Monday, May 14, 2007

Religion! Consciously Pointless?

On his last day in Brazil, the Pope said that the Catholic Church would attract new members (a pipe dream, right there, buddy boy) because Catholicism is "[N]ot a political ideology, not a social movement, not an economic system."

On one hand, and some Christian types have said this before, why on earth would I complain that Catholicism is getting out of politics and economics? Well, it's true that I don't! I mean, not that I believe it that Catholicism isn't a political ideology -- they're excommunicating legislators that voted to make abortions legal in Mexico, for crying out loud! So, it's a lie. But more than just a lie, it seems to me that the idea that Catholicism isn't politics, or a social movement, or economics begs the question, then, "What good is it?"

One of the reasons I'm not religious is that it doesn't do anything useful. Nothing comes of religion, nothing in the here and now, that couldn't be done as well without religion.

It seems to me that the Pope is admitting this. He's saying that you can't judge Catholicism on the same grounds that we judge politics, social reform and economics -- on it's results. He seems, to my way of thinking, be saying that you can't judge Catholicism on the grounds that it does something better than another system.

The vexing part of this is the obviousness of the lie, too. It isn't that Catholicism doesn't engage in politics, economics or social movements -- it does so quite often. All the time you'll have the Pope giving a pronouncement about some political issue or the other, weighing in on war, or abortion, or what corporations should or should not do. And in Mexico, the Catholic Church is excommunicating politicians that aren't voting their way . . . and the Pope thinks that is all right. So, the Pope is lying.

Which makes a certain sort of sense. The Catholic Church wants to continue to interfere with politics and society, but it doesn't want to be judged for doing so. They don't want people to apply the same reasoning they apply to politics, economics and society to the Catholic Church -- to go up to it and say, "Hey, these things you are doing, can they be done better another way? That doesn't include a religious monarchy" - MONARCH!! - "that tries to terrify people into doing things through threats of excommunication from a non-existent god." They don't want that sort of reasoning applied to them.

But, to me, the most interesting part is the nigh public admission by the Pope that religion doesn't actually do any good. That it is not a political, social or economic system.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Mitt Romney is going to be the next US President

Why do I say this? Because he's the stupidest person of the lot. How stupid? This stupid:

"It seems that Europe leads Americans in this way of thinking," Romney told the crowd of more than 5,000. "In France, for instance, I'm told that marriage is now frequently contracted in seven-year terms where either party may move on when their term is up. How shallow and how different from the Europe of the past."

Well, as it turns out . . .

The one Romney said he was “told” is ruining marriages in France?

Yeah. Well. Turns out it was from an Orson Scott Card science fiction novel.

About Mormons.

Set in outer space.

Glad we got that cleared up.

So, Mitt confused the French with Mormons from space in a bad SF novel. This man is so stupid and so Republican I conclude he can't be beaten in the Presidential race. In the tradition of other deeply stupid people like George Bush II and Ronald Reagan, he will be the American President.

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Friday, May 4, 2007

Media Representations, Violence and Response

A person on my friend's list on Livejournal, posted about violent media leads to violence. I didn't respond there because, well, you've got to choose your battles and I doubt I could have said anything to change her mind (and, as a matter of fact, since I originally wrote this, I did respond and, lo, I did not change her mind). I am also going to act as though the idea that violent media leads to real violence is largely a dead issue, because it is. At best, no bad research finds that amongst children under 12 years old that there's a weak correlation between media violence and real violence. Likewise, studies of actually violent people – or, at least, people who are violent enough to get put in jail or prison for their violence – massively underconsume media of all sorts, including violent media. When studying people who are actually violent, the correlation is between not consuming violent media and violence, and the general trend is the more media a person consumes the less likely they are to be violent. (For what it is worth, I think that the reason people who consume more media are less violent, or in prison less, is due to the fact that media consumption is a form of consumption. People who can afford to consume anything in quantity tend to be rich, and both have less reason to be violent and have better lawyers when it does happen.) So, in my book, the issue is largely dead.

