of Tom's either; most catholics, priests included, don't really know all that much about their own religion.

As for the dream thing - dream interpretation seems to have been a fashion throughout history. Dreams even feature in the bible and *cough* biographies of saints often squeeze in a few dreams. When you think about dreams and reality, and you're numerate, you realize that now and then things you see in your dreams will come true purely by chance. People who are not accustomed to thinking about numbers and chances (and I'm not terribly good at it myself) may latch onto the occasional 'prophetic' dream and believe it's some sort of sign from a supernatural being. Forget all the non-prophetic dreams, this is textbook confirmation bias. I wouldn't call Tom a kook, loon, or evil prophet; he simply doesn't understand what's really happening - a very large number of people wouldn't and this is regardless of their religion. However, christianity does affirm prophetic dreams so people who are christian may see dreams as a religious experience and proof of something which doesn't exist.

One other aspect of human fallibility which christianity affirms is hallucinations. Well, I guess you could class dreams as sleeping hallucinations. However, hallucinations are common even for people who are awake. Perhaps auditory hallucinations are the most common - how often have you turned around to someone and answered a question they never asked or you ask "did you say something?" Few people, if any, would think you're weird because it's a very common thing for humans. Now such hallucinations are far more common for some people - in cases so common that it is debilitating. I worry about such people who have religion because god talks to them and this is often a very bad thing. One remarkable case was that of John Nash, the mathematician; it seems that he was able to work out that he was hallucinating and eventually managed to compensate. When I'm sleep deprived (which seems to be most of the year these days) I struggle to sort out what's real and what's not and I'm always getting into trouble for not doing things which I was sure I'd done.

Now as for kooks - admittedly the exhibition of religious beliefs would be really creepy (or interesting, depending on your attitude) to people who didn't grow up with that religion. Now does that make people kooks, or are they just weird?
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written by Geezer, August 30, 2009
@epok205
I belive that when they use age to discredit an opinon that would be an ad hominem (sp?) attack ie you are young therefore your opinon holds no merit.

Of course I could be wrong but that's how I understand it.
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written by Paul Claessen, August 30, 2009
"It was odd to me that, in answering my question about the core of his beliefs, Tom didn't mention the Bible."

This is typical for the Roman Catholic church. They do NOT encourage (or even actively discourage) that their flock reads the bible.
The flock is too dumb for that. The priest-hood will tell you about the relevant parts of it, and what it all means. Then just do as the church tells you.
In itself not a bad idea (for the church), because it keeps the church united: no dissenting interpretations of what exactly is meant by certain bible passsages.
Compare this to the protestants who are actively encouraged to read the bible. So everyone and his brother has his own interpretation of what it all means. With everyone thinking they're right and need their own church, with the result of now having HUNDREDS of different protestant denominations, some bitterly fighting eachother.
See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L...testantism
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written by asmith, August 30, 2009
Just to be clear - I stated that Tom understood his religion. He does. He is a Christian. Whether or not he understands his denomination - Catholicism - is up for grabs.

I asked him to explain his view on Catholicism for the article, but it was too vaguely worded and fuzzy to include.

I have just received an e-mail which stated that I intentionally went after an 'idiot' believer for a debate. I would like to stress again that this is not true. Tom was intelligent and well-spoken on many topics. He was never confused by a question.
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@iiwo
written by CasaRojo, August 30, 2009
"Their being a Seventh-day Adventist has nothing to do with the "it's on TV/it's true" idea. I've met many people who say that, from many walks of life."

I understand that. That's why I said 'That added a whole nuther level to the issue that I wasn't interested in dealing with at the time'. I'm sorry if I implied that I thought that was a belief exclusive to SDA's.
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@Alison
written by CasaRojo, August 30, 2009
You may want to attend a show/service at Central Christian Church just off the 95. It's one of the best free shows in LV. Great lighting, sound and the talent is wonderful. The content is questionable ;-) but you might get some interesting interviews. It's huge and non denominational.

