SocraticGadfly: 2/24/13 - 3/3/13

March 02, 2013

This week in religion: real and fake martyrs, real and fake Lents

Candida Moss' book abot the myth vs reality of martyrdom among Christians in pre-Constantinian rome is getting a lot of play. See my review of what I'm reading about it, here, including why such a book is highly relevant today.

Among fake martyrs? He may not be Bill O'Reilly with a "War on Christmas," but ex-pope Benedict XVI had no problem regularly insinuating there was a War on Catholicism. My "fond farewell" is here.

And, then there's "faitheists," celebrating a fake Lent and coming close to being fake atheists in the process. See my takedown here

And Alternet and nonreligious actors/actresses don't know what atheism actually is, as detailed here.

Looking ahead on all issues? Christian conservatives will continue to promote teh "war" idea, complete with hand-to-forehead fake martyrdom. Due to Benedict and John Paul II totally stacking the College of Cardinals, American Catholics should not expect a liberalizer. Nor should non-Europeans expect a person of color, though that will happen before 2050. "Faitheists" will continue their "branding" ideas. Many people will continue to confuse irreligious with atheist and vice versa; professional Gnu Atheists have practically made a career out of it.

Texas supports one-quarter of US socialism

That's a statement you'll never see Ted Cruz make.

But, if we're talking about big-business socialism, it's 100 percent right.

The New York Times has compiled info on what local, county and state governments give away in "incentives" to recruit businesses, and, Texas' corporate socialism was almost exactly one-quarter of the national total. 

No, I'm not surprised.

While it may seem to start at the top, with Gov. Perry's Enterprise Fund, that's really NOT where it starts. City and county economic development corporations, common in Southern states as a union-fighting tool, are a large part of it. From there, local government development incentives, beyond EDC ones, plus local government property tax breaks, are next.

The Enterprise Fund is just the icing on the cake, folks.

And, whenever wingnuts bash national economic planning or how the government shouldn't pick "winners and losers," they need to look in the mirror first. At the local, county and state level, Texas does it all the time.

But, it's peculiar even among Southern states to Texas, in degree.

How bad is it? Texas corporate socialism is as much as the next four states -- Michigan, Pennsylvania, California and New York -- combined.

Sequester blame game? It's at least 50-50 Obama

I have said before that Barack Obama was one-third to blame for the sequester because, when he agreed to the idea back in 2011, he believed he was dealing with generally rational critters amongst House Republicans when, by late fall 2011 when he made that deal, he had plenty of evidence to prove him wrong.

Pushing the blame more than one-third into Obama's court is the idea that, then, and possibly even now, he continued to believe in the powers of his mellifluous voice (thanks, soft bigotry of low expectations) to have charms to soothe the savage wingnut breast. Wrong.

Pushing the blame level to 50 percent Dear Leader or higher? His negotiating away too much on the tax side on the "fiscal cliff," with the sequester looming in the headlights ahead, made his negotiating position weaker.

Putting 50-50 at the starting point at least? He's the man who appointed the Catfood Commission more than three years ago, the gang that started us down this road in the first place.

Now, I don't totally agree with Bob Woodward's take on the actual 2011 lowdown. But, he's not totally wrong, either.  And, for all that's wrong with Woody, being a consummate Beltway guy means he actually has a fair amount of cred on an issue like this.

As for Andrew Sullivan calling Woody a liar, hell, there's not that many black pots and kettles in Paula Deen's kitchen. And, no, I wouldn't pay Sully for a subscription to read shite like this.

Hell, for all we know, Obama may kind of want this to be going down. He'll eventually get to austerity-lite, blame the GOP, and tell Dems this was the best he could do. (Sully gets that fact spot-on in his link.) And a lot of Obamiacs will continue to ... stand by their man. Even if Hillary's not there baking cookies and going to teas any more.

Yes, tea partiers may love the sequester, but, Obama had to know that by late 2011, and he doesn't totally hate it himself. With librulz NOT part of the reality-based community on this issue, we're going to hear more Obamiac nonsense in days ahead.

February 28, 2013

Bye, bye, Benedict!

A fond farewell to Pope Benedict XVI, aka Ratzi the Nazi, while awaiting what candidate to replace him the Vatican Bank can buy and the College of Cardinals can coerce.

To the tune of Bye, Bye Blackbird ...

Bye Bye Bennie
Pack up all my care and woe,
Here I go,
Singing low,
Bye bye Bennie,
Where John Paul waits for me,
Sugar's sweet, so is he,
Bye bye
Ben - e - dict!

No one here can love or understand me,
Oh, what hard luck stories they all hand me,
Make my bed and light the light,
I'll be home late tonight,
Bennie, bye bye.

Ignoring all the kids in woe,
Let them go,
Groping low,
Bye bye Bennie,
Altar boy waits for for me,
Sugar's sweet, so is he,
Bye bye
Ben - e - dict!

Banksters all defraud or disinvest me,
Cardinal hats all detest me,
Make my bed and light the light,
I'll be home late tonight,
Bennie, bye bye.

After lying high I'll now lay low,
But won't go,
Hiding low,
Bye bye Bennie,
Stuck inside the Vatican,
Post-papal in the can,
Bye bye
Ben - e - dict!

Myth vs realilty: Ancient Christianity and #martyrdom

Much of the information is already well-known to me, but this story about Candida Moss' new book, may be enlightening not just to many broader-minded Christians, but even to secularists, even to generally well-informed ones.

In "The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom," Moss lays out in detail just exactly what her title says.

And, it's no atheist who's doing this, whether out of mean-spiritedness or other reasons. Per her Amazon bio:
Candida Moss is Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame. A graduate of Oxford University, she earned her doctorate from Yale University. Moss has received awards and fellowships from the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Catholic Biblical Association, and the John Templeton Foundation.
So, she's a Catholic, teaches at a Catholic University, and has gotten money from a foundation that's even been accused, at times, of trying to get scientists who take its money to bend backward to favor religious thought.

A sampling of what's in this book:
Moss ... challenges some of the most hallowed legends of the religion when she questions what she calls “the Sunday school narrative of a church of martyrs, of Christians huddled in catacombs out of fear, meeting in secret to avoid arrest and mercilessly thrown to lions merely for their religious beliefs.” None of that, she maintains, is true. In the 300 years between the death of Jesus and the conversion of the Emperor Constantine, there were maybe 10 or 12 scattered years during which Christians were singled out for supression by Rome’s imperial authorities, and even then the enforcement of such initiatives was haphazard — lackadaisical in many regions, although harsh in others. “Christians were never,” Moss writes, “the victims of sustained, targeted persecution.”
From there, she moves on to a more detailed look at stories of six martyrdoms.
They include Polycarp, a bishop in Smyrna during the second century who was burned at the stake, and Saint Perpetua, a well-born young mother executed in the arena at Carthage with her slave, Felicity, at the beginning of the third century. Moss carefully points out the inconsistencies between these tales and what we know about Roman society, the digs at heresies that didn’t even exist when the martyrs were killed and the references to martyrdom traditions that had yet to be established. There’s surely some kernel of truth to these stories, she explains, as well as to the first substantive history of the church written in 311 by a Palestinian named Eusebius. It’s just that it’s impossible to sort the truth from the colorful inventions, the ax-grinding and the attempts to reinforce the orthodoxies of a later age.
She doesn't deny thast some Christians were killed. Thast said, she also, per the story, distinguishes between "persecution and "prosecution."

