John Oliver Deliciously Excoriates Televangelists

John Oliver spends 20 glorious minutes excoriating televangelists in his latest Last Week Tonight segment. I expected him to highlight the obvious John Oliver Taking on Televangelistslavish lifestyles of televangelists and Oliver did so wonderfully by showing clips of the likes of  Robert Tilton, Creflo Dollar (the guy who started a fund for a 65 million dollar plane), Mike Murdock (who bought several lavish planes) and Kenneth Copeland (who asked his followers to help him buy a 20 million dollar jet) all unabashedly asking their flock to donate to their luxurious airplane causes.

But Oliver revealed something I didn’t expect: the truly despicable and slightly psychopathic Prosperity Principle. In short, wealth is seen as a sign of God’s favour and those who donate money will see wealth come back to them. Televangelists exploit the Prosperity Principle in the form of “Seed Faith” (donations = seeds you get to harvest). Oliver shows examples of televangelists predatorily imploring people with credit card debt (people who clearly don’t have the extra funds) to hand over any money ear marked for debt repayment because God will take this seed money and wipe out their debt! Not the best investment strategy and Oliver amusingly points out that participating in this type of “investment” is tantamount to suggesting that:

The key to you losing weight lies in the bottom of this giant COSTCO bulk bag of peanut butter M&Ms! Go find it; it’s definitely down there!

While you may think that a fool and his money are easily parted, these televangelists are preying on vulnerable people: the poor and the sick, including Bonnie Parker, who chose to “sew” money into Kenneth Copeland’s ministry instead of treating her cancer. She died believing that the greater amount of money she “sewed”, the greater chance she had of a miraculous recovery. It really saddens me when people choose malarky over proven medical treatment, eschewing the rewards of living in a scientifically advanced civilization for dark age charlatanism. Gloria Copeland’s words are an affront to modern society:

We know what’s wrong with you; you’ve got cancer. The bad news is, we don’t know what to do about it except give you some poison that will make you sicker. Now, which do you want to do? Do you want to do that or do you want to sit here on Saturday morning, hear the word of God and let faith come into your heart and be healed? Hallelujah.

Wow. That’s a lot of psychopathy to take in all at once! It’s one thing to really believe in woo and to think you are doing legitimate good even though you are doing terrible bad. But, this woman is preaching these lies to line her coffers; she doesn’t really care one way or another if the inflicted watching the show find a cure to their illness or not, as long as they send in their “seed money”.

Oliver goes on to expose the tax free status of church donations and ultimately and hilariously creates his own church. Watch the whole clip – it’s very entertaining despite the maddening details Oliver brings to light. The only disappointing part is when Oliver introduces the segment, he carefully points out that his attack on churches will not include those that help the poor and perform other charitable acts. I take his point that there are churches who do genuinely good deeds, but they still enjoy the same tax-free, audit-lite status the televangelists enjoy, all the while shoving their beliefs onto vulnerable people, while non-religious charitable organizations, void of any preachy impetus fill-in reams of paperwork each year to maintain their non-profit status.

Why I Am No Longer an Atheist

Guest post by BillyBob

The word atheism is simplistic and confusing. Atheists get asked facile questions like “are you a hard or soft atheist?” or “how do you know atheism is accurate and correct?” and many variations of these questions. It is a waste of time answering that atheism is not the position that god does not exist but simply the position that there is insufficient evidence to believe a god or gods exist. Most people do not know this definition, and religious apologists ignore or misrepresent it. For this reason I am no longer an atheist; I am now an evidentialist.

My definition

evidentialist: an individual whose world view is “that which is confirmed by evidence to exist, exists; that which is not confirmed by evidence to exist does not exist”

evidentialist: will accept any material object, observable force, being or creature if there is direct evidence for its existence. Any claim of something existing that is not substantiated with evidence is deemed false.


Bigfoot is deemed not to exist as there is no confirmed evidence proving its existence. If a bigfoot were captured, it would then be deemed to exist.

Ra the sun god is deemed not to exist as there is no confirmed evidence proving its existence.

Dark matter will be accepted when scientists confirm it. That there are unexplained gravitational forces is accepted, and when experiments confirm them to be dark matter, it will be accepted.

The supernatural is deemed not to exist as there is no confirmed evidence proving its existence.

Homeopaths claim water has memory. Water memory is deemed not to exist as there is no confirmed evidence proving its existence. When a peer reviewed experiment shows water has memory, then water memory will be deemed to exist.

River City Reasonfest Conference!


The Humanists, Atheists, & Agnostics of Manitoba (HAMM) would like to welcome you to the River City Reasonfest Conference September 19-20, 2015 in Winnipeg:

Please join us for two days of fascinating speakers, great conversation, and a chance to meet and interact with fellow non-believers.

Winnipeg, Manitoba is the unofficial “heart of the continent”. It’s home to the Winnipeg Jets, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, the Assiniboine Park Zoo (just to name a few), and the newly-opened Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

Don’t miss out on great opportunity – check out the schedule of speakers. . . .

Don’t wait; register today!

Harriet Hall @INR5

Harriet Hall’s talk at INR5 is entitled is “Religion Can Be Hazardous to your Health,” and  one viewer of the video, Jan Djärv, calls it

Upsetting stuff.

Dr. Harriet A. Hall, MD is a retired family physician and former Air Force flight surgeon who writes about medicine, so-called complementary and alternative medicine, science, quackery, and critical thinking. The homepage of her website, The SkepDoc, begins with “Welcome.”!

The video of Dr. Hall’s INR5 talk is now available:


Lawrence Krauss @INR5



The talk Lawrence Krauss delivered at INR5 is entitled “A Journey to the Beginning of Time: Turning Metaphysics into Physics.”