I attended an Easter show there in 2002. My 13 year old son said it felt like we were at a concert. I found it interesting that probably less than 10% of the congregation hung around after the show for communion. A bunch of us met at Sunset Station for brunch afterward and ended up inviting a stood up hooker to join us which she did. A very interesting Easter... Las Vegas!, the only place in the world you can be on your way to church and end up at a boobie bar (thanks for that one Matt! :-)) Why was I there? It was work related.

If you go, make sure you take advantage of The Last Supper Buffet and bring plenty of nickels for the in pew slots. ;-)

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written by redwench, August 30, 2009
"I was impressed with Tom. He knew his religion, and that, at least, was reassuring in a way."

I took that to mean that he was knowledgeable, consistent and secure in his personal beliefs, not that he knew Catholic doctrine. Religion, at its core, is a personal belief, not something imposed by others.

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Off topic again
written by TDjazz, August 30, 2009
Horrible headline
written by isaacklinger, August 29, 2009


I have to agree with isaacklinger about the dumbing down of the JREF site. As I've stated before, albeit in off-topic comments for other articles, the writing on this site has taken a turn for the worse. This article is rife with lazy grammar, superfluous words, and vague slang (e.g., "schmack," which I've never seen before, even on the Web; look up the first meaning of that one on the Urban Dictionary site).

It's becoming harder to read through the articles on this site. Please hire an editor, or even just a proofreader--the writing can be tightened up.
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written by Paul Claessen, August 30, 2009
@Redwench: "Religion, at its core, is a personal belief, not something imposed by others"

In almost all cases religion IS imposed on people, usually by their own parents when they're very young.
And people who say they made a CHOICE to be religious, usually mean that they have DECIDED to NOT change ANY of the religious views that were IMPOSED on them when they were very young.
For most religious people it's ALSO not very personal, but much more a community experience.
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written by Paul Claessen, August 30, 2009
@TDjazz: "Please hire an editor, or even just a proofreader"

The JREF is largely a volunteer organization.
You seem JUST the right person to volunteer for editor/proofreader.

Personally, I don't see signs of "dumbing down".
The 'new' site publishes posts from a greater variety of people.
With more people come different styles.
Some you like, others you don't.
Live with it.
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@iiwo re:Fallacy
written by tmac57, August 30, 2009
"I forget the name of that fallacy, but it is one none-the-less. "
I believe that would be the 'Appeal To On-Airity' Fallacy.
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The Dumbing Down of the jref
written by Sadhatter, August 30, 2009
You get what you pay for.

What people are really saying when they talk about the dumbing down of the jref is that there is less Randi Himself in the articles. And that is a point no one can argue. But randi isn't our puppet he is a human being that has other things to do including writing books that one can, gasp, buy.

This website, and the jref is largely volunteer , so this means that if you don't like something, you can volunteer yourself, if you think that your articles would be better than what Jeff or Alison writes, toss them out there. Or if you have issues with the odd spelling mistake, or misplaced coma, take your own time, and offer to go through all articles posted and proof read them.

Personally i enjoy the new articles, in specific this one points out a couple of themes that pop up all the time when dealing with believers.

The first being that it is all a comfort level thing. Believers will say more wacky things depending on how comfortable they feel with a person. Notice how the conversation started off with him attempting the " of course i can't be 100% right" line of logic. But it took a rather nasty turn for the worst when the man felt ( whether through liquor, conversation, or a combination of both) more comfortable with Alison, and devolved into him claiming prophecy.

This makes it hard to have a conversation with a true believer, because what they will use in an debate with a skeptic is largely different than the "shop talk" believers have between each other. And very seldom is one really debating that persons view of god.

Secondly it illustrates how much tiptoeing must go one when trying to converse with a believer. The weird balancing act of attempting to get any answers to interesting questions, while on the same hand having to avoid certain subjects almost completely to avoid mental shutdown on the believers part.

So my opinion is that no, this wasn't an article that randi would have wrote. But i know that i don't want to just be a Randi clone, and i don't think that is what Alison is going for either. And to tie it all up, i don't think Randi would want us trying to be a carbon copy of him . If this website were to turn into a giant competition of who could be more Randi like, i think that would be defeating the purpose of the jref. Producing cookie cutter skeptics for the sake of pleasing everyone and keeping , ( for lack of a better term) " asses in the seats" seems a little too close to dogma for my tastes. The day the jref starts pandering to what people want to hear, instead of what they think is important, is the day i start to question its validity. And thankfully that day has not came.
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What was the point?
written by Alencon, August 30, 2009
Ok, maybe I'm dense, but what exactly was the point of this article?