And, as she notes, Christians hauled into courts for other issues deliberately provoked the magistrates:
Christians wound up in Roman courts for any number of reasons, but when they got there, they were prone to announcing, as a believer named Liberian once did, “that he cannot be respectful to the emperor, that he can be respectful only to Christ.” Moss compares this to “modern defendants who say that they will not recognize the authority of the court or of the government, but recognize only the authority of God. For modern Americans, as for ancient Romans, this sounds either sinister or vaguely insane.”
Indeed, that's anything but "persecution." However, contra Alternet, for many of today's Religious Right who perpetuate the myth of persecution, it probably doesn't sound insane at all. Nor does it to some religious cults, whether rooted in Christianity or not.

That said, it did sound insane to some Christians at the time. We have letters from some bishops telling members of their flocks not to do this.

And, judging by the review, Moss, even, may not go back far enough.

This all actually starts with Paul. "Luke" made up the idea that he was a Roman citizen. He may or may not have been martyred himself, and if he was, it was because he was a Jew. The idea that Christians were blamed for the Great Fire in Rome has little historic support.

The reality?

The Roman historian Suetonius' warning about what's often called "Christian disturbances" in Rome in the reign of Claudius should be translated as "Messianic disturbances." To the degree Acts has any historical truth behind it at all, it partially describes what can be found in more detail in Josephus: Messianic-claimant Jews popped up all the time, and not just in Palestine. The fact that Tacitus doesn't use the Greek word "Christos" but a similar one, often used for Apollo, shows how little he knew about Judaism.

Now, back to Paul, alleged martyrdom in Rome for him, and related details.

First, the word "Christian" wasn't even used until well into the second century. That's one of several relevant facts that you can find in Paul Tabor's "Paul and Jesus," reviewed by me here.

Second, as far as we know, the names of Jesus-believers in Paul's letter to the Romans may have been ALL of them in Rome, or nearly so.

Third, Paul likely was NOT a Roman citizen.

Therefore, in Acts 26, his "appeal to Caesar" didn't happen either.

In reality, as Tabor points out, his ongoing, increasing, enmity with James and even Peter may well have reached a boiling point in the late 50s CE. As part of that, Paul may have violated some precept of Torah, even in the Temple court. Or, if not, contra Acts, he may have refused to correct the impression he was telling even Jews not to circumcise.

In any case, some disturbance probably did happen, and the Roman procurator Felix arrested him.

Maybe he was eventually flogged to the degree a non-Roman could be, whether by Felix or his successor Festus, and then told to stay out of Jerusalem on pain of death. From there, he could then have scrounged a trip to Rome on his own. And, quite possibly, died a natural death before the Great Fire of Rome.

Tacitus claims Nero blamed Christians for this. However, he's not a primary source. Suetonius, the only other halfway close Romans to write about early Christians (see above) says nothing about Nero blaming Christians. So, even if Tacitus' statement is not an interpolation, given Tacitus' ax-grinding, it's not likely  to be true. Or, as with Josephus' statement about Jesus, it may have a genuine core, but a Christian expansion, in which case, like Suetonius, we should read him as talking about Messianic Jewish disturbances in general.

And, if the Paul of Acts is actually true, especially as interpreted by Tabor, it's as plausible that he would have denied being a Jew, and told Nero, if he had a chance, his "cosmic Christ" had nothing to do with "Jewish self-mutilators."

Of course, there's another possibility for Paul's death.

Maybe followers of James and Peter killed him in Jerusalem after high priest Ananus had killed James. Or even more notably Zealot followers of Jesus did. It's at least as plausible as the tale Luke and early Christian myth spin.

And that myth, of Paul's martyrdom, coupled with the one spelled out in Acts about Stephen, started this whole thing.

It sounds like Moss didn't quite go deep enough. (She could also have mentioned intra-Christian persecution after the Council of Nicaea, where Christian "brotherly love" exceeded anything pre-Diocletian, at least, on the pre-Christian Roman imperial side.

But, this isn't just about the past.

Thoughts for today below the fold:

February 27, 2013

Let's nationalize Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act

In places like Gov. John Kasich's Ohio (selectiveness with absentee ballots), Gov. Rick Snyder's Michigan, and Gov. Scott Walker's Wisconsin, recent attempts to hinder voting of some groups, either more narrowly based on race or more generally based on socioeconomic class, have shown themselves not to be limited to the South. At the same time, on the racial level, the growing numbers of , and clout of Hispanics (even if not as solid as folks like Texas Democrats might hope), show that race-based voting discrimination, in the narrow sense, also may not be, or remain, limited largely to the South.

So, even as wingnuts hope the Supreme Court guts Section 5, as it may, what's really needed is to nationalize it.

Not just for elections, but for redistricting. If race can't be the primary factor in gerrymandering majority-minority districts, it can't be the primary factor in gerrymandering "over-minoritied" districts, either. And, because Section 5 is data-driven, and electoral "consultants" rely ever more on computers to drive partisan-based redistricting, Section 5 is tailor-made for the issue.

At the New York Times, columnist Charles Blow agrees on nationalizing it.

And, as Barack Obama's election, and even more his re-election, showed, there's still racism all around the country.

Add to that, that way back in the 1920s, when the "Second Klan" came into being, there were more lynchings north of the Mason-Dixon Line rather than south. Indiana was a hotbed of the Klan. There were lynchings all the way up in Duluth, Minn.

Update, June 25, 2013: Given the Supreme Court's ruling today, this is more relevant than ever.

RIP Van Cliburn

Pianist Van Cliburn performs for a packed house in the Great Hall of the Moscow Coservatory in April 1958 during
the first International Tchaikovsky Competition. Associated Press file photo via Dallas Morning News

The man who put Fort Worth in particular and Texas in general on the fine arts map of the world has died at the age of 78.
Van Cliburn's talent alone might have earned him a place among the 20th-century giants of his instrument, alongside classical pianists like Arthur Rubinstein and Vladimir Horowitz. But after a magical Moscow spring in 1958, Mr. Cliburn's fame eclipsed even those musical contemporaries, rivaling that of another young superstar of his time, Elvis Presley.

Mr. Cliburn was "The Texan Who Conquered Russia," according to a Time magazine cover. At the height of the Cold War, the lanky 23-year-old from East Texas traveled to Moscow and won the first Tchaikovsky International Competition, an event created to showcase Soviet cultural superiority. Mr. Cliburn's unlikely triumph was thus said to bring a thaw in tensions between the rival superpowers and created a mythic parable about the power of art to unite mankind.
It was an iconic moment. Not just in the Cold War, but in American classical music, demonstrating that American home-grown talent in the highly competitive world of the piano did exist.

Per the New York Times obit, he wasn't alone.