What surprises me is how tired and worn out this argument is! Plato wanted to outlaw theater because writers and actors were “liars”. Augustus did outlaw theater, because it promoted “immorality”. The Roman Catholic Church forbade whole swaths of musical types – mostly things involving rhythm – on the grounds that music leads to sex (or, perhaps, that music leads to dancing that leads to sex). You take any time and you'll find people who want to stop other people from making the “wrong” kind of art – they'll want to shut up hip hop artists, burn Harry Potter books, stop kids from playing those new fangled video games.

In short, what they want to do is elevate their personal aesthetic tastes to the level of morality. As a sort of secular humanist, scientific materialist, atheist transhumanist, libertarian consensualist (read: as the intellectually autonomous person known as Chris Bradley) this sort of thing annoys me, and it annoys me because virtually everyone wants to do it, regardless of their political beliefs.

So, you'll have socialists railing against the injustices of capitalist media, you'll have capitalists wanting to outlaw socialist literature, religious folks wanting to forbid secular music, liberals wanting to stop those violent video games, etc., etc. The elevation of a person's person sense of aesthetics to the point of absolute morality is nearly ubiquitous!

I wonder why that is – why most people feel their own aesthetic choices should be universal. I KNOW there's a lesson in there, somewhere, but I'm having a devil of a time sussing it out. Of figuring out why art gets people so fucking pissed off, so pissed off that they feel the urge to engage in tactics ranging from emotional blackmail to legislation to burning books? Of why they feel that audiences are empty vessels into which artists do nothing but pour their own biases and ideals?

I don't know, but I want to know.

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Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Becomin' a Webcam Ho

So, since it's May Day, I'm not really doing any work. It appears I'm becoming something of a webcam ho, however, because I've been doing webcam stuff. I've made two videos today. Both of them are responses to other people's stuff. Heaven knows I love mouthing off. Perhaps after a few more of these I'll actually get good at it.

Here's the first:

This is a response to a Christian who asked questions about the falsifibility of natural selection and DNA as the criteria of life.

Here's the second:

It's a video response to a text comment to my video about if atheists hate god where he proposes stuff like if gay people are allowed to marry it infringes on his rights as a Christian. Which is a silly argument, but common, I find.

Tomorrow I'm going to actually post a short story written in the fashion of Simon Peter, called "Immaculate Conception". It deals with the, ahem, birth of Jesus Christ, told in the way I am telling the story of Simon Peter. Unlike the other things I've posted here, it actually is pretty short, being about 4200 words. And after that, I promise I'll have a few more days of text content.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Consensus Government and SCIENCE

I am pretty politically radical. I won't be talking very much about specific political issues on this blog – mostly because I find the news so totally banal and filled with so many lies that it makes me a combination of bored and angry – but I'll occasionally cave in.

What I am is a consensualist. I think that democracy is a fairly primitive form of government, given our current level of technological advance – and certainly for the technologies that will be available to us in the not-too-distant future. It is fairly clear to just about everyone that the will of the majority can screw a lot of people.

However, one of the problems that a lot of people will have with consensus is the notion that it is impossible to get a lot of people from all over to agree with anything at all. So I've been trying to look out for forms of consensus decision making that can be used as examples.

Of course, politically, there have been communes that have tried various forms of consensualism, and some will point to Christiania in Copenhagen, Denmark, as a form of consensualism. But, well, most of the consensualist communes have failed, and Christiania is both small and in part supported by Denmark.

What is needed, then, in a good, solid example is something that has lasted over a great length of time, includes a great number of diverse people, and is indisputably successful. It must also be, of course, consensualist.

Enter science. Science isn't democratic. There is no vote on what is right or wrong. Scientists do science, publish their findings, they are discussed by other scientists who then accept or reject those findings – usually by building on them in a number of ways. Over time, a consensus grows amongst scientists about how to handle science.

There are several million scientists in the world, so it easily fits the requisite size requirements. There are scientists in every country in the world, of all religions, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, etc., that contribute to science. No one doubts the success of science, either – even its worse detractors are, in daily life, almost entirely dependent on science and it's findings.