Las Vegas is not exactly a cross section of America. There are large segments of the population that wouldn't go there under any circumstances. Let us not forget it's called Sin City and it revels in its name.

I was there last year and had a blast but I wouldn't take a child or my mother there.

As for poor Tom, it's been my opinion that the overwhelming majority of people don't really think much about their faith. When someone begins asking serious questions about it, many of the answers are going to be made up on the spot thus you'll get a mixture of the sublime and the absurd. Of course four drinks of booze would drift anyone toward the absurd.

So I repeat my question, what was the point you were trying to make?
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The point
written by Sadhatter, August 30, 2009
Besides, exactly as you said, most people do make up their answers on the spot. The fact that she easily found a person of faith in " sin city", and that even people who seem rational are probably just putting on a face when it comes to faith , all seem like points one could take away from the article.

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@CasaRojo, @tmac57
written by iiwo, August 30, 2009
CasaRojo: I understand now! Thank you for the clarification smilies/smiley.gif.

tmac57: CasaRojo explained herself before you put in your comment, no need for further snide remarks (imo anyway).
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Happy to Volunteer
written by CelticGoddess1326, August 30, 2009
I am a high school English teacher in Oklahoma ("overworked and underpaid" as we say) and I would be happy to volunteer my services to the JREF as editor/proofreader/English-fixer-person. Those in charge, please feel free to e-mail me (address should be on file with the JREF).
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written by Willy K, August 30, 2009
Alison, you simply met a high functioning schizophrenic. Any mention of the supernatural will put their delusion(s) in high gear. They can reside anywhere on the planet.

There are plenty of Ted Bundy's in this world and most of them have the IQ of an Al Bundy. smilies/wink.gif

Alison, if you wish to write like, as Human Person Jr. demands,
Read some goddamned Hitchens, or somebody, and try to imitate!

Be prepared to drink copious amounts of Johny Walker Black, Chris' favorite beverage! smilies/wink.gif
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written by Willy K, August 30, 2009
When I meet a faithhead, they always claim to have "evidence."

I reply, "If you have faith, you don't have evidence. If you have evidence, you don't have faith."

I tell them to look both terms up in a dictionary so they can find that faith and evidence are mutually exclusive terms. Usually they don't have the courage or the humility to open a dictionary, they usually say "I don't need to look anything up.... I KNOW WHAT I'm TALKING ABOUT!"

Thus, I conclude that ego is the great killer of intelligence. smilies/cry.gif
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written by iiwo, August 30, 2009
FWIW, I do appreciate Hitchens' work and others in the same vein, but simply being confrontational with every little thing we see as silly or "can't get our minds around" only makes you come across as snide, at best, to those you are confronting.

While this may be fulfilling personally, it is not always effective in the, er...battles, for lack of a better word. Perhaps the question should be "is there a place for conversation with believers in the JREF? That is to say, 'is my view of what the JREF does educational and encouraging people to question?'

Or is the website and organization an oasis for skeptics? Are we here to consort and absolutely demolish various beliefs and opinions (at least in our own minds) without regard for reaching out and 'missionarying' the basics of skepticism to those holding what you (or I, for that matter) see as irrational beliefs?

I may have to rephrase the questions as I'm not sure they reflect my thoughts 100% at the moment, but they are close enough for starters.
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written by Paul Claessen, August 30, 2009
@iiwo: "is there a place for conversation with believers in the JREF?"

While Randi himself has never been shy about his own atheism, he has always vowed to keep religious discussion OUTSIDE the JREF context, and emphasized that the JREF is an INCLUSIVE organization, welcoming both believers and unbelievers.

This JREF standpoint was again emphasized last month at TAM7 by MC Hal Bidlack (himself a believer).