Read more here:
At the time, America had produced an exceptional generation of pianists besides Mr. Cliburn who were all in promising stages of their own careers, among them Leon Fleisher, Byron Janis, Gary Graffman and Eugene Istomin. 
Like Rachmaninoff, one of the Russians he played in Moscow, he could span 12 white notes with his hands, allowing his technique, described like this:
He developed a commanding technique, cultivated an exceptionally warm tone and manifested solid musical instincts. At its best, his playing had a surging Romantic fervor, but leavened by an unsentimental restraint that seemed peculiarly American.
That said, I also agree with this portion of the Times' assessment:
But if the Tchaikovsky competition represented Mr. Cliburn’s breakthrough, it also turned out to be his undoing. Relying inordinately on his keen musical instincts, he was not an especially probing artist, and his growth was stalled by his early success. Audiences everywhere wanted to hear him in his prizewinning pieces, the Tchaikovsky First Concerto and the Rachmaninoff Third.

His subsequent explorations of wider repertory grew increasingly insecure. During the 1960s he played less and less. By 1978 he had retired from the concert stage; he returned in 1989, but performed rarely. Ultimately, his promise and potential were never fulfilled.  
Van Cliburn himself said he felt like he "had been at this thing for 20 years already" by 1958, and that in part explains why he didn't develop further.

It's a shame. Prokofiev and other moderns could have well stood the attention of a more mature Van Cliburn.

He did, per the NYT, sound OK on Prokofiev, but earlier composers?
Yet as early as 1959, his attempts to broaden his repertory were not well received. That year, for a New York Philharmonic pension fund benefit concert at Carnegie Hall conducted by Leonard Bernstein, Mr. Cliburn played the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 25, the Schumann Concerto and the Prokofiev Third Concerto. Howard Taubman, reviewing the program in The Times, called the Mozart performance “almost a total disappointment.” Of the Schumann he wrote that Mr. Cliburn provided “sentimentality rather than Romantic sentiment.” Only the Prokofiev was successful, he wrote, praising the brashness, exuberance and crispness of the playing. 

Reviewing a 1961 performance of Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto by Mr. Cliburn with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy, Mr. Schonberg wrote, “It was the playing of an old-young man, but without the spirit of youth or the mellowness of age.” ...

Despite the criticism, Mr. Cliburn tried to expand his repertory, playing concertos by MacDowell and Prokofiev and solo works by Samuel Barber (the demanding Piano Sonata), Chopin, Brahms, Beethoven and Liszt. But the artistic growth and maturity that were expected of him never fully came.
In short, Van Cliburn early on showed that he wasn't going to be Glenn Gould.

However, he did, through starting the Van Cliburn Competition, give another gift to American classical music -- its further development. For that alone, we should all be very grateful.

Scott Cantrell at the Dallas Morning News, an email acquaintance of mine from my days in Dallas describes the start of that, as well as his life in Fort Worth:
He already had many friends in Fort Worth, where in 1962 the quadrennial Van Cliburn International Piano Competition was inaugurated in his honor. He served as an artistic adviser to the competition, to be held again in May and June 2013, and he took a keen interest in its winners’ careers.

With the aura of an old-school Southern gentleman, with a velvety baritone voice, Mr. Cliburn became Fort Worth royalty. He was as warmly gracious to the youngest piano student as to the city’s movers and shakers.

“He was a true, true gentleman,” (Richard Rodzinski, former executive director of the Van Cliburn Foundation) said, “genuinely modest, self effacing, always surprised at people remembering him, appreciating him. Generosity, modesty, gentleness, incredibly loyalty as a friend, great, great kindness — these were the attributes that made people so terribly fond [of] him.”
That said, Cantrell reflects what the Times said about his later career:
In 1989, Mr. Cliburn started to revive his concert career, and he performed that September at the opening of Dallas’ Meyerson Symphony Center. He again appeared with major orchestras and continued to draw rapturous audiences, but the old magic appeared only intermittently. The rich tone of his earlier years had hardened, his memory and technique had become less reliable and his interpretations had become fussy, mannered. A couple of onstage fainting spells made headlines.

“Something died there,” Bryce Morrison, a British critic specializing in piano performance, said in a 2004 interview. “I do think he was a victim of his own success, a victim of a commercial thing that can make you and destroy you at the same time. It wasn’t a very long career before things started to crack.”
No matter. He continued to grace the Cliburn Competition with his presence, his self.

And, I may just look at going to this year's competition, in part for the tributes that will be sure to flow.

At the same time, the Times reminds us he was a person ... not just a performer. That included discreetly slipping out of the gay closet in the 1960s, then being forcefully shoved out the rest of the way by a 1995 palimony suit. Beyond that, his mother lived with him in Fort Worth until she died at the age of 97 and was his only childhood piano teacher before he went to Julliard.

I get the feeling that Van Cliburn was indeed an "old soul" in some ways. But, somehow, that did NOT transfer to his music-making ability. Had it, he might not only have been better at Beethoven, but, albeit in a different way than Gould, he might have become a great Bach interpreter.

Perhaps that's because he was, in part, smothered by his mother, too. I just get the feeling that for both better AND worse, she made him what he is.

And so, as a result, he wasn't good with Beethoven, and never really tackled Bach.. So, like many others, I've only heard his Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff myself.

And so, back to what got him started.

Here's a performance, from 1962, of the Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto that won him fame in Moscow in 1958:

Remember him at his best. Just as we'll remember Gould doing Bach or Beethoven, and not Rachmaninoff. Remember him as an incubator for American pianists. Remember him as a booster for Fort Worth.

#ESPN fluffs another non-HOFer, Jimmy Rollins of Phillies

ESPN seems to have reached another new low in touting a player as a potential Hall of Famer who's not even close. This time, it's Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins, and the touting isn't from Jayson Stark or Jim Caple, but David Schonfield at the SweetSpot blog.

Here's all you need to know about why, per physicist Wolfgang Pauli, Schoenfield is "not even wrong": Rollins' career OPS+ is below 100.

That's right, he's a below-MLB average hitter for his career.

My minimum, for batters, is generally 110. Rollins' 97 isn't close. Other negatives? Career WAA below 20, and there's no chance he'll get it above 30, let alone 35, by the time he retires.

That said, he plays a skill position, shortstop, right?

But, he's no Ozzie Smith. He's not even a Barry Larkin.

And, the last of his Gold Gloves? Won with a dWAR of exactly zero. And, he's not going to win any more.

Oh, by the time he ends his career, I'd put him in the Hall of Very Good. But not the HOF.

But, here's what all Schoenfield claims as "Yes" material:
  • Career length. He's already at 2,024 hits as he enters his age-34 season; 3,000 is probably out of reach (he'd have to average 154 hits through age 39), but he should end up well north of 2,500.
  • Speed. He has 403 career steals and just 83 caught stealing. His career total of 61 baserunning runs ranks 16th since 1901, according to Baseball-Reference.
  • Power at a premium defensive position: 421 doubles, 105 triples, 193 home runs. Since 1901, he's 13th in extra-base hits among players who played at least 75 percent of their games at shortstop or second base. (Eight of the 12 ahead of him are in the Hall of Fame, and the others are Jeff Kent, Derek Jeter, Miguel Tejada and Lou Whitaker. Five of the next seven are Hall of Famers as well.)
  • Defense. Four Gold Gloves and pretty good advanced defensive metrics (plus-51 runs via Baseball-Reference).
  • Durability. Nine seasons of 154-plus games. Durability is a skill.
  • That MVP Award in 2007. It was much-maligned in some circles at the time, due to his .296 average and .344 OBP (offensive numbers were still sky-high in 2007), but it wasn't that egregious as he ranked sixth (Baseball-Reference) and seventh (FanGraphs) among NL position players in WAR. I mean, this wasn't Andre Dawson 1987 or anything.
  • Championship teams. Played on five straight division winners and has a World Series title. So far.
  • Fame. I'd say yes.
Let's dissect those in reverse.

