Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Bullshit from the White House, Take Two

Well, we secularists have gotten another response from the White House regarding a petition.  We asked that churches be removed from automatic tax exemption, and be required to apply for non-profit status like secular organizations.  This seems like a reasonable request.  And now, Joshua DuBois, the White House "god guy" has given us a response.
Thank you for signing this petition regarding the tax-exempt status of houses of worship.
The separation of church and state outlined in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution is an important founding principle of our Nation. Our Nation's Bill of Rights not only guarantees that the government cannot establish an official religion, but also guarantees citizens the right to practice the religion of their choosing or no religion at all. Internal Revenue Code section 501(c), which addresses tax exempt organizations (including religious organizations), and the Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) "Tax Guide for Churches and Religious Organizations," reflect these principles.
In particular, the IRS Guide provides for an automatic exemption for churches and other houses of worship that meet the statutory requirements of section 501(c)(3). These requirements include, among others, that the organization be "organized and operated" exclusively for certain purposes (including religious and charitable purposes), that no part of net earnings inure to the benefit of any private individual or shareholder, and that the entity not involve itself in political campaigns.
Houses of worship, however, need not rely on the automatic exemption. As the IRS Guide observes, some houses of worship may consider it beneficial to obtain IRS recognition of their tax-exempt status: "such recognition assures church leaders, members, and contributors that the church is recognized as exempt and qualifies for related tax benefits. For example, contributors to a church that has been recognized as tax exempt would know that their contributions generally are tax-deductible." Accordingly, the IRS Guide states that, "[a]lthough there is no requirement to do so," houses of worship that seek recognition of their tax-exempt status may apply for a determination by the IRS.
The Administration recognizes that houses of worship--churches, synagogues, temples, mosques, and other institutions--are integral to their communities and often serve as community centers for charity and social service. And the Administration is committed to strengthening government interaction with faith-based organizations to the benefit of their communities, consistent with First Amendment protections.
When the President launched the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships,the White House noted:
As the priorities of this Office are carried out, it will be done in a way that upholds the Constitution--by ensuring that both existing programs and new proposals are consistent with American laws and values. The separation of church and state is a principle President Obama supports firmly--not only because it protects our democracy, but also because it protects the plurality of America's religious and civic life.
The President's Advisory Council for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships provided recommendations to the Administration on improving government partnerships with faith-based groups. Many of these recommendations have been acted upon, and all are under review by the Administration. You can find the Council's report here.
The President will continue to uphold the constitutional guarantee of separation of church and state in supporting faith-based and secular organizations alike in their efforts to do the most good for individuals and families in need.

It's a history lesson, which of course we already knew all about.  And then it's a statement of the administration's current position, which we already knew all about.  It links to a report from the President's Advisory Council for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, which was released in March 2010, so it was already available to us.  And then...nothing.  As usual, the Pentecostal minister used his experience in both preaching and politics to spend a good number of words telling us nothing.  So, basically, this was the exchange:

Secularists: "Please change this silly tax exemption!"

White House: "Here's some history you already knew, and a summary of what our current position is. We're not changing anything."

More bullshit, just like the last time.  I notice there's no response yet to the petition to take the petitions seriously.  Although I think it's pretty clear that the response to that one is also going to be "fuck you guys."

Update:  There's been yet another response!  Again from DuBois, this time to a petition on the national motto.  Much like Bullshit 1.0, Bullshit 2.5 is a nice "fuck you" pointing out that apparently, separation of church and state is very important, it just doesn't mean that government and religion need to be separate.  Wait, what?  And in the vein of 2.0, we get a nice little history lesson to pad the response a bit, so it looks more like the administration actually cares what we have to say.  Can we get someone else to write these up?  Someone who isn't so obviously opposed to atheism and secularism?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Fun Calculations From The Bible

I think I'm going to make this a standing, occasionally updated post.  In the past, I've been accused of taking the Bible too literally.  So here, I'm going to go ahead and set the bar as high as I can, so that when the accusation comes again, I can point here and say "look, it could be worse."  We all know that math wasn't really the strong suit of most of the authors of the Bible.  Clearly, they often just made up some numbers that they thought sounded right.  Now, I'm not going to spend my time looking at whether 623 or 628 children of Bebai returned from Babylon; no, I'm going to see if I can find the truly ridiculous numbers.

If you ever doubted that Revelation was John on acid, I'm about to prove it to you.  Revelation 14:17-20 is about a winepress.  Except it isn't pressing grapes, really.
17 Another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 18 Still another angel, who had charge of the fire, came from the altar and called in a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, “Take your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from the earth’s vine, because its grapes are ripe.” 19 The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. 20 They were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia.
That's a lot of blood.  How much blood?  Let's find out!  One stades, in Rome at the time, is about 0.92 furlongs; a furlong is an eighth of a modern mile.  So 1600 stadia was 200 Roman miles, but it works out to 183.93 modern miles.  I'm going to interpret here, and say that when the blood flowed out for a distance of 1600 stadia, that means the distance the blood went out from the winepress John saw, i.e. that they're talking about the radius of the lake of blood.  So we've got the radius of our cylinder (approximating here, of course, that the lake is circular and the depth is constant throughout); now we need the height in order to calculate the volume.  Unfortunately, "as high as the horses' bridles" isn't an accurate measurement, but the bridle of a horse is typically between four and six feet from the ground.  Call it 5 feet for simplicity.

So, we've got the height of our cylinder in feet.  The radius, in feet so our units match, is 183.93 * 5280 = 971,150.4 feet.  Now, we go ask a European high school student what the formula is for the volume of a cylinder, and we find out that it is pi * the radius squared * the height.  So, pi * 971150.4^2 * 5 = 1.481470008 x 10^13 cubic feet.  There are 28.3168466 liters in a cubic foot, giving us 4.195055897 x 10^14 liters of blood.

Now, let's turn this into people.  I think we can safely assume that the winepress is only squeezing out blood; it is after all a divine winepress, so it should be able to discriminate.  The human body contains approximately 5 liters of blood, so we can divide our total volume of blood by 5, and get 83,901,117,930,000 crushed grapes people required in order to create this lake of blood.  This is about 11,800 times the current population of the planet Earth, by the way.  Yes, I know John was totally tripping balls when he wrote this.  Yes, I'm sure the number 1600 was just some fancy symbolic thing.  But I think we can safely say that John hallucinated a truly horrific amount of blood here.