Additionally, science is wildly more flexible than politics. Take climate change. If scientists were in charge, no one would doubt that we would be very far advanced of our current policies. Save for those few scientists that are on the rolls of energy companies, scientists of climate would be taking far more radical steps to solve our climate problems – ranging from cars that were more efficient to solar panels in space beaming down power, to moving towards a hydrogen based economy. They know what to do to avert climate disaster! But politicians, even those elected democratically, stall and hem and haw about things – moving with dreadful slowness, even when they agree, in principle, with scientists' predictions. Far from being monolithic, scientific consensualism is brisk compared to politics – in large measure because of the autonomy of scientists. So, consensus can build to action faster than democracy.

So, I'm thinking that the world will, ere long, owe something more than science. Not only has science provided us with all the material advantages we enjoy from health care to computers to a diet stunning in its variety and quality, but it is also providing a model for how consensus can work. To me, that's quite exciting.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Bible Interpretation Example: Luke 22:36 and the Ills of Interpretation

I'd written this about a week ago with a mind to post it eventually, when I didn't have anything else. After the murders at Virginia Tech, however, I'm posting it, now.

Luke 22:36 says, "Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one."

This is often interpreted as being a justification for broad-based self-defense. Almost always, this is in the context of using firearms.

This is an interesting case, however, of being able to test the literalness of the people who talk about the Bible. This is one of my favorite verses, because it is in most ways so totally out of line with everything else Jesus says in the Bible – the whole sell your cloak and buy a sword line is only in Luke, and it it used to justify self-defense and guns.

But if you read it literally, what does it say? It says to buy a sword, if you've got the money for it, and if you don't, sell your cloak to buy a sword.

What it doesn't say, and is said nowhere in Luke, is that the sword should be used in self-defense. That's interpretation. So is the idea that this verse refers to firearms – it doesn't. Jesus doesn't say “guns” he says “sword”. To say that Jesus is referring to firearms is also interpretation.

What does Jesus want his disciples to do with their swords? He doesn't say. And he certainly doesn't refer to anything other than swords. Specifically, his belief about firearms is untested. The purpose of these swords is also left unclear.

Yet, most Christians in America interpret this line to justify broad-based self-defense with firearms. This is, I think, an unusually clear place where interpretation takes place. Christians, rather than saying that they should arm themselves with swords, infer that what Jesus meant is weapons, generically, and for the purpose of self-defense.

Of course, from the context, it is in fact reasonably clear that Jesus is telling his disciples to arm themselves for the purposes of self-defense. I do not dispute that this is a fairly obvious interpretation, but it nevertheless remains interpretation.

This sort of thing is true of almost all cases when someone quotes the Bible in support of something. The Bible almost never says what they say it says. It says something that could – to a greater or lesser extent – be interpreted as what they believe. It doesn't say it, it is merely interpreted as them saying it.

But why are they reinforcing their interpretation with sacred text? Why do they bother to justify the owning of firearms with Bible verse? The United States, in particular, already has a culture of gun ownership. Secular reasons to justify firearms ownership are culturally powerful – I'm sure a brief tour of the NRA publications section will give you more than enough to satisfy you. Hunting, Constitutional scholarship, tradition, self-defense – the US has numerous intelligible (not necessary right or true, but intelligible) secular reasons to justify gun ownership.

It seems to me, however, that for Christians an appeal to reason isn't enough, because secular arguments are, by their very nature, human arguments, and flawed, and can be discussed. When talking about the utility of guns for self-defense, people might bring up the disturbing fact that in a household with guns, it's 22 times as likely that the guns will be used to cause harm to the residents of the household than a criminal. In short, you can bring up facts that weaken a purely secular argument.

However, by appealing to Jesus Christ, argument can be stopped. It is not longer a matter of one side that believes in firearms ownership because they believe it discourages crime and another side that believes that the damage done to society outweighs the right to own guns. The issue is now sacred. The right to bear arms in self-defense is holy, because Jesus himself said so. Who can argue with that? The perfect being has said, in their minds, that Jesus approves of firearms for self-defense. The fact that their “proof” is literary interpretation is meaningless; by assertion, their political preference has been transformed into inerrant holy decree. It is beyond discussion.

