Just Pray?

So it’s that time of the year again. And, like most billion-dollar businesses, the church of England would rather be damned than miss this opportunity to sell their brand, and bolster their recent Just Pray campaign. This year, they went about it in the most professional way imaginable: they created an ad to be run in cinemas. I watched the ad, and think it’ll get the job done: it’s 54 seconds long and features the Lord’s Prayer (you know, the one that starts with ‘Our Father in Heaven…’) spoken by different people in different walks of life. The ad is simple, surprisingly dignified, well produced, and quiet – nicely done. It even ends with a jingle of sorts: the hashtag #justpray flashes across the screen.

The ad itself is timed perfectly: for optimal sell-though, it was pushed to the cinemas to be played before the new Star Wars movie that opens in the final days before Christmas – I don’t think there’s a better slot in the year.

Imagine the Church’s surprise (and dismay) when cinema chains Cineworld, Odeon and Vue (together these chains control some 80% of all UK screens) refused to play the ad. Why? Because, according to the Guardian, the chains believe it “carries the risk of upsetting, or offending, audiences”.

This is pre-emptive political correctness run amok. First, this ad is so inoffensive that not even the most fundamental, attention-seeking (anti-)theist with a hair-line trigger could be bothered to do more than raise an eyebrow in a vaguely annoyed manner. More to the point, though – what if? To quote Hitchens:

If someone tells me that I’ve hurt their feelings I’m still waiting to hear what their point is.

I’m offended by people wearing white socks. The world doesn’t give a damn. Rightly so.

These cinema chains are run by cowards. They are afraid some religious dolt might take offense (unlikely as it seems), and protest. Against what? It’s not as if anyone has ever accused the advertising industry of being too truthful, so people don’t really expect to take an advert for Gospel (see what I did there?). Plus, this ad would run before Star Wars, for crying out loud! The audience is already primed for some childish fiction.

Also, most cinemas subsidize tickets with ads. Any moviegoer knows that they’d have to sit through a parade of ads before the main event. I’ve seen many ads I don’t like – perhaps even some that somewhat offended me (I dimly recall an ad selling cigarettes as a way to make you sexy). So? I’d rather watch some bad ads than pay more for a ticket. That’s universally understood. Furthermore, all cinema ads are lame – this is guaranteed since there is an oversight committee that must green-light any advert before it is shown.

The Church of England has every right to sell their brand of crazy, and this ad is well within the limits of decency. Once the Cinema Advertising Authority have cleared an ad it would behoove these cinemas to remember the only thing they should tell their advertisers:

“Just Pay”

Dumb Dynasty

Showing once again how deranged fundamental Christians can become, Duck Dynasty’s resident pea-brain Phil Robertson shared his unhealthy obsession with rape and decapitation. It’s unsettling for Atheists to see that so many devout believers are preoccupied with rape and torture, and Robertson’s latest deliberation is another scary case in point.

At a Prayer Breakfast in Vero Beach, FL, Robertson fantasized:

Two guys break into an atheist’s home. He has a little atheist wife and two little atheist daughters. Two guys break into his home and tie him up in a chair and gag him. And then they take his two daughters in front of him and rape both of them and then shoot them and they take his wife and then decapitate her head off [sic] in front of him. And then they can look at him and say, ‘Isn’t it great that I don’t have to worry about being judged? Isn’t it great that there’s nothing wrong with this? There’s no right or wrong, now is it dude?

Somewhat revealingly, his narrative then changes to the second person, perhaps expressing his own revenge fantasy:

Then you take a sharp knife and take his manhood and hold it in front of him and say, ‘Wouldn’t it be something if this [sic] was something wrong with this? But you’re the one who says there is no God, there’s no right, there’s no wrong, so we’re just having fun.’

This guy needs therapy. And a brain. Both urgently.