One commenter, David Ezzio, says,

Another truly fascinating talk by Lawrence Krauss. I’ll have to watch it many more times to wrap my head around some of the things that were said, but that’s the beauty of learning.

and tgifford says this video

should be required viewing for everyone!


If you enjoy the video, please note: you can hear and meet Lawrence Krauss at the Non-Conference, on August 22 in Kitchener, Ontario.


The Meaning Of Atheism, Part 2: Three Ways To Lack Belief

Is an atheist someone who doesn’t believe in gods, or someone who believes there are no gods? It’s a hairline distinction, irrelevant for most practical purposes, but there clearly is a theoretical difference between the two definitions. Anyone who lacks belief satisfies the first, but only those who consciously reject belief satisfy the second. In the first post in this series, I argued that both definitions have some currency, but in this long-delayed sequel I want to go a little further and make a pragmatic case for preferring the second, narrower meaning of atheism.

I don’t, of course, think either definition is superior in any cosmic or objective sense. As Brian Green Adams astutely pointed out in a comment on my earlier post, words don’t have “true” meanings, but rather evolve with usage. However, we can still argue fruitfully about which meanings for words are most useful, in the sense of facilitating clear, substantive communication and keeping misunderstandings to a minimum. In this case, atheism is one term in a classification of possible beliefs about religious matters, and classifications work best when their terms correspond to categories that are prominent in our discourse and separated by easily grasped distinctions that happen to matter to us. It’s also best to avoid terms that are redundant, or that overlap too much in their definitions. Individuals might come to different conclusions about which categories are prominent enough to be worth labelling, and which distinctions are easily grasped and important, but that’s precisely why semantic issues are worth discussing.

The key issue here, in my opinion, is what it actually means to lack belief in gods. I can see three distinct positions that might be grouped together under this heading.

First, a person who actively denies the existence of gods certainly lacks belief in gods. Such a person is clearly an atheist, by all reasonable definitions.

Second, a person who is unsure whether gods exist might be said to lack belief, without embracing active disbelief. This applies regardless of whether he or she thinks the existence of gods is an unresolvable question in principle or merely an iffy question in practice: both possibilities boil down to ticking the “don’t know” box, and can be comfortably placed under the heading of agnosticism. Whether agnosticism and atheism should be regarded as mutually exclusive positions or as compatible positions that a person might hold simultaneously is really the crux of the distinction between the two alternative definitions of atheism given above, and I’ll return to this point below.

The third way to lack belief, at least hypothetically, is to be ignorant and unreflective. Imagine a person who has never considered the possibility that gods might exist, and therefore necessarily goes about his or her life as if they don’t. Is such a person an atheist, an agnostic, or something else entirely? It’s a perfectly legitimate question in theory, but in practice it’s a bit of a non-issue because virtually everyone becomes aware of at least one religion at a very early age. Even staunchly atheist parents in the most secular countries on Earth would have to go to considerable lengths to prevent their children from discovering that some people believe in such things as gods, souls and afterlives, and of course most atheist parents would probably prefer to teach their children a thing or two about religion anyway. In the real world, the issue of whether people who are unaware of religion should be considered atheists concerns only infants, and is therefore basically irrelevant to discussions of how particular viewpoints on the existence of gods should be classified. Infants don’t have meaningful viewpoints at all.

Setting aside this third form of non-belief leaves the first and second, which might respectively be summarized as rejection of belief in gods and uncertainty about whether gods exist. The former clearly can be called atheism, and the latter clearly can be called agnosticism. However, defining atheism as a mere lack of belief in gods would imply that agnostics – or at a minimum, agnostics who tend towards disbelief – are also atheists. This creates unnecessary overlap between the atheist and agnostic categories, and introduces an inconvenient and cumbersome need to distinguish between agnostic and non-agnostic atheists. The same objections can be raised against proposals that atheists who are “unwilling… to be too dogmatic” about their disbelief in gods should be called agnostic atheists, to acknowledge their lack of total certainty. Furthermore, any position can be held with varying degrees of dogmatism, and people generally understand this without any need for special terminology. Those of us who believe the Loch Ness monster doesn’t exist, but are non-dogmatic enough to accept a remote possibility that some kind of large, unknown aquatic vertebrate might lurk in the depths of the loch, don’t feel obligated to call ourselves “agnostic Nessie doubters”. Why should atheism be any different?

The tidier and more reasonable alternative, it seems to me, is to use “atheism” only to refer to overt rejection of belief in gods, and “agnosticism” only for uncertainty about whether gods exist (stopping short of overt rejection). In this scheme one doesn’t have to be absolutely certain of the non-existence of gods to call oneself an atheist, but merely certain enough to regard their existence as too unlikely to be worth highlighting. Embracing the agnostic label, on the other hand, implies a greater willingness to entertain the notion that someone is home on top of Mount Olympus (or wherever) after all. One can be on the fence between agnosticism and atheism, or wavering between the two, or even agnostic on some days and atheist on others. But the two positions are mutually exclusive in the sense that they can’t be held simultaneously, and in that they define adjacent rather than overlapping parts of a theoretical spectrum that runs from 100% theistic certainty to 100% atheistic certainty. Theists are close to one end of that spectrum, atheists are close to the other, and agnostics occupy the vast middle ground. If a term is needed to refer to both atheists and agnostics, “non-theists” should fit the bill just fine – and similarly, agnostics and theists can be grouped together as “non-atheists”. This taxonomy has the immense virtues of clarity, straightforwardness, and consistency with how the words “atheism” and “agnosticism” are used by many and probably most speakers of the English language. It’s no more “correct” than the alternatives, but in my opinion it’s a damn sight better.

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