1. He won't break 2,500 in the next three years. The way he's tailed off, he probably ends at just over 2,600. That's not "well north" of 2,500.
2. Speed? Yes, he is good at that. But, not as good as Oz, who had nearly 600 steals.
3. Power at a primo defensive position? Yes, he's good, but in a bandbox ballpark for much of his career, and he's overrated as a fielder at his primo position.
4. Defense? He's below average for his career on range factor. I've noted his fourth GG was undeserved. He's not good at all on total zone runs. His career putouts, assists and DPs turned as shortstop aren't fantastic.
5. Durability? Three of his last five seasons have missed that mark.
6. MVP award? Schoenfield himself qualifies it.
7. Championships? Not the primary cause of them, himself.
8. Fame? Per Schoenfield, now we ARE back at the Jack Morris argument.


Finally, Schoenfield misses the "smell test," or rather, the "eyeballs test."

Do you, if not immediately, fairly quickly think "Hall of Fame" when you look at Rollins? I don't.

February 26, 2013

Let's "cut" the Pentagon budget, Cornyn says?

So, John Cornyn, again doing the double duty of living up to his own whack-job level, and trying to outdo Ted Cruz because he's afraid of being primaried by a tea partier next, says, "Bring on the sequester"!

His reasoning? Defense spending won't be cut.

Actually, if that is true, that just its rate of growth would be cut by the sequester, I'm OK.

But, that may not be true, and beyond that, Texas is going to take a worse-than-average ding, overall.

That's per information I blogged about yesterday.

But Long John Cornyn (appearing in a Clarence Thomas production near you) doesn't care.

Besides, he approved all the off-budget war spending in the first place, so he's a bit of a hypocrite even on defense spending.

But beyond that, the sequester rules don't allow the Pentagon to shift money around from department to department. (Or other executive agencies to do similar.)

If I'm assigning overall blame factor on the sequester, right now?

I give one-third to Maximum Leader. Obama apparently thought that he was dealing with folks who would bring more rationality to the table with this financial version of Prisoner's Dilemma. (The grammar Nazi in me says it should be Prisoners' Dilemma, because it involves two.) By the fall of 2011, he had plenty of information to disabuse himself of that belief. Or, maybe he still believed in the power of his mellifluous voice.

The other two-thirds, House and Senate GOP can tussle over who's more to blame.

"Faitheists" celebrating Lent? Spare me (extensively updated)

One does not have to be a Gnu Atheist to raise an eyebrow at Vlad Chituc's discussion of why he, as an atheist, celebrated Lent last year.

First, one need not confine himself to a Christian religious calendar to mark out a 40-day period of mental devotion, etc.

Second, there's the what he actually gave up:
I've been mostly a vegetarian for the last two years. But the reasons I object to eating beef and chicken apply equally to drinking milk and eating eggs: I don't necessarily object to consuming flesh per se, but rather how we treat livestock and how factory farming impacts the environment. So while I've been finding the transition from a vegetarian diet to a vegan diet particularly daunting, the Catholic Church provides me a perfect and relatively low-pressure avenue for a brief period of self-improvement. I don't see any reason not to try it out.
So, veganism is something you "try out," even though you allegedly have high moral reasons for doing so? If it were being done purely for health reasons, I could see trying it out, but not for a reason like this.

Rather, we have:
Hi, I'm Vlad Chituc. I really hate modern factory farming. I hate it so much I'm going to stop eating meat. But just for 40 days.
There's more wrong with this than that statement, though.

Michael Pollan sanctimoniousness aside, Chituc could eat non-CAFO meat, or since he was vegetarian before that, non-CAFO dairy and eggs. Second, Chituc says nothing about where he's getting his veggies — factory truck farming, in places like Florida, California and Arizona, takes a huge toll on how humans, namely immigrants both legal and illegal, are treated.

Seems like both your reasoning and your emoting is a bit addled.You apparently don't value a high moral value that highly, and contra standard atheist thought that morality is ultimately an inward, humanistic matter, find that you have to turn to religion for motivation.

More on that here, as Vlad decided to give Lent another whirl this year.
Atheists talk an awful lot about abstract intellectual values like Logic or Reason, and, insofar as these words mean something above simply denoting vague and feel-good smart-person-signifiers that We have and They (believers) don't, these values are certainly important. But so many human failures, particularly my own, aren't failures of rationality or clear thinking. Rather, what seems to trip us up is a more human failing -- we lack the willpower, strength, or foresight to do what we already know is right. 
First, he perpetuates a religious-based stereotype of atheists as unfeeling Mr. Spocks. Second, he again seems to feel that motivation and willpower have to be found in religious rituals and rights. In the world of addiction recovery, those of us who support secular approaches to recovery find the same problem with part of the reason many people continue to tout 12-step approaches.

He then offers what I consider a lame excuse:
I don't know what other secular alternatives there are for a brief period of more disciplined and self-conscious living. So, partly inspired by Alain de Botton's "Religion for Atheists," I couldn't see any reason not to try the perfectly good religious practice right in front of me.
Invent your own!

Whether on your own, or with other members of the Secular Student Alliance, or with Chris Stedman and other fellow bloggers at NonProphet Status. (And, per a post there, I'm not the only one to say "invent your own"!)

After all, the group of you are doing the "giving up for Lent" together. Why constrain yourself to a religious idea, and why go falsely chasing religion for motivation? In essence, aren't you saying, beyond perpetuating stereotypes, that secularism or atheism isn't good enough?

At his individual second Lent post, Vlad does admit:
But I want to make it clear that I don't think that an atheist celebrating Christmas or Lent or whatever else is purporting to capture the full spiritual and theological and transcendental experience of the holiday that might make these rituals important to believers. Even though it might be trivializing, we're just trying to make the most out of our lives, finding inspiration from traditions who have been working on this problem a lot longer than we have.
Good ... because people like him strike me as being like "Messianic Christian" congregations practicing about 10 percent of Jewish Passover ritual, about 1 percent of the rest of Jewish ritual, and generally coming off as holier-than-thou about it all.

Worse yet, the Catholic Christian idea of "renunciation," or "giving up," as specifically tied to Lent, goes unexamined by the group of Non Prophets.

Per Wikipedia:
The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer—through prayer, penance, repentance, almsgiving, and self-denial. Its institutional purpose is heightened in the annual commemoration of Holy Week, marking the death and resurrection of Jesus, which recalls the events of the the Bible when Jesus is crucified on Good Friday, which then culminates in the celebration on Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

During Lent, many of the faithful commit to fasting or giving up certain types of luxuries as a form of penitence.
So, are Vlad, Chris Stedman, et al, repenting of something? Believing they need to repent of something? Or what?

This is why, per the "group of you" link, I don't totally disagree with a Tom Flynn criticizing them. And why, though I think Dave Silverman of American Atheists is in general even more of an ass on this "have nothing to do with religious holidays" idea, he's not 100 percent wrong, either.