First, it seems that Robertson confuses not having a belief with not being able to distinguish between right and wrong – something that even apes can; apes that are obviously not religious. If someone needs to read the bible to find out that murdering people is wrong, they are a danger to society. Robertson seemingly believes that someone who isn’t cowered by the Bible’s threat of eternal consequences would have no restraints and be free to do anything they like. Which, as IS proves, is rape and decapitation. Except that those guys say they believe in essentially the same god as Robertson does. A couple of things

  • It was some 2400 years ago when Greek Philosopher Plato showed in his Euthyphron that Gods and Good are separate concepts: believing in Gods does not make you a good person, nor is belief in Gods a prerequisite to being good.
  • Judging by his remarks, rape and decapitation are what Robertson would do if he wasn’t living under the threat of celestial retribution. The sickening story he tells is much too elaborate to be a first-time thought.
  • It seems that rape and decapitation are the hallmark of religious people, not atheists: the IS does it on a daily basis, and devout Christians just can’t stop talking about them.
  • For this argument to make any sense, Robertson must be deathly afraid of his god. How can you love something that you are terrified of?
  • For reasons eluding sanity Robertson ignores any retribution that society will exact on him should he live out his repulsive fantasies. What does that say about his view of society?

Just for the record – as always, atheists maintain that even though we do not fear eternal retribution, we already do all the raping and decapitation we want – which is none at all.

But there’s a lot more wrong with Robertson’s creepy outburst than a disturbing misunderstanding of fundamental ethics and a sickening fantasy.

First of all, in Robertson’s grisly story, the atheist, the one who allegedly can’t tell right from wrong, is the victim. As a general rule, perpetrators are to be held accountable for their actions, not their victims. It doesn’t matter if a victim can’t tell right from wrong: a person who is incapable of understanding basic ethics still has the same rights to every ethical rule we have. Not understanding your rights are not grounds to withhold them. Newborn babies have rights – even though they don’t (yet) understand them. Not getting this simple concept right requires an astonishing amount of ignorance and is a sign of a disturbing disconnect from reality.

Moreover, perpetrators by definition ignore the consequences their actions would incur, else they wouldn’t be perpetrators. It stands to reason (if there is any reason left in Robertson’s ‘argument’) that he somehow thinks that the murderers and rapists in his story somehow aren’t responsible for their actions; that the atheists somehow brought this about themselves. You know, like the woman wearing a short skirt is asking to be raped, and a guy with dark skin wants to by lynched. That’s one sickening line of reasoning.

What’s most bewildering in Robertson’s horrible sex-and-crime fantasy, though, is that he delivers the most convincing argument against his vile belief himself. Now, I know that following an argument to its conclusion isn’t a believer’s strong suit, but in this case, Robertson really should have gone the extra inch:

You see, Robertson never says anything about the religious background of the two murderers. Let’s assume that before they die, both rapist/murderers are saved – they affirm their belief in Christ. So, according to Robertson’s belief, what will be the result?

  • The atheists (husband, wife and their two little girls) suffer eternal torture in hell – because although they never committed a crime, they didn’t believe in Jesus
  • The rapists and murderers live in paradise because they accepted Jesus in their hearts
  • Robertson believes that this is good and just  

So who can’t distinguish between right and wrong?

Small wonder that the two guys committed their crime – Christianity offers a get-out-of-hell-free card. You can do the most horrible crime and don’t have to face the consequences as long as you believe in Jesus.

Moreover, the double child rape that Robertson fantasizes about squarely points the finger at a serious moral issue that all believers in an allegedly ethical, omnipotent god have to struggle with. As Tracy Harris observed:

If I could stop a person from raping a child, I would. That’s the difference between me and your God.

The fact that God does not step in to prevent the rape of the two children is not a case for an ethical god. It doesn’t disprove His existence, but casts his supposed benevolence in a very dim light. Plus it establishes that Atheists (Traci Harris is an outspoken atheist, and sometimes co-hosts The Atheist Experience, an Austin, TX, based cable TV show) are opposed to rape, even though they don’t believe in Gods. It also shows that she is more opposed to rape than the all-powerful Christian God – who doesn’t raise a finger to prevent it from happening.

In all, Robertson manages to prove just how horribly unjust and unethical his belief is, yet somehow fails to understand just what he is saying. Luckily for him, our society is better than this loon. If it behaved like he thinks we do, they’d have to ‘decapitate his head off’.

What an ass.
 

Eternally Stupid

FOX “News” Channel have their own priest. Since it’s currently time in the US to get the next presidential circus race started, Father Jonathan Morris weighed in on the important question of what quality a presidential candidate must have. One of these qualities, at least according to the priest, is fear of eternal consequences in order to be trustworthy:

[Faith is] a belief in God; a belief that there are eternal consequences for your actions. And I think that a leader that doesn’t have that — a set of core beliefs that help him to make justice an important part of his life and his decisions because he knows that there are eternal consequences — well, it’s somebody that it’s hard to trust.