What a perfect political convenience! By stamping the sign of the Bible on something, it puts it beyond reasoned discourse and into the realm of holy law! All, of course, without the slightest sign from Christians that what they're doing is interpretation – they'll repeat, time and again, that Jesus approves of self-defense, even though a literal reading of the relevant passages don't reveal that at all, but shows, instead, Jesus ordering a discrete group of people to buy swords for unspecified reasons. This is taken, then, to be the highest form of argument, so pure and strong that it simply cannot be argued.

What a fantastic trick!

But it increasingly seems to my mind that those of us in the atheist/humanist/non-theist camp need to start calling out this stark interpretation. We're letting Christians literally get away with murder because we lack the skills to call their selfish, dishonest interpretations of religious texts what they clearly are: an obvious and duplicitous justification to a specific political agenda. We should hammer home, again and again, when Christians are interpreting the Bible – but pointing out the obviously of their interpretation, and giving no relent until they are exposed as the frauds or fools they are.

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Friday, April 13, 2007

Capitalism and Conversion

I was reading this BBC article about Pope Rat's Easter celebrations. It appears, if one can believe the BBC, that the Catholic Church wants to focus on Asia. Allow me to quote: “the Vatican regards Asia as its most promising area for future converts.”

Then it occurred to me that is very nearly the same language that capitalists refer to underdeveloped markets. Corporations regard Asia, too, as this vast market waiting to be exploited, either as consumers or for raw materials.

In many ways, fascism is the right-wing merger of state, business and religion. The truth of that rushed on me, all at once, even though in my mind I've known it for a while. In the West, the exploitation of the New World was a state, business and religious prospect all at once. The Conquistadors came with state authority to convert Indians as well as rob them of their resources. The American conquest of the West was done in roughly the same way – missions preceded colonists that preceded reservations and/or genocide. Missionary activity has gone hand-in-hand with industrial exploitation.

Asia, in all ways, has been a tougher nut to crack than Africa and the Americas. Asia has a number of native religions and philosophies that, really, put Christianity to shame. Hinduism, Taoism and Buddhism – in intellectual terms, in completeness, in almost all ways – make Christianity look like a primitive, second-rate religion, not to mention that monotheism is already well served in Asia with Islam. Asia boasts ancient civilizations and a powerful culture. So Asia has not been Christianized nearly to the extent as the rest of the world, just as Western style capitalist exploitation didn't work out as well there as in other places. Sure, both India and China were colonized, but they retained their own independent character and have taken the reins of industry into their own hands – both countries are averaging around 10% growth a year, currently, and the success of Japan and South Korea are well known. Nowhere has Western style capitalism succeeded outside of functionally Western nations (and not even all of those) except in Asia. So, with business as much as religion, Asia has been a tough nut to crack.

Which puts my mind onto two thoughts. The first is . . . is Western religion getting into a trap by going into Asia? No one doubts that India and China are going to become economic and perhaps military superpowers in the next twenty years or so. Both countries have managed to maintain their cultural and political identity against Westernization while adapting the industrial system of the West to their own purposes. Is the Roman Catholic Church's interest in Asia pure arrogance? Why do they think that Asia won't merely adapt the techniques of Western religion that suit them and turn the tables on the West, as they are currently doing with business?

This segues into my second thought. China is already a fairly large cultural exporter, nowadays. India is developing into one (not only with cinema and letters, but, interestingly enough, comic books – several Indians have decided to try to export Indian comics into the West, probably attempting to recreate the success of Japanese manga in America). How much longer will it take to occur to them to start the sort of cultural exportation that the West has done for centuries? Before they start to organize Hindu or Buddhist missions to flood the West with their own religious culture?

Those cursed lucky Europeans might be able to resist, because it appears that most Europeans simply don't care much about religion – even those that still identify with their traditional religion. So, in France, if one believes Stew's translation of those French graphs, and I do, 59% of the French identify as Catholic, but over half of declared Catholics have only ever been to church for marriages, baptisms and funerals, and only 23% of declared Catholics bother to attend church for even the big ceremonies like Easter, Assumption and Christmas. And only 38% of the French believe in the Christian god – which means that something like 2/5ths of declared Catholics don't believe in God or are agnostic! So, I doubt that Hindu or Buddhist missionaries would be terribly successful in that sort of environment.