And, you are "trivializing," you Non Prophets. Frankly, were I an Opus Dei Catholic, I'd find your attitude and practice to be an insult, not conductive to interfaith outreach. Beyond that, even if you're trying to catch the "spirit of willpower," what you want to do with that willpower also seems trivializing. Chituc says he's giving up checking Internet comments for Lent. (More on that below.)  Paul Fidalgo says he's giving up checking pageview stats. We're beyond trivializing to trite. (This isn't peculiar to you, though. The "Messianic Christian" groups are also trivializing, and have been told so by many a Jew. That said, they're "just" trivializing, while also engaged in shameless religious expropriation. You Non Prophets are just trite.)

Beyond trivializing, per the "repent" comment, you're giving credence to the need to hold to Christian Lent-related beliefs. In short, you're acting as much like "spiritual but not religious" New Agers as atheists.

And. there does appear to be some hypocrisy, too.

In that group post, Vlad said: "I’ll be reading no internet comments for the next 40 days, comments here notwithstanding."

Really? That seems NOT to include his reading my Amazon review of Stedman's "Faitheist," more extensively reviewed as book, as memoir, as branding tool and more in this blog post.

Beyond the triteness mentioned above, though, seems to be intellectual confusion,  uncertainty or similar. Chituc says elsewhere he wants to use the label of humanism for a "community," even though he says he thinks it's ambiguous as a philosophy. There and in the post behind it, it seems like he's struggling for cohesion.

This is why, when it comes to philosophy, one should never trust anyone UNDER 30. Like Stedman, I suspect the best label for Chituc is "seeker," not atheist. Call me back in five years; I've otherwise read enough.

With Faitheist AND Gnu Atheist friends like this alike, spare me enemies, please. And, I'm not the only atheist in my circle of acquaintances who wants nothing to do with either presentation of organized atheism.

#Oscars: Alternet doesn't know what atheism is

In addition to wrongly touting James Kunstler,  about whom I blogged earlier today, online progressive mag Alternet also gets atheism wrong in its Oscars-related touting of top 10 atheists.

First, not all the people listed are atheist. Second, in line with Gnu Atheists, it ignores things such as the fact that tens if not hundreds of millions of Theravada Buddhists are atheists by definition, not believing in a personal divinity, yet very religious and very metaphysical.

In fact, the first alleged atheist on its list, Angelina Jolie, exemplifies both types of "wrong." Her response to being asked a question about whether god exists:
Hmm… For some people. I hope so, for them. For the people who believe in it, I hope so. There doesn’t need to be a God for me. There’s something in people that’s spiritual, that’s godlike. I don’t feel like doing things just because people say things, but I also don’t really know if it’s better to just not believe in anything, either.
So, first, she's not saying god doesn't exist, just that she doesn't believe in one for herself. So, she's not an atheist. Second, she's clearly "spiritual" in a metaphysical way, meaning the anti-religious angle typically associated with Western atheism's opposition to Western monotheism doesn't apply to her either.

Indeed, their touting of Jolie is expressly countered by Seth McFarlane, No. 7 on their list:
When asked in an interview with Esquire why he’d grown so vocal about his atheism, he explained, “We have to. Because of all the mysticism and stuff that's gotten so popular.... It's like the civil-rights movement. There have to be people who are vocal about the advancement of knowledge over faith.”
Hah! Take that, Alternet and Angelina.

I'm not sure about Jodie Foster, per this comment:
In an interview with  Entertainment Weekly  she explained, “I'm an atheist. But I absolutely love religions and the rituals. Even though I don't believe in God. We celebrate pretty much every religion in our family with the kids. They love it, and when they say, 'Are we Jewish?' or 'Are we Catholic?' I say, 'Well, I'm not, but you can choose when you're 18. But isn't this fun that we do seders and the Advent calendar?'" 
Why are you doing the rituals? I mean, Christmas is one thing, but Passover (or Easter) is less secularized.

Anyway, Alternet isn't as bad as Truthout at times, but an SEO-trolling article like this, when it's got such inaccuracies, kind of gets my goat.

Rod Dreher: Anti-gay bigot

As someone who lived in Dallas a number of years, I semi-regularly read Dreher when he was a Dallas Morning News columnist. Like Ross Douthat at the New York Times, he reminded me of two things — the Peter Principle and the existence of a promotional network for young conservative writers. He also reminded me of Douthat directly; both in some ways being "crunchy cons," conservatives who gave off a patina of having a "moderate" take on a couple of issues, issues that weren't core ones for them.

Well, after he left the Snooze, I didn't really read him any more.

I had met him personally, once, about a year or so before he left. He certainly seemed personable enough. Of course, I didn't let on that I read him regularly, and that I, among others, contacted his boss, the editorial page editor, about him violating company policy and creating a conflict of interest by also writing for World Net Daily.

But, maybe he seemed personable for another reason.

I guess that's because as a straight man, I didn't put off some sort of "gay funk."

Because, per Alternet, the real Dreher is a flaming homophobe, one who can talk about "gay McCarthyism."

More on Dreher's background as a young conservative in general, and a highly bigoted one, here.

Why bring this up now?

Dreher has a new book out, "The Little Way of Ruthie Leming," for which he got an advance possibly as much as $1 million. It's been speculated that he may wind up on Oprah.

Well, Ms. Naive had better learn more about Dreher's background.

I'm not surprised, even if I hadn't followed details of him to know about his gay-bashing for some time.

Dreher also used to be a regular on Beliefnet. Given that it's by no means limited to fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals, that website also needs to be made aware of Dreher's full background.

James Kunstler: The 'progressive' Ray Kurzweil

More than once on these pages, I've skewered Ray Kurzweil for his naive, naively optimistic, libertarian futurism, complete with its singularity.

Well, I've come to the conclusion that James Kunstler, the mega-dystopian futurist who essentially thinks Peak Oil, with a dash of climate change, is going to wreck America as we know it today, needs similar skewering.

This one, claiming that Peak Oil will wreck Walmart and other big boxes, was the tipping point.

First, Walmart itself hinted in 2008 that if oil prices got any higher and stayed there, it would seriously change its business practice. Second and related, I've blogged about such ideas myself.

What will happen if oil prices get high enough, long enough, again?

Walmart pressure on suppliers will have more of them building more in Mexico rather than in China. But, developing world manufacturing in mass lots, shipped to big boxes, will continue to happen.

Of the lower middle class, Kunstler says:
They have only one real choice: buy less stuff, especially the stuff of leisure, comfort, and convenience. 

Walmart and others will make boxes bigger. Walmart, afraid of dropbox ideas that Amazon is already trying, will look at more online purchases with dropbox type pickup at Walmart stores.

That will modestly, though not hugely, cut Walmart employment, while also cutting prices and cutting out yet more middlemen.

Basically, naive thoughts like the ones above made me come to think that, like Kurzweil, Kunstler writes stuff that comes off as wish fulfillment far more than legitimate prediction.

February 25, 2013

C. Everett Koop, the real man and the wingnut myth-to-be

Getty Images photo via Yahoo
Now that C. Everett Koop, the man who made the Surgeon General's position into a bully pulpit (setting aside Luther Terry and the warnings on cigarette packs in 1964) has died at the age of 96, it's time for taking stock.

Before the wingnuts start inventing stock, like they did with St. Ronald of Reagan.

I can already tell you, he's going to be proclaimed as an anti-abortion zealot.

But the truth, even if we restrict ourselves to abortion, is more nuanced.

