I'm an enthusiastic atheist who also follows astrology and tarot. Not the least bit embarrassed by either. Both "work," for the most part -- that is, things they show seem to match up with events in my life. I don't follow either method avidly; I can go for weeks without thinking about what the planets are doing and how they line up with my natal chart. And my deck of tarot cards can sit idle for a similar amount of time. I don't rely on them to guide my life; they're just a tool that I use in moderation. The reason I don't consider this either embarrassing or contradictory vis a vis my atheism, is that while I may consider them helpful in my life, I do not feel the slightest urge to push them on anyone else. There are over 7 billion people in today's world, and for the most part, we're all getting on with our lives. A mythical god, planetary positions, and illustrated cards don't play a vital role in everyday events. I don't actually consider either practice "supernatural." I sense no intelligence in the cards, and a natal chart is what it is. It's "you," or it isn't. I learned a long time ago that I might look at someone's chart and see a placement that carries an important message, but if the person isn't interested in hearing it, then I have to leave the subject alone and see the person as an individual with a shit-ton of free will, rather than a collection of squiggles in a circle. This is even more true of tarot. In the same way, of course, whether someone believes in a supernatural deity should be their business. How I or anyone else feels about it is a personal issue, and as long as someone respects the boundaries between what they believe and what others do or do not believe, there's hope for civil relationships.
If there were no bible, Sam might have gotten himself in a similar situation by reading Stephen King or Ayn Rand or any other book -- even a product label. The springboard for his behavior is whatever causes paranoid schizophrenia. However, the bible is much more problematic because in Sam's world, everyone reads the stupid thing. There are plenty of religious leaders (and followers thereof) who will solemnly insist that The Bobble is the only book worth reading. So of course he's going to assume, with minimal education, that whatever is contained within those pages must be truth. He does not have the filters that people without his disorder have. Plenty of religious people, even those who claim to believe in biblical literalism, deep down understand the difference between real, true, verifiable fact and concepts that can only have come from someone's imagination or delusion. They suspend disbelief, but they know they're doing it, and they do it because for whatever reason, they feel better for doing so. It's like people who drink heavily but aren't alcoholics -- they can stop anytime they set their mind to it. The people who called the law on Sam and tried to get him put away are probably the healthiest members of that community. They may one day see the connection between poor Sam's delusions and the crap everyone else is spoon-fed from the cradle. It's the other oafs, who shake their heads and say "Let's pray for Sam; he has a demon" who perpetuate the dangerous cycle that breeds more Sams.
I share your horrified fascination with the tsunami footage. What's so remarkable about it is the amount of forewarning the residents had. Just enough to get out their cameras and shoot "before & after" footage. But I always wonder what those folks up on the rooftops were thinking. Was it "Glad we got to a safe spot" or "Hmm. How're we going to get back down now that the streets and cars are all gone, and what if the building collapses?" I really admire the courage of the older people in particular.
"...museums, family reunions, sports games, political rallies, plays, friend's house for dinner..." are all mostly one-time occasions that exist for a specific purpose. I agree that the political rallies could get a bit tedious for a kid. So could the museums and sports games -- BUT, even in these settings, the kid can get up, walk around, go outside, probably even play with an electronic device or read a book to pass the time. You can't do that in church. And if you're at a sporting event, everyone around you might be waving banners but they're not going to pass judgment on your character or the fate of your soul if you don't wave them too. You won't be labeled a "Picassoist" if you go to a museum and declare that you don't appreciate Monet. There's a world of difference between the function assumed in religion vs. that assumed for any other activity in life.
If you've noticed your ears ringing more than usual lately, it's probably due to your name being bandied about at meetings of our small committee at the UU church I attend. We're in the process of revamping our hiring policies to include background checks for new employees and volunteers. We've come up against resistance from church members who are skeptical about whether the process will "work." These people have no problem with us conducting background checks -- they simply think that once our committee disbands and the years pass and new Boards of Trustees form, the urgency will be forgotten and the ball will be dropped. To these people, I emailed a link to your blog, asking them to read it. I am hoping that they will gain an understanding of the stakes and how high they are. I appreciate the work you do here.
Georgia, too. They periodically try to change it, but so far, the fundies have blocked it. The classic argument: "If you need alcohol that badly, then plan ahead and buy it Monday through Saturday." The basis for opposing objections goes right over their pointy little heads.
I don't think religion will disappear in our lifetime, either. Or at least, established belief systems based on authority and fear won't. Witness Communism through most of the 20th century. Plenty of atheists (and I count myself among these) are unwilling to completely jettison the notion of "unseen mystery" type phenomena, even if we also believe that at some point, everything we don't understand will get to where it can be explained.
This is the way we REALLY are, if we could only feel the freedom to be honest. I tried to express this to a Christian co-worker not too long ago. He's a thinker, so I like to sustain the hope that he's not privately consigning me to hell or something. What I told him was, you take any American Christian church with more than 50 congregants (this excludes weird, inbred, family groups like Westboro Batshit), and if you could get every member to take truth serum and then ask them 1) What is your theology? and 2) Why do you attend church?
What you'd discover is that in addition to those who never bothered to think outside the bobble, you'd have an impressively large number of atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, skeptics, pantheists, deists, pagans, small-u unitarians, universalists, Buddhists, and the rest of the spiritual array. You'd find that people attend that church because their families do and/or always did, their friends are there, they like the architecture, they like the music, the place is conveniently located, they like the sermons, they get to use abilities that they can't use at their jobs, they're looking for romance, the church is famous, their boss goes there, and so on ad infinitum.
What would make me happy is each of these people being able to state it honestly, regardless of what their beliefs are. Stating it without fear of others' judgment. Feeling the freedom to explore their beliefs and change them as needed. And above all, to have the freedom to believe what they believe without feeling the need to join up with others who supposedly believe exactly the same thing and then base an entire society and government upon this. If we could evolve even that far, I'd be happy. Will it happen? In my lifetime? The chances are Slim and None, and Slim just took the last train out.
You'd think they'd get rid of those. But it's like stores and restaurants that go out of business, leaving their signs up. You pull in, all hungry for a sandwich, and only then do you see the realtor's placard. Businesses should be required to remove non-usable signs of their previous existence, with the consequence that the sale of their assets will be frozen until they comply.
Excellent that you've posted this. I'll be happy to share it on Twitter; maybe word will get back to this silly group of pastors and they'll re-think.