Although it looks like Randi has been reversing his opinion on the 'religion - JREF' issue a bit lately (see: http://www.randi.org/site/inde...-jref.html, I personally would prefer to keep the endless and fruitless 'religion' discussions out of this blog. It distracts from the original 'woo' that the JREF always has been concerned with.

If people like to vent their opinions on religion, I can really recommend http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/! (That's where I vent my many issues with religion!)
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written by Alan3354, August 30, 2009
There's more info to be had about religion than can be obtained by "on the street" interviews in Vegas, or anywhere else.

I know 2 people with degrees in comparative religion. I consider it to be years of wasted time, since

Religion = Superstition + $$$$$

is all you need to know.
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written by Alan3354, August 30, 2009
Keeping religion out of the JREF is not mentioning the elephant in the room, or the herd of elephants.
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written by Alan3354, August 30, 2009
Let god (any god, pick one) try for the $1,000,000.
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original 'woo'
written by Baxta76, August 30, 2009
"It distracts from the original 'woo' that the JREF always has been concerned with."

Surely religion is THE "original" Woo.

It should be treated just like any other non-natural phenomena... sceptically.

Personally, this is one of my favourite sites.
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@Paul Claessen
written by iiwo, August 30, 2009
I can understand the desire to keep religion out of the JREF, and am aware of Randi's stand on that. (I will admit it slipped my mind in relating to the comments and article though.)

I intended my response/questions to be more general in nature as there is a long list of wooey topics, and I already had plenty of words in the post.

I'm not suggesting one sit down and try to deconvert the pope (though a conversation pertaining to the tenants of his beliefs may be useful for putting together a plan for approaching believers). It is more a question of "If I were a UFO believer, and I came across this site in my research, would the articles entice me to read further, eventually leading me to question my understanding? Or would I be turned off due by the tone of the articles?"

In the end I suppose it is a question all of us must answer, though I framed it in response to the posts discussing a dumbing down: Is the JREF outreach? or inreach? is what it boils down to.

Or both? And how? I'm not sure there is one correct answer, or how to meet the solution(s) that people may suggest over time. It is food for thought.
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written by TDjazz, August 30, 2009
The 'new' site publishes posts from a greater variety of people.
With more people come different styles.
Some you like, others you don't.
Live with it.


I'm mentioning the poor grammar and writing of the articles on this site because I'm noticing it more. It's unfortunate that "With more people come different styles" because the quality of the site is being compromised. I've been spoiled by Randi's precise writing skills that the new writers' lack of skill is all too evident in comparison.

Of course, I offer my services to the writers on this site--not because I'm "the right person to volunteer for editor/proofreader," but I'm a good candidate for the job. (No, humility isn't one of my strengths. smilies/wink.gif)
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@iiwo-Misunderstanding
written by tmac57, August 30, 2009
iiwo-"tmac57: CasaRojo explained herself before you put in your comment, no need for further snide remarks (imo anyway). "
My remark about the fallacy of 'Appeal To On-Airity' was me just having fun with the idea of people believing that if it is on TV then it must be true. It was not directed at you in any way. Sorry for the misunderstanding.
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written by JerryC, August 30, 2009
"As a general statement," he said, "people on earth, in this life, are trying to find their way home to God."

Alison, from you sharing your ultimately frustrating conversation with the Catholic believer, you made the mistake of getting lost in a maze of details that had nothing to do with this central statement of belief. My next question would have been, "Why? What's wrong with simply living the best life in our current home? Why do you feel the need to escape from this world?

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@tmac57
written by iiwo, August 30, 2009
I follow now. I thought you were making fun of CasaRojo, but I see I was mistaken. My apologies, and thanks for clarifying!
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written by Alan3354, August 31, 2009
"As a general statement," he said, "people on earth, in this life, are trying to find their way home to God."

The last place I want to be, dead or alive, is anywhere near god. He's the cruelest asshole in the universe.
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written by Stanfr, September 01, 2009
I thought the Evil Emperor was the "cruelest asshole in the universe".
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Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's ass
written by pxatkins, September 01, 2009
Alison: if you lie down with dogs ...