On the other hand, here in America, where we are pretty religious and belong to a very backwards, primitive religion, they might find really fertile ground. Think of it. Nothing in, say, Hinduism or Buddhism requires a person to deny evolution, or that the earth is billions of years old. Modern science fits a lot better with most Asian religions than it fits with Christianity, and they are capable of the same level of spiritual comfort and community.

So, really, I find myself asking, “Right now, are there folks in India and China saying that the United States and South America would be perfect places to gain new converts?” Because if my thesis is true and missionary work goes hand-in-hand with economic exploitation, the West will soon become a big target for cultural imperialism from Asia.

A third thought also occurs to me, that it required the missionary zeal of Christianity to develop capitalism. Christianity is all about exploitation, about converting people, and about controlling them (religions being top-down systems of authority that have strict codes of conduct and such, I don't think it can be reasonably said religions aren't primarily about control . . . at least, not without invoking a god in an apologia). Most other places, prior to the advent of Christianity, had reasonably tribal religions or attempted to identify their own gods with the gods of other places. One of the fairly unique things of primitive Christianity was its exclusivity (there is but ONE god, and it is OUR god) combined with its missionary zeal. It is unsurprising to me that a people so used to exploitation, so used to destroying other people's cultures, came up with the idea that, economically, they're also fair game. It isn't something, I think, that would occur to people, otherwise, used to seeing them either as outsiders to be avoided or believing, as most in the ancient world did, that everyone's gods were the same but simply called by different names and under different faces. That religious conversation that destroys a culture's religious uniqueness would naturally lead to exploiting their labor and resources.

Though I doubt that Pope Rat would agree with this. After all, he's jump right into the apologia of his premeditated cultural imperialism against Asia as justified because his god really exists.

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Saturday, April 7, 2007

Freestylin' Against Theocracy!

This is me freestyln' about theocracy. This is me just ramblin' on a bit.

One of the key things to bear in mind is that when those fundie Christians and their ilk talk about how the Christian god has always been part of American government, they've got a point. Sure, a number of the Founding Fathers were deists and reasonably suspicious of religion. A number of them were heavily religious, too. And at the writing of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, all states in the Union would only let white, Christian landowning men vote.

But, more than that, I think it's fair to remember, vital to remember, that the whole enterprise of government originated with religion. It is hard to find a people, anywhere, in the pre-modern world (and many in the modern world) that don't equate their rules were divine or sacred people. I'm not just talking the god-kings of ancient Egypt, or divine right of European kings, or the Chinese mandate of heaven, or the Turkish Emperor being the Shadow of God, or Roman Emperors being pontifex maximus -- well, maybe I will mention them. It is virtually ubiquitous to have governmental and sacredotal authority vested in the same person, or the office of ruler having a sacred quality.

I say this because I think most people fail to recognize how very new the idea of a truly secular government is. Even our Founding Fathers weren't aiming for a really secular government. If they had, they would have addressed the fact every state required a person to be a Christian to vote, but they didn't. Religious freedom was meant to avoid the Christian leaders of America from tearing it up; but it was never in doubt in their minds that Christianity was the religion of America. All states had laws to insure that was the case, and would continue to be the case.

I think that people, in failing to recognize the newness of secular government, also fail to understand how deeply religion is entwined even in technically secular governments. Such as here in America how the number of atheists in Congress that have ever been open about their lack of faith is . . . one. Out of thousands of congresspeople and senators. And no Presidents, no governors, no Supreme Court justices, only a few other officials. The entire elected apparatus of American society is firmly religious and overwhelmingly Christian.

I am not going to say that the US has a theocracy. But we're not far from it, either, y'know, because all but one congressperson, all senators, the President, virtually all judges, all governors, all but a tiny handful of state senators, county commissioners, mayors, etc., they're all religious and overwhelmingly Christian. The US has not, traditionally, needed an overt theocracy in order to advance religious points of view. So, during the fifties, advanced by our secular government, school prayer was enforced in schools, and "under god" was put in the Pledge of Allegiance. No, not quite a theocracy, but simply because a theocracy was unnecessary.