Koop never lessened his personal opposition to abortion. But, while Surgeon General, he refused to sign off on bullshit pseudomedical "research" that claimed abortion damaged many women's mental health. If the greater wingnuttery of claiming abortion caused cancer had been brought up 25 years ago, Koop would have kicked those people out of his office, I think.

And, setting aside whatever personal thoughts he had about gay sexuality, or extramarital sexuality in general, he stressed the use of condoms rather than abstinence in fighting the spread of AIDS.
Koop personally opposed homosexuality and believed sex should be saved for marriage. But he insisted that Americans, especially young people, must not die because they were deprived of explicit information about how the HIV virus was transmitted.
Again, this is as opposed to abstinence-only sex education that Rick Perry and other wingnuts say they "know" works, without any evidence, without any, per Koop, explicit information.
Hell, he even supported advertising condoms on TV!

Also, per his New York Times obit, he tried to get both Reagan and Poppy Bush to do more about getting more people to have health care, even if he later opposed Obamacare.

In short, Koop was a man of integrity. And, as a sidebar, this is another reason why Gnu Atheists should be a bit slower about blanket "bashing" of people of religion.

Of wingnuts and sequester self-inflicted wounds

Sequester damages state/Pew Charitable Trusts image
Information from Pew makes clear, as shown in more detail in the pretty picture at top, that sequester wounds are, in general, going to hit red states hardest. True, a couple of red states, Wyoming and Kansas, are on the light end, and a few are in the middle, but many will get dinged.

Take Texas. It's loss of federal grants will be 8 percent, Pew says, compared to a national average of 6.6 percent.

Here's the details for Texas.

Update: John Cornyn is doubling down on teh stupid here in Texas.

February 24, 2013

Finally, a diesel hybrid!

XL 1 looking bad-assed. Photo via Daily Mail.
And, one that looks very cool to boot.

Volkswagen has just thrown the gauntlet down in Toyota's face with the XL 1. It claims this baby can get up to 313 miles per gallon, and it will have production models by the end of this year.

A few more specs on this baby:
It can also cover a distance of up to 31 miles (50km) in all-electric mode where it emits zero carbon dioxide.

Overall emissions are a mere 21g/km - less than a quarter of the amount produced by the ultra-green Toyota Prius.
So, there you go!

Now, it's just producing 50 production models for now, and prices have not yet been released. But, still, this is something whose time has come, at least for Europe, with fuel prices around $10 per gallon. It's also given Toyota a design challenge.

Sure, 50 cars isn't quite mass-market, but Japan doesn't do diesels. Until Ford changes its stubborn refusal to bring a prototype diesel-hybrid to market (and yes, it has one) then, we have to rely on VW or another Euro company to do the lifting. 

So, how good is #Faitheist? What’s it about? (extensively updated)

If you’re not familiar with that name, it appears to have been something  largely developed by Chris Stedman, now the recently published author of a book by that name, which is what this blog post is all about.

First, some personal identification by me.

Regular readers of this blog, or at least the part of it that deals with religion, philosophy and metaphysics, know that I normally don’t have a lot of use for the New Atheist, or Gnu Atheist, “movement.” I've written about my issues with Gnus on many occasions, most recently here. I consider them too confrontational, for one thing. I consider them too … fundamentalist, to be wry, secondly. Third, unlike them, I have no desire to “evangelize” the religious, let alone conduct an intellectual browbeating quasi-jihad.

Well, that same angle is where Chris generally comes from.

That said, is Faithiest the book about branding Faithiest the idea as well as telling Stedman’s own quite interesting journey, which includes his gay sexuality and coming terms with that while spending part of his time growing up in a conservative evangelical church?

Well, two different reviews have two different takes. Which I will get to in just a bit, because, first, I'm going to give you my own answer, now that I've read the book myself.

Here's a list of observations, going generally in order of the book, but also somewhat, in the later ones, in order of imporance once I get to the meet of the book. First, those observations on the book, then the rest of my original post, followed by other, earlier updates at bottom.

1. He doesn't use the phrase, but Chris clearly was an "old soul" as a kid. I relate. He was also naive as a kid, at times, it seems. Maybe even clueless. I also relate.However, he also doesn't always seem aware of that in hindsight, which is a bit different, and relates to his joining that church. On the other hand, maybe he is aware of today. Maybe it's part of a persona. Yes, my thought is going more that way.

2. The first time he visited, he talks about how felt "moved" by the embrace from the "welcomer," and he later notes that was probably a budding gay sexuality issue. However, he never explicitly says that that was part of why he joined the church. Is this an ellipsis of deliberateness of some sort? Or has it not occurred to Chris?

3. He joined this church for community. Only later did social justice drives arise. Since he had gotten his mom more interested in church then, why didn't they go back to her family's Methodism? We're not given any story here. Nor, if we want to find out more, are we given the name of the presumably nondenominational conservative evangelical church.

4. His dad gets almost no mention. Yes, his parents divorced, but it seems Chris as at least 10 when that happened. What was, and is, their relationship? Good, bad, nonexistent? Simon Davis, in one of the longer reviews mentioned below, faults Chris for not telling how any of his academic religious background influenced him, as far as naming particular religious names, etc. I'll go further. I'll ding him for not discussing in any way relations with is dad. Per other comment by Davis, it makes the book more depersonalized. Sorry, Chris, and please, don't even give the "Minnesota nice" excuse as to why you didn't talk about him. 

5. Another family issue. If Chris had gotten his mom more involved at that conservative evangelical church, how did she know to have him talk to this particular liberal Lutheran minister immediately after she read his journal? Did she already suspect he was gay? Chris gives us no background. 

5A. And, according to a recent Facebook post of his on Oct. 21, 2013 (and, it's posted "public," so I'm OK to use it) he talks about "Growing up nonreligious." He does so elsewhere. From the book, it seems like, even before his own decision to join the evangelical church, that he grew up flitting in and out of religion more than anything. Anyway, back to the thread of main point 5 ...

6. This too, reflects an odd "depersonalization" of the book. None of his siblings are named. None of their reactions to his "journey" are related to us. For that matter, neither is his mom's reaction. The more and more I think about some of the "depersonalization" aspects of the book, not just vis-a-vis his family but primarily there (see blogger Davis' comments about Stedman seemingly so detached from his academic influences), I wound up dropping my Goodreads review rating by a star.

With additional 2017 reflection, I actually think there's a bit of narcissism as well as depersonalization. A willingness to paint other people out of the picture. Absent some personality change, it wouldn't surprise me if that is still being done by him.

7. Was Chris really "that much" of an atheist in his early years after "coming out"? Several things in teh book tell me now. He says that, at the end of his undergrad time at Augsburg, he felt jealous of progressive theologians, and he felt angry that he couldn't be and believe the same. He went to a graduate divinity school. And, after getting to Chicago, he only discovers "atheist community" after a full year of active involvement with Interfaith Youth Core? (One great blog review, below, picks up on that.)

Chris, Minneapolis is a big and diverse enough place that, had you done some simple Googling, you surely could have found something there. Considering that "community" was the primary reason you joined that conservative evangelical church, I find another disconnect here, to put it a bit mildly. It sounds like "atheist community" was not that important to you. And, related to that (and before any interaction with folks like American Atheists) we have:

8. A comment like this, page 130, my emphasis at end:
Anyone who looked remotely religious ... was given a suspicious sideways glance by my nonreligious friends as they went outside for their continual cigarette breaks.
Sorry, but I find that last clause gratuitous, and you're a good enough writer I can't quite believe that just somehow got there. I wouldn't quite call it snide, but it's gratuitous with baggage, let's say that.