We should remember that like most TV personnel, it’s Morris’ job to look good, not provide intelligent theological points. We should also disregard the point that although Morris doesn’t mention a specific faith, he obviously means a faith with only a single god; and one that also sports eternal hell. He therefore accidentally excludes all faithful Jews (no Hell), Hindu (multiple Gods), Buddhists and Jainist (neither Gods nor Hell) from his list of trustworthy people. So what was probably meant as a minor attack on atheists turns out to be a disparaging comment against anyone who is not a faithful Christian nor Muslim.

But, probably quite unintentionally, Morris makes an interesting point. What should we think of a person whose decisions are influenced by irrational fears rather than sound ethics?

Put another way: do you really want your government to be lead by a person who

  • spends time contemplating the next life while there is so much left to do in this?
  • might wish to hasten the end of this world in order to enter paradise – while having everything needed to bring about Armageddon?
  • makes decisions based on a millennia old code of conduct that condones slavery, genocide and misogyny and eschews any conflicting modern ethics?
  • may fear that he’ll be punished for being nice to gays?

These questions boil down to this: do you really prefer a leader whose actions are guided by an irrational fear of an invisible dictator in the sky over someone who decides important questions by looking at facts and weighing them according to rigid, ethical principles?

Unfortunately, too many US americans answer that questions with yes.

This is going to be one frightening presidential race.

Criminal Phobia

Ed Miliband, UK opposition leader and head honcho of the British Labour Party, stated in an interview with a muslim news service that he would outlaw Islamophobia.

We are going to make it an aggravated crime. We are going to make sure it is marked on people’s records with the police to make sure they root out Islamophobia as a hate crime

This is a really bad idea.

The reasons for this are manyfold, and while I suspect that Miliband’s heart is in the right place for suggesting this, it’s disquietingly obvious that his brain isn’t:

First, a phobia is an irrational fear, i.e. a fear that has no base. For example, agoraphobia is a fear of open places. Most importantly, though, a phobia is a medical condition.

There are doubtless people who have an irrational fear of Islam, and by extension fear those who adhere to Islam: Muslims. These people are a tiny minority. They are not the people Miliband wants apprehended, because they have a true case of Islamophobia – a real phobia. They suffer from a medical condition. You can’t, or shouldn’t, really, make that a crime. If you did, you would make falling ill a crime. Imagine if the government outlawed having a cold. They could throw you in prison for sneezing.

Yeah, it’s that preposterous.

There are, on the other hand, many people who criticize many aspects of the Ideology called Islam. There are quite rational reasons to fear Islam’s Ideology – about as many rational reasons as there are to fear Christianity, Judaism or any other religion.

Some people are not only rationally afraid of what damage such an ideology could inflict on society, they experience disquiet – even apprehension – in the presence of devout practitioners of religion: muslim fundamentalists, for example. Their unease isn’t entirely baseless: criticizing Islam in the presence of islamist fundamentals can be dangerous, even lethal. The shocking images of the Charlie Hebdo massacre are still too fresh to ignore. So these aren’t the people Miliband is after either.

I submit that what labour actually wants to outlaw isn’t really Islamophobia. They want to outlaw hate-mongers who seek to make political hay or gain personal status from inciting hate. These people aren’t Islamophobes. They are the exact opposite – they love Islam, for they can only thrive in its presence.

But the problem lies much deeper: Islamophobia is an ill-defined term that entered the English language in 1997; today it is a term devoid of true meaning yet has become rife with accusation. It was coined to call out (perceived) prejudice against Muslims. As such, the term is strongly misleading: it conflates an Ideology (Islam) with people (Muslims). This has lead to serious misunderstandings, a fact that is constantly being maliciously exploited.

For example, a few months ago, on Bill Maher’s Real Time, Actor Ben Affleck verbally attacked Philosopher Sam Harris for his critique that Islam is the Mother Lode of bad ideas. Affleck interpreted the criticism as a slur on Muslims: Muslims are idiots.

This is the kind of misunderstanding that results from conflating things that must be kept separate. It has also resulted in a strange imbalance: If someone openly said The Torah is the Mother Lode of bad ideas, nobody would think them to be an anti-semitic, merely overly critical of some scripture. Do the same with the Quran, and many people label you an Islamophobe.

Because of this, the term Islamophobia is now actively, and intentionally, used to stifle criticism of Islam. Such criticism is interpreted as an attack on muslims. It’s as if a doctor who said “sugar is bad for your health” was understood as saying “people who eat sugar are bad”.

