Helloween: A Holiday for and from Proselytizers

No Proselytizing - MissionariesThey work tirelessly every day, going door-to-door in order to convince us that their religion is the key to happiness and, if we choose the right god and dogma, that we may just make it into heaven (though I’ve never heard of anyone providing a money back guarantee on this celestial sales pitch). By implication the spiritual path we’ve chosen is somewhere between “inferior to theirs” and “damnable for eternity.”

It can’t be easy giving this kind of news to the predominantly uninterested homeowners of the world.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have one day to celebrate these soliciting missionaries and also give them a well deserved vacation?

In honor of all that they do, I hereby ordain and institute the worldwide tradition of Helloween: The one day that proselytizers are encouraged to preach to all who will listen from 6pm-8:30pm each and every Leap Day beginning on February 29, 2012. I know I didn’t give them much notice this year, but it does give them plenty of time to prepare for next Helloween!

Here are a few simple rules for America’s favorite new holiday:

  1. Just like trick-or-treating, proselytizers can only approach houses which have the porch lights turned on and only between 6pm and 8:30pm on Leap Day evening.
  2. Any proselytizing on any other day is to be met with the same reaction that one would have toward a child trick-or-treating on non-Halloween days: a polite “It’s not Helloween” will be sufficient.
  3. Proselytizers going door-to-door on Halloween (October 31st) are to receive no candy, or in extreme cases of pity they can be given peppermints, wax lips, or root beer barrels.
  4. In exchange for giving up four years of doorstep preaching, all residents will agree to avoid implementing the Bible’s call for the immediate killing of anyone attempting a religious conversion:

If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, that is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, “Let us go and serve other gods,” which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers, of the gods of the peoples that are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth, thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him. Neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him, but thou shalt surely kill him. Thy hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. —Deuteronomy 13:6-9

Now let the proselytizing begin…and then go take a relaxing four year hiatus! You might even want to take some of that time and energy you would have spent seeking converts and use it to help your fellow man to create a better world here and now.

Et Tu, Denzel?

Denzel Washington in Julius Caesar

Like a dagger to the heart, many atheists feel hurt and betrayed by Denzel Washington’s likening atheists to sociopaths. Photo by Sara Krulwich

Let me just preface this post with a statement that may shock some people: I personally know some real life, actual atheists who are the nicest people you’d ever want to meet, caring, loving, generous tippers—no horns, no pitchforks.

So I was a bit shocked to hear one of America’s (and my) favorite actors compare atheists to sociopaths:

“The traits of a sociopath: no conscience, no sense of remorse, usually atheist.” —Denzel Washington on the Today Show 2/8/2012

He didn’t say that all atheists are sociopaths, but how many viewers heard just that, given the vilification of the word “atheist” by many of today’s preachers and conservative commentators.

It turns out that Denzel’s conflation of the two terms may offend a few million atheists, but will certainly not offend the Big Man Upstairs (for all you atheists, I’m referring to God):

The law is made, not for the upright man, but for those who have no respect for law and order, for evil men and sinners, for the unholy and those who have no religion, for those who put their fathers or mothers to death, for takers of life. —1 Timothy 1:9

That’s correct, right there in the Bible they lump together atheists and patricidal sociopaths.  And when it comes to non-believers God does not mess around:

So shall ye perish, because ye would not be obedient unto the voice of the Lord your God. —Deuteronomy 8:20

But not all atheists are all bad, right?

The fool hath said in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they have done abominable works. There is none that doeth good. —Psalms 14:1

So does Denzel have a point? Sociopaths by definition don’t play by other people’s rules, so it would certainly be surprising to find them behaving as devout religious believers.

But by tying together the words atheists and sociopaths, I have to say something to  America’s coolest actor that I thought I’d never have to say: “Uncool, Denzel.”

Denzel wouldn’t think of saying any of the following factually accurate statements about Christians, would he?

Is it too much to ask that people drop the atheist-sociopath connection? It’s a bit like going up to an artist and saying, “You know who else was an artist? Hitler!” (BTW: also uncool.)

To avoid being confused with sociopaths, it’s not surprising that many non-believers avoid the “atheist” label and choose a more positive “freethinker,” “humanist,” or “skeptic” description instead.

US Army Major Ray Bradley recently made headlines by requesting that he be allowed to change his belief system designation in the military to “Humanist,” since the only other option currently available to him is “Atheist.” He prefers humanist because “Humanism is a philosophy that guides a person. It’s more than just a stamp of what you’re not.”

As Howard Katz, president of the Humanist Society added, “You could have an axe murderer who’s an atheist. Humanists have ethics and a philosophy.”