9. Per the branding angle, I'm wondering if Davis isn't right about Chris' claim to be "fashionably underdressed" at the secularist event in Chicago in chapter 1 of the book. I see that claim to be possibly "branding" related, if it's not totally correct. As in, "Look at my, the green around the ears kid." Other parts of that incident are ... interesting, too. Chris never says why he took his shoes off when he entered the apartment hosting the post-event soiree, and if others did or not.

10. Per the branding angle, in another way. It sounds like "atheist community" was not that important to you, at least not until after extensive involvement with Interfaith Youth Core; is there a marketing/branding related issue? This is about the time that Eboo Patel gets you on the Washington Post religion pages blogging, about the time Greg Epstein of Harvard gets in touch with you, etc.

Some of this may have been luck, fortuitous circumstances, etc. Some of it may have been a conscious decision, as in "I need to investigate atheism as community as part of my next steps and moves." But ... there's little discussion of that. (Yet another illustration of how the book is relatively "thin." Or, per the "story" issue below, of how the story telling is selective.)

11. Like Davis, below, Chris' use of the word "queer" is a bit interesting, especially in light of his criticizing Gnu Atheists for, among other things, being a bit too much in the faces of the religious. From what I know of the LGBT world, perhaps not to the same degree, but I think "queer" has a bit of that itself. It's interesting that he starts using the word in his story (go near the bottom for more of the "story" angle) just after accepting that he's gay, and disengaging from that conservative church.

12. Finally, there's the matter of luck, and hard work/drivenness. Chris merely hints at it, but, below his Minnesota Nice, there seems to be a Type A personality scrambling to climb ladders. There is also a definite bit of luck, like landing the position with Interfaith Youth Core, then having the likes of a Greg Epstein contact him back, after his Type A "push" started. This all ties in with the marketing/branding angle I see in the book.

So, too does the fact that Stedman has a Facebook page just for the book. If he had enough followers that his personal Facebook were converted by Facebook into an official page, that would be one thing.

Add in this Out magazine profile of Stedman, which has the "hagiographic" photo (trust me, with or without that particular cloud backdrop, whether actual clouds or not, I've shot pictures like that before) also adds to ... my image of Chris Stedman, interfaitheist rock star or whatever. And, the angles he and the story takes tie in with Zach Alexander's blog review below.

At least one FB friend common to Chris and I probably won't like the review. But, it is what it is. And, with a strong marketing push for the book, and it getting a lot of attention in the atheist and skeptic blogosphere, and me having seen some of that (like the reviews below), it was going to get a close read from me. And, not just the book, but the Faitheist brand, and the brander, were going to get that close look too.

Beyond critiquing the book as it interacts with branding, and a particular way to do non-Gnu atheism, the "depersonalization" makes it not a very good memoir coming from wherever, whomever, for whatever reasons. If it didn't have the Faitheist angle, would it get any buzzplay at all?

Anyway, on to other reviews, detailed below the fold, about both Stedman and the book:

First, at Skepticblog, Daniel Loxton has a quite sympathetic review

Here’s the heart of Loxton’s review:
Like his other writing and interfaith work, Stedman’s book calls powerfully for a more compassionate, more nuanced, more accepting dialogue between people of faith and people who have none. Given the strong anti-theistic sentiments common currently in movement atheism and the atheist blogosphere, this has not too surprisingly made Stedman a somewhat controversial figure in atheist circles. Some place him as part of an established narrative—a proposed distinction between atheist “firebrands and diplomats.”

“We need both,” it is often said, “firebrands and diplomats.” Working together—the soft sell and the hard sell, the good cop and the bad—these complementary approaches may do more to bring down religion than either prong of the attack may accomplish on its own. “We’re all part of the same movement,” say these voices. “We all want the same thing.”

But that’s just it. We don’t all want the same thing.

The radical function of Stedman’s Faitheist is to underline that rarely-stated truth. Atheism is actually not a duopoly of firebrands and diplomats. These two types of evangelists no more describe “both kinds” of atheist than “country and western” describes “both kinds” of music.

Stedman explicitly rejects “the demise of religion” as a goal he does not share, and rejects the firebrands versus diplomats dichotomy as well. “I believe how pushy should we be? is the wrong question,” he writes. The better question is how do we make the world a better place?
I would agree with all of that, with one notable exception against that is to Loxton’s one claim.

I’m not any kind of atheist evangelist myself, whether a firebrand or a diplomat. Now, if Stedman is (I don’t know about Loxton) then I part company with him there, and if “Faitheist” is part of a soft sell version of atheist evangelism, no. And, per Zack Alexander below, that's a third way to do interfaith outreach. It's not to try to subtly convert the faithful from inside their tradition, nor to ecumenical with people of faith for ecumenism's sake. It's to work with them the amount necessary to achieve commonly perceived goals, and no more.

So, I'm not an atheist evangelist. Instead, like Garbo, respect my boundaries, both as an individual and as a member of society (no creationism in public schools, etc.) and I otherwise want to be left alone, and leave you alone, too.

Meanwhile, Simon Davis, guest-blogging at FreethoughtBlogs, the ground zero of Gnu Atheist bloggers, has a different take — one more critical, but not stridently so.

Davis first says he thinks Stedman overdramatized his encounter with an atheist group in Chicago.
The panelists I spoke to disagreed with Stedman that “Throughout the program, religion — and religious people — were roundly mocked, decried, and denied.” (p. 2) The panel format was chosen precisely so the discussion wouldn’t be one-sided, though there was one panelist who was vocal in her position that local humanist groups (of which one of the panelists was a member) were too supportive of religion. A month later, Stedman also hosted one of the panelists on the Chicago Public Radio show he was helping to produce at the time with IFYC, which seems like an odd thing for him to do if he felt this person would mock, decry, and deny the religious.
Interesting, to say the least. And, per my comment above about Chris noting atheists' constant need to smoke, maybe there is a bit of fire behind both literal and metaphorical smoke.

Second, Davis points out a little bit of elision Stedman does of a famous Carl Sagan quote, while noting that the version he has, or similar, has floated around the Internet.

Ditto on this Sartre quote Stedman uses:
“That God does not exist, I cannot deny. That my whole being cries out for God, I cannot forget.”
Several commenters, including one French-fluent, say Sartre never said this. In fact, one calls it Stedman’s wish-fulfillment:
I think this is a key to Stedman’s thinking. My armchair psychoanalysis is he has a god-shaped hole in his psyche which he’d like to fill but can’t because he intellectually rejects gods. Religion is emotionally satisfying for him but intellectually without basis. Hence his interfaith work and his criticisms of anti-theist atheists like PZ Myers and the other gnu atheists. We reject the totality of religion while he embraces the emotional (and possibly the social) aspects. He likes religion (except for the god parts) so he’s angry at those who don’t like it.
I think that’s over the top. I like certain things about religion, and, in non-fundamentalist incarnations, don’t come close to hating it. On the other hand, again per Zack Alexander below, if Chris doesn't really align with core values of atheism, or of skepticism, then maybe it's partially true.