Making Islamophobia a hate crime in this context would be like making Blasphemy a criminal offense: say God Damned and get thrown into jail for committing a hate crime.

So the issue runs deeper than mere semantics. What we must do is disentangle ideology from believers, concepts from people. It’s not Islamophobia that should be labelled a hate crime. Discriminating against Muslims should be. And the word for that is anti-muslimism, the muslim pendant to anti-semitism. Both should be a criminal offense.

How do we determine anti-muslimism? If your actions are directed exclusively against Muslims (people) simply because they are Muslims, you are guilty of anti-muslimism. If you are critical of Islam (ideology), you are not – even if people don’t like, or feel offended by, your opinion. Ridiculing an ideology is not an attack on its adherents, no matter how offended they may feel.

The problem with this approach: too many people have problem grasping that last part. See Ben Affleck.

Satanic Viagra

Reports on religion become stranger by the day. A recent report in the Telegraph made me question if editors had given up on journalists altogether. How else would the following subhead have slipped into publication:
 

‘Pope Francis’ effect credited with rising demand for exorcisms around the world.

Excuse me? Credited? That’s like saying Jihadists are to be credited for 9/11! The whole article reads like an episode from The Twilight Zone:

States Father Cesare Truqui, chief Exorcist in Chur, Switzerland:

“Pope Francis talks about the Devil all the time and has certainly raised awareness about exorcism. But all Latin Americans have this sensibility – for them, the existence of the Devil is part of their faith.”

Truqui uses a rather broad brush here, as I’m sure that not all Latin Americans are as batshit crazy as this idiot. But he does point to a real problem: in order to shore up their dwindling numbers, the catholic church is ratcheting up a fictitious threat to scare people into staying. They obviously don’t give a damn that full-on bronze-age superstition will scare borderline psychopaths into hurting or killing others – the end justifies the menace, so to speak. After all, it is quite damning (ha, ha) evidence that satanic possession is a phenomenon that only afflicts Christians.

But what bewilders me most is how priests can state the most outrageous stupidities without reporters calling them on it. In the interview, Chief Exorcist Truqui states that

I once treated […] a man who was obsessed with masturbating – he did it every day, many times

Seriously? So when you are able to jerk off multiple times a day you are now possessed by the Devil? Hey, I wish I could do that. Exorcise your libido? Did someone perhaps confuse that word with exercise and called the wrong professional? Only the uptight, sexually dysfunctional church could find something wrong with that. Listen, you idiots, don’t you know that Pfizer has a major product line to give clients what you think is the Devil’s work? Are you really that retarded?  

It gets worse. Claiming he can discern the difference between medically ill people and those truly possessed by the Devil, exorcist Truqui enthuses

There are some classic signs – people who speak in ancient tongues, for instance. Other people have supernatural strength when they are in a state of possession[…]. In some cases, people are able to levitate.

Note that Truquil carefully avoids an outright lie here – he doesn’t say that he’s ever witnessed such an event, just what would be indicative of a possesion. No reliable evidence of levitation, spontaneous language abilities, or truly superhuman strength has ever been recoded, and Truquil knows that. He just spouts these idiocies for the simple minded believers to sell his snake oil.

It’s not as if he doesn’t know it:

“A considerable number of the cases referred to us are in fact psychiatric cases”

Another narrowly avoided lie: they all are.

Pagan vs. Heathen

A few weeks ago, in an aside, I used both terms pagan and heathen in the same sentence, prompting my father to ask me what the difference is. Truth be told, when I was writing, I simply used both words because I liked the rhythm, while being dimly aware that I was probably using two terms that essentially were synonyms.

So what is the difference between a pagan and a heathen? It turns out that the answer is not simple at all.

Historically, both terms were used by people who believed in the Bible God to describe people who didn’t subscribe to the Judeo-Christian belief – but with subtle differences. Both were derogatory terms. Pagan was used to identify an idol worshipper of Hellenistic origin (Zeus, Jupiter, Athene, etc.). The term Heathen, on the other hand, referred to the untamed wild northern people – living on the Heath – who worshipped Asgardian gods (Odin, Thor, etc.).

Later (around 1000 AD, after Christianity had become more entrenched in Europe and belief in Hellenistic and Asgardian gods became rare), these terms became less distinct. From inside Christianity, everyone who wasn’t a Christian was referred to as a heathen, including Muslims (who are a subset of the Abrahamic faith), and Atheists (rare as they were), but excluding Jews. So after the crusades, the words heathen and pagan became true synonyms.

Of course, it is important to note that both terms require a frame of reference: the word heathen or pagan loses meaning outside the Christian sphere. Islam, for example, does not make the distinction: for both words, the Arabic translation is الوثني, i.e. a primitive unbeliever (yet Islam itself makes the distinction between Unbelievers and People of the Book (أهل الكتاب): Jews, Sabians and Christians).

Today, of course, it’s even more complex. New Age Bimbos have rediscovered belief in supernatural BS, and have honestly started to refer to themselves as Pagan or Heathen. The fact that they refer to themselves as a non-christian rather than what they actually believe in tells us everything we need to know about the level of intelligence involved in these believers.

And then of course there is my favorite meaning: nowadays, when someone jokingly refers to herself as a heathen or pagan, she usually means to say that she has some residual belief, but not as much as her family would like her to have. This believer usually sees the inside of a church either as a tourist attraction, or on Christmas and Easter.

Which reminds me: Happy Easter, to all you heathens and idol worshipers! And to all the Christians who went on a hunt for quintessential pagan idol: the Easter Egg.

Idiot worship

Why are we here? What is our purpose? Atheists usually answer this with ‘happenstance’ and ‘none at all’, respectively. Believers, however, say that this is too sad a proposition for them to accept. They state – with no little emphasis – that we are here because god created us, and that our purpose is to worship Him.

Let us think about this for a while. So God created us (let’s not go into ‘in his own image’, that’s a bit too much). God created this universe with 200 billion galaxies, each containing 300-400 billion solar systems, and then, as his crowning achievement, he created us. So we can worship him.

Really? Why? To me, almost everything is wrong with this picture:

First, the scale is off. Let’s assume I was a God, and created more solar systems than there are grains of sand on earth. Why would I then want to create a single, tiny planet that orbits one of the more obscure, run-off-the-mill suns in an ordinary galaxy, and populate it with a race of ignoramuses? To worship me? They represent not even a  trillionth of a percent of my creation; yet I went to all this length just to have that infinitesimally small fraction worship me? Why isn’t my crown achievement in a setting befitting it’s purpose – The centerpiece of my creation?

If I had the power to create a universe and the desire to be worshipped, there are much, much better ways to go about this: create an immense, beautiful plane (with physics that allow this), populated by trillions of smart, brilliant and fun beings that worship me.

Then, allegedly, if we worship Him in our lives, we’ll get to worship Him even more after our death. Am I the only one who thinks that this not only incredibly boring, but also an incredibly stupid set up? If before and after death is the same, the concept of death is completely irrelevant. Except for those who don’t worship God – those will be tortured in eternity by this allegedly benevolent god. And here, again, the scale is off: the proportions don’t match: an infinite punishment (eternal torture) for a finite transgression (non-worship in lifetime). Wouldn’t that be an infinitely immoral punishment?

Yet that is not the biggest issue I have with a god that requires worship – it is this: doesn’t it strike you as incredibly petty of a supreme being to have the need to be adulated? This god is all-knowing and all-powerful. Compared to gods, humans are less than ants, idiotic motes of dust who can’t even perform a single miracle, or break a single physical law. Pathetic. If I had the urge to be adored, I’d want to be adored by beings of importance, not the bunch of losers that ruin their own planet the same way pigs trash their sty.
I seriously doubt that a God would want to be worshipped, at least not by us. Consider: Programmers have a rare privilege; they can create virtual worlds in the programs they write. They are, in a very small way, gods and creators of the programs they write. Few, if any programmers ever feel the urge to write code that extols the virtue of their coder. It’s no challenge, serves no purpose, and makes them look really pathetic. So why would a God want something that even the lowliest, personality disorder-ridden geek wouldn’t want?

There is no way a god would ever want to be worshipped. At least not by you, me, or any other human.

So why do believers insist that we must worship their god?

Yep, that’s what I think, too.

I’m with stupid

If there is one expression that makes me gag in disbelief at the sheer amount of pompous, delusional self-aggrandizement then it would be

having a personal relationship with god.

First, what should we think of a person who claims to have a relationship with a deity? Doesn’t that immediately disqualify them from any further discourse? If someone in earnestly tells you a god is their personal friend, they are conceited jackasses, or are playing with only half a deck of cards. Probably both.