So in the spirit of good will, I call on atheists to refrain from mentioning the Inquisition every time they meet a Christian, and I call on believers to get out there and get to know an atheist, taking comfort in the fact that the odds are actually quite high that the person they meet will not be an axe-wielding sociopath.

And to give believers strength in reaching out to the atheists of the world, let’s let the Bible have the final word:

Now accept one who is weak in faith. —Romans 14:1

and

Live peaceably with all men. —Romans 12:18

Michael Morris is the author of Bible Funmentionables: A Lighthearted Look at the Wildest Verses You’ve NEVER Been Told!, which features all of the shocking and hilarious verses that your minister, rabbi, or charismatic cult leader is afraid to preach.

Is There a Blessing for a Bain?

Cherry-picking Bible verses is as easy as 10, 11, 12, 13.

God loves a good capitalist. Or so says Rabbi Aryeh Spero who gave Mitt Romney’s work at Bain Capital the Good Lord’s stamp of approval in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed. The only problem is that it was less of a divine imprimatur and more of a classic example of a pesky little thing called “confirmation bias.”

Choosing only evidence that vindicates your personal biases is an easy trap, and with its many contradictory and ambiguous passages, the Bible makes confirmation bias that much easier.

Like a desperate kid with a Magic 8 Ball, the Bible is likely to give you the answer you want as long as you just keep trying.

Rabbi Spero begins his commentary by calling President Obama a “redistributionist.” (What has this nation come to when Spero can’t even call the President what he seems to want to: a socialist.) Spero’s broad-brush caricature of liberal positions and his disinterest in the social ramifications of Bain’s tactics make his ideology fairly obvious. He then cherry-picked Bible passages to purportedly absolve Romney and Bain of any possible offenses in their private equity exploits.

Spero’s main contention is that any critique of Bain’s business practice amounts to envy, and envy is forbidden in the Bible. It’s quite an assumption in itself to claim that basically anyone who has a problem with income distribution in America is just jealous. Calling the 99% envious is a way of downplaying the real concern that many have expressed that there is not a level playing field in America today—that the game is rigged in favor of the rich and powerful. And Bain’s story of firing workers, bankrupting companies, and raiding pension funds in order to reward its wealthy investors is a prime example.

But let’s assume that the 60% of Americans that think income distribution is an important issue are all just jealous. If we use a different confirmation bias, we could say that their jealousy is actually making them more godlike:

The Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. —Exodus 34:14

Now let’s see what else the Bible has to say about other views people have about Mitt Romney and Bain Capital.

Opinion 1: “Romney made his money honestly. We should all work to be as rich as he is.”

Bible’s Approval: The poor man is hated even by his neighbor, but the man of wealth has numbers of friends. —Proverbs 14:20

Bible’s Disapproval: Labor not to be rich. —Proverbs 23:4

Opinion 2: “In a capitalist system, it was Romney’s duty to seek the highest return on investment, regardless of societal implications.”

Bible’s Approval: “Why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it.” —Matthew 25:27

Bible’s Disapproval: And they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. —Acts 2:45

Opinion 3: “Without lifting a finger, Mitt Romney’s blind trust earns in 16 hours what an average American worker earns in an entire year. It’s not fair.”

Bible’s Approval: It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” —Mark 10:25

Bible’s Disapproval: Wealth makes a great number of friends, but the poor man is parted from his friend. —Proverbs 19:4

Opinion 4: “Romney raided companies, walked away with massive wealth, and cared little about the impact on the people affected.”

Bible’s Approval: When Jehoshaphat and his people came to take the spoil of them, they found among them in abundance both riches and dead bodies, and precious jewels, which they stripped off for themselves, more than they could carry away. And they were three days in taking the spoil, it was so much. —2 Chronicles 20:25

Bible’s Disapproval:  They slew of their enemy 75,000, but on the spoil they laid not their hand. —Esther 9:16

Opinion 5: “Mitt ‘I’m Not Concerned About The Very Poor’ Romney isn’t concerned about the very poor.”

Bible’s Approval: You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me. —John 12:8

Bible’s Disapproval: He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God. —Proverbs 14:31

As a bit of an expert on the use and abuse of Bible quotes (at least the outlandish ones), I know confirmation bias when I see it. Rabbi Spero would do better by telling us what he thinks about Mitt Romney’s version of capitalism rather than trying to tell us God’s opinion. It’s hard to precisely pinpoint God’s position on any particular topic these days. God gave numerous and contradictory statements in the past, and for some strange reason he is no longer giving interviews.