This is, fortunately, changing, but even as it changes I think we need to note that in almost all governments in the world, the origin of state power is indistinguishable from religious power, and in America we've very close to a theocracy in practice if not in overt structure.

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Friday, April 6, 2007

Fundies on the Attack! Alliance Defense Fund Whackiness!

Naomi over at God is for Suckers posted this about about this blog post from Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.

The upshot is there's this organization of fundie Christians, the Alliance Defense Fund.

Here's a lesson in newspeak. AUSCS calls the ADF:

Founded by TV preachers and other extreme right-wingers to push the Religious Right’s agenda in the courts, the ADF was spawned by James Dobson, D. James Kennedy and Donald Wildmon, among others.

Originally, the group was conceived as a funding pool. The ADF would collect money and dole it out to Religious Right litigators like Pat Robertson’s American Center for Law and Justice.

The ADF calls itself:

The Alliance Defense Fund is a legal alliance defending the right to hear and speak the Truth through strategy, training, funding, and litigation.

ADF was founded for a unique purpose: to aggressively defend religious liberty by empowering our allies, recognizing that together, we can accomplish far more than we can alone.

We work tirelessly to assist them in their efforts through strategy, training, funding, and, where necessary, direct litigation through our own ADF legal team.

The ADF makes it sound like they'd defend radical Muslims or Buddhist monks or something, without giving any specifics about who funded it or the real work that they do. Oh, sure, later on they spill the bag -- but if you're a casual visitor to their website you might actually come away with the idea that they're protecting religious freedom in a global sense, not their own narrow view of it.

Still, that's not what I'm here to say. It just leapt up at me and I had to say it.

And I encourage everyone to read the GifS and AUSCS posts. They really say most of this better than I'd have the patience to do. The upshot is that the fundie religious right has this huge court machine trying to exact it's religious beliefs through the courts, as American law.

I don't normally write about politics, so why this? Because I think that most Americans have scant idea how organized, and the fashion of organization, the fundie Christian right is using to manipulate the government. That Americans need to see this sort of thing, to have it right out there in the open, to understand how the government is being fundamentally manipulated at the highest levels of power by fundamentalist Christians. (Compare, f'rex, the openness with which the ACLU pursues its cases. Everyone knows who the ACLU is, but virtually no one knows who the ADF are or what they're doing.) So, some of this is just spreading the word.

The rest of it is just me having contempt for the "nice Christian" defense. Time and again, I am confronted with Christians who try to say, "Well, I'm nice, and the Christians I know are nice, so you've got it wrong about Christians." Bullshit. Where is the "moderate" or "liberal" Christian response to this sort of thing? At best, they don't know, which is sort of like living in Stalin's Russia and not being aware of the gulags, if you ask me. They're not really hiding it, and someone is giving the ADF over twenty million a year to pursue cases, and train judges and the like. But they never seem to go after their these fundie Christians. They do spend a lot of time giving apologia for their religion, rather than doing the hard work of getting these people out of their religion! Of destroying the mechanisms of their manipulation! Day after day, year after year, they sit in congregations with rightist fundamentalists and do nothing but then have the arrogance to criticize atheist and humanist critiques of their religion, while offering endless (generally ridiculous) apologia for their faith.

Maybe Beep! Beep! It's Me! knows the opposite of the tu quoquo fallacy. Where, instead of justifying one's own horrible system by pointing out the sins of the opposition, the person justifies continued participation in their horrible system because not everyone in it is "that bad". Y'know. Like the rank-and-file members of the KKK, or whatever, saying the KKK isn't bad because they've got some real nice people in there.

And you can be damn sure that no Christian will be picking this up on their blog. I'd be fascinated if someone could find even one where this was brought up, even one.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Mr. Deity!

I got this from the God is for Suckers blog. It is v. funny. There are 8 Mr. Deities on YouTube.


An Ann Coulter spoof. Also from God is for Suckers. V. funny.


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