Just what goes through the mind of someone who feels they have to tell you something like this? It’s the ultimate name-dropping – is it even possible to appear more desperate in seeking attention? Just by itself, personal relationship with god is such a cringe-inducing, pathetic statement that I have difficulties hiding my contempt, and I usually have to avert my eyes.

Have you ever paused to think what this person, in all honesty is trying to tell you – what they have convinced themselves of, and what they want you to believe: that they regularly converse with a super-being; that this being not only exists, but that it takes their moronic views [Note: if you are a super being, all human thoughts are moronic by default – its intelligence would see past all our petty self interests and there would be nothing interesting we could contribute in an exchange of ideas with it] serious – and that this being offers personal insight, solace, and advice.

It gets worse: if we were to allow for all this to be true, we’d have to contend with the fact that even though these people regularly converse with a super-being, all advice and information they receive is stupid, ordinary, and banal: not one believer with a personal relationship to their god has ever shown to have supernatural understanding of, or brilliant insight into anything. So this super-being is either not very smart, or deliberately feeding its counterpart bad information. Which means that you have a personal relationship with an über-prankster, a being that continually has jokes on your account.

So, just by looking at the record we know that bragging about a personal relationship with gods is a sure way to get you and your god ridiculed – for good, documented reason.

Yet that is only half of what makes the expression so fundamentally stupid. Let’s say that we agree that the person claiming to have a relationship with god is not stark raving mad. This means that they tacitly agree that it’s more likely to have a relationship with a pet rock than an entity that nobody ever saw or could be proven to exist. A pet rock you can at least hold in your hand – but it would never answer to any kind of interaction. Yet, any sane relationship requires interaction from both sides. What would you think about a person who earnestly tells you they have a relationship with a rock? Wouldn’t you think them at least a bit pitiful?

What, then, would you think of a person who tells you that they have a relationship with a pet rock that you can’t see, touch, feel or otherwise detect?

But it’s the personal bit, the utter ridiculousness of the insinuation that the relationship is based on personal exchange that makes it such a tragically pathetic proposition, so impossible to accept. Because, let’s face it, it’s not personal until the object of your relationship responds to your individual communication, in ways curtailed to you. Everyone knows that when gods talk to you, you have gone mad. So again, there is tacit agreement that, clinical cases aside, in this ‘personal relationship’ the other side has never, ever, responded. And yet these people call it a personal relationship.

So why are they doing it? Pompous self-importance perhaps. Trying to impress the easily impressed probably. In many cases, they have been told this idiocy by other believers – and repeat it now in vain hope that if they say it often enough they would someday believe it themselves.

Just sad.

Funky old Medina

Fundamental religion and science don’t mix well, as anyone who has listened to Ken ‘Creationist Museum’ Ham can attest. Now news reports reach us now from the holy city of Medina where cleric Sheik Bandar al-Khaibari ‘proved’ to an astonished audience that the earth doesn’t rotate at all.
Galileo Galilei, who, incidentally, was born on the exact same day a couple of hundred years ago, could have emphasized – he has had his share of trouble with religious scientific ignoramuses (he was sentenced to life long imprisonment for discovering the fact that the earth rotates by christian fundamentalists).

It seems the Sheik is very religious – meaning his grasp on reality is tenuous at best. Reportedly, he is also doubting the moon landings, putting him not only with the religious idiots, but squarely with the conspiracy nuts.

Maybe he’s also Ken Ham’s long-lost brother?

Priestly dilemma

Here’s a strange dilemma: Every once in a while I read a report or see a brief video clip of priests from different religions meeting. Of course, I think it is always good when people meet in a friendly way. However, while watching priests smile and greet each other, I can’t help but wonder what they are thinking of the other guy.

After all, if each priest truly believes what they preach their flock, they must be equally confident that their opposite is full of it. In that case, their friendly face is nothing but an empty front; no-one ever agreed to something meaningful while talking to an idiot.

But perhaps these priests have legitimate doubts with regards to their gods and the veracity of their scripture. In this case, a meaningful and intelligent conversation is possible with exponents of other religions that are equally unsure. The problem here is that the priests then go back to their flock and pretend that their faith in gods was absolute.

Of course a third alternative remains: both sides know they are con artists, and afford their opposites all the courtesies of professional charlatans.