Ace grammarians: As a professional editor my advice is DON'T. And if you choose not to follow my advice please let your guiding principle be STET. Casual writing is the most inclusive and best for Internet communications; good grammar alienates many; perfect grammar alientates almost everyone.

Catholics: How come NONE of you adhere to the owners manual? smilies/smiley.gif
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written by Paul Claessen, September 01, 2009
@pxatkins: "As a professional editor" -> "perfect grammar alientates (SIC) almost everyone"

Uhm ???
I REALLY prefer good, or even pefect, grammar.
And I'm sure I'm not alone!
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I suggest speaking to a few more people
written by stevekelner, September 01, 2009
It sounds as if Tom has thought a lot about his personal religion, but it isn't really Catholicism. Though for the record, Catholics do not believe in the literal proof of the Bible, nor do they believe it is historically accurate as written. In fact, if you talk to someone knowledgeable, they'll tell you that most of the miracles in the Bible can be put into "real world" terms, and you are perfectly entitled to believe this is so. For example, the "ten plagues" are mostly real events: the red tide ("river of blood"), which kills fish, which brings flies on the fish, which brings frogs to eat the flies, etc. Having them all at once stinks, but it could happen. (The "death of all the first-born" is thought to be the death of the Pharaoh's first-born, for which everyone would mourn, eh?) The Red Sea is thought to be the "Reed Sea," in which case God didn't part waters a la the movies, but instead this ragged group of slaves escaped through a swamp, which you just didn't want to take chariots through. Less dramatic, sure, but more believable. An early example of spin!
As for the New Testament, I was told by a Catholic religion teacher that one interpretation of the "bread and fishes" miracle is that in fact that lots of people had food, but had hidden it and didn't want to share, and Jesus' publicly putting all his food in to share shamed them into giving it up, and at the end there turned out to be plenty for everyone. A nice story, and offensive to no one, atheist and believer alike, I should think.
I also have to say that Ms. Smith's interpretation of "fallibility = acceptance of slavery" is bizarre at the very least. I could just as easily say that fallibility is implicit in the laws of Thermodynamics - it's easier to fail than to succeed. Life and reason work against the natural trend to chaos.
Where Catholicism and some types of Christianity can work well is in inspiring people to be better -- not to act out of their impulses and instead to do well for others -- without feeling condemned for the occasional failure at doing so. (Witness the life and works of Teddy Kennedy!) That, in fact, you can approach God, because you do not "eternally fall short." Taking out the religious tilt, that's not a bad approach to take to life: "I'm not going to succeed every time in being what I want to be, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't try, because I know I can get better."
I suggest speaking to a few more people, unless you are cherry-picking nutjobs. You can do better than that.
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written by Zoroaster, September 01, 2009
I've done the trying to talk rationally to religious people thing into the ground. It's a dead end. If you really want to have some fun just look them in the eye and say, "I just know there is no God! I look deep in my heart and feel that He doesn't exist." They never know what to do with that.
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written by Stanfr, September 02, 2009
Zoroaster: A feeling of absence is an absence of feeling... smilies/wink.gif
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written by KirkT, September 02, 2009
My only issue with this article is that it feels incomplete. Initially you stated that you wished to write an article dealing with religious beliefs of the American populace but you seemed to have stopped with Tom. I'd be interested to see a few more examples.
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@ Paul Claessen
written by pxatkins, September 02, 2009
@pxatkins: "As a professional editor" -> "perfect grammar alientates (SIC) almost everyone"


That's a typo, Paul, not a grammatical error. Incidentally, that Latin word sic is written lower case. No need for three question marks, no need for the exclamation point either. Kinda proves my point. smilies/wink.gif
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written by Paul Claessen, September 02, 2009
@pxatkins ...

I know.
I just didn't want to alienate almost everyone with perfect grammar. (spelling, semantics, syntax, style ...)
;-)
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@ Paul Claessen
written by pxatkins, September 02, 2009
Good one! smilies/cheesy.gif
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wait, wait
written by Diverted Chrome, September 04, 2009

Just assumptions.
Try this:
Read Exodus and see if it actually says the Hebrews were slaves.
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