At the same time, do I wish that at least some of the metaphysical promises, or even the psychological ones, of religion actually were true? Yes, yes, and yes.

An atheist who claims with a straight face not to have any such yearnings is a Gnu Atheist squared. Or has smoked too much college pot while reading "Invictus" one too many times.

Anyway, what spurred Davis was this post by Stedman at Salon, an excerpt from the book. Read it for yourself.

The one other important part, related to Davis, is where the word “faitheist” comes from, and per this post here, whether there is some “branding” by Stedman afoot.

My final takeaway from Davis is that Stedman, according to him, doesn’t actually personalize the book as much as he could. For example, Davis said he’d like to hear more of how Paul Kurtz influenced him. Ditto here. And other influences. 

There's other things giving some ammunition in support of Davis and commenters there that Stedman is in a journey that is still very much in media res?

First, his own history. Per Davis, from the book:
In chapters 2-6, Stedman writes about growing up poor and attending a Unitarian Univeralist church before joining an Evangelical congregation in middle school right around the time that he realizes that he is gay. … After his mother discovers that he is gay, he begins to become a part of a more liberal Evangelical community that is welcoming of LGBTQ people.

He then attends a (sic) Augsburg College–a Lutheran school in Minneapolis–with the purpose of becoming a minister. It is in his first year there that he arrives at atheism “through intellectual and personal consideration.” (p. 84). This leads him to spend the rest of his time as an undergraduate with animosity towards religion, which has largely subsided by the time he graduates. After college he spends the winter in northern Minnesota town of Bemidji “working with Lutheran Social Services as a direct service professional for adults with learning disabilities” (p.108). He says it is during this time that “Though I didn’t have the words for it at the time, I was beginning to cultivate my Humanistic worldview.” (p. 109). Reading Eboo Patel’s Acts of Faith is what convinces him to do interfaith work and move to Chicago where IFYC is based while attending Meadville Lombard–a Unitarian seminary.

Interestingly, even though he has both an undergraduate and a Master’s degrees from religious institutions where he interacts with diverse groups of people and studies the teachings of numerous religions, those teachings aren’t directly reflected in the memoir.
That is quite a journey, and as with humanism, if Davis is right, the book is poorer indeed for Stedman not showing more of the influences on him.

Zack Alexander, like me, wonders just how committed Stedman is to the core values of atheism and skepticism. That starts here:
Yet there is a persistent sense that Chris, if not quite an alien from outer space, is still not one of us. That there is not just a difference of opinion, but a deeper disjunct in values, or experiences of reality, which no one can quite put their finger on. It is telling that Chris does not merely disagree with his critics; he is shocked by them (5). And that we, his critics, do not merely disagree with some of his statements; we are flabbergasted by them.
Alexander seems, perhaps unconsciously on his part, to also reflect the "depersonalization" disconnect the book has. He also could, but doesn't, note that Chris lets much of the "shocked" be communicated through surrogates. He does, though, pick up the "disconnect" idea and then takes that thought here:
The source of the alienness felt between Chris and much of the atheist community, myself included, is this: he values compassion and social justice to a remarkable, exemplary degree, yet places almost no value on the epistemological virtues near and dear to most in the atheist movement, such as rationality, skepticism, and the scientific method.
Well put. And continuing:
In passage after passage, he rightly preaches compassion and decries injustice, but is conspicuously silent on reason. ... He minimizes belief in the afterlife as “benign” (24). He voices no epistemic discomfort with several factually unsupportable statements thrust upon him by religious leaders as a child (38, 57-58). He talks about children “losing or changing their faith” almost as though this were a bad thing (128).
Bluntly, I'll explain this in terms of his "target audience" for his marketing. Sorry, Barbara Drescher, but reading Zach has now firmly convinced me of that. Chris' target audience is his fellow "Minnesota nice" religious Lutherans and similar. And that's why he was so angry, earlier. Since he doesn't highly value rationalism, it seems, what DID lead him to atheism? He does talk about his decision in rational terms, but again, oh so briefly. Sorry, Simon Davis, in comments, but that might be another way in which you're too charitable. He says he struggled rationally over the issue, but, once again, provides no details! Zip. Zilch. Nada.

This comment by Alexander (his emphasis) also goes to the issue of "target audience":
It explains the single most baffling, dumbfounding fact about the book. That a professional atheist could, with a straight face, ask nonreligious, faithless people to engage themselves in “religious pluralism” and “interfaith work” – a hard enough sell as it is – without making the slightest attempt to find more atheist-inclusive terms for these activities. There are no words. No, really – when I realized the full extent of this, I sat dumbstruck
Boom. Target audience.

It also, again, could be an eyebrow-raiser as to the purposes of the book.

One other thing, also per Alexander. We who are both atheist and humanist, who don't demonize religion and don't have a lot of use for Gnus, don't need to put all our marketing/image/outreach eggs in one basket. Mr. Alexander, himself, sounds like he's done some "lifting" while being both atheist and inside his original religious tradition of Quakerism, for example.

Others will work with the religious at least on church-state issues while remaining fully atheist and fully skeptical. (And, while there are plenty of pseudoskeptics out there, there are plenty of good, real ones too.)

OK, after that looong "first," I do have other enumerated sections of comment.

Second, the book is only 208 191 pages, and just 180 of actual text. (The 208 is per Amazon; oops!)

Third, Stedman’s a … young pup! He was only 24 when he wrote the book. And, per a NYT column, my personal take on life, etc., if you're going to write a memoir before you're 25, it had better be worth it. And, this isn't. Not to diminish his childhood, or what bits and pieces he tells us, but he seems to have experienced  a decent, sometimes bumpy, but generally Minnesota nice childhood with the twist of coming out of the gay closet. Even that seems to have been only moderately bumpy.

Fourth, we have the example, recently, of a Harvard student, one who had gained some prominence among young atheists, deciding she was no longer an atheist and instead becoming some sort of fideist Catholic.

Now, I’ll admit that, like with John Loftus, I may have a twinge or two of jealousy over Stedman. I’ll also admit that I’ve not read the book yet, but that I think Chris is a decent guy personally, and that he’s a Facebook friend.

That all said, because of my three caveats above, I’ll say that Davis probably, at least, isn’t all wrong in his review. Stedman may be dramatizing his journey a bit. And, there may be some “branding” behind that move.

I mean, his brief mini-bio on Amazon hints at why he might want to do that:
Chris Stedman is the Assistant Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University, the emeritus managing director of State of Formation at the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue, and the founder of the first blog dedicated to exploring atheist-interfaith engagement, NonProphet Status. Stedman writes for the Huffington Post, the Washington Post’s On Faith blog, and Religion Dispatches. He lives in Boston.
Let’s be honest. That’s heady stuff for a 24-year-old who might well be more ambitious than he lets on in polite company. Especially when he was writing for the On Faith blog back at least at 2009.

For more about his thought in general, here’s Stedman’s blog.

For the book’s website, including a biographical page, go here. There’s more biography at his CFI page.

Anyway, I am, as of this time, still of multiple mindsets about the book. It sounds interesting. But, while Davis cuts too hard, maybe it’s not as deep as it could be. And, per myself, maybe it is a “branding” book. He is a definite high achiever, at least so far in his life.

More thoughts, and updates, below the fold: