This is Not Normal

30419945_10155608995792998_6259338633225207099_oThis is not normal.
This is not normal.
This is not normal.
This is not normal.
This is not normal.
This is not normal.
This is not normal.
This is not normal.
This is not normal.
This is not normal.
This is not normal.
This is not normal.
This is not normal.
This is not normal.
This is not normal.
This is not normal.
This is not normal.
This is not normal.
This is not normal.
This is not normal.
This is not normal.
This is not normal.
This is not normal.
This is not normal.
This is not normal.

Crank-Calling Joel Osteen’s Prayer Line is like a Fart Joke

Hemant Mehta is a much-needed voice of reason for atheists. I enjoy reading his blog, share many of his views and follow his twitter account religiously (pun-intended). However, a recent post from Hemant criticizing Justin Roiland, the co-creator of Rick and Mortycrank calling Joel Osteen‘s Lakewood Church on the H3 Podcast has me scratching my head.

In his post, Mehta recounts what happens during the prank call to Osteen’s prayer line. I’ll spare the details since you can read the post for yourself or watch the video of the prank call. I encourage you to do both. The bottom line of the prank call is that Justin (the caller) makes fun of the person answering the prayer line, who speaks to him for a few minutes, but then begins to “speak in tongues”.

Mehta says this about the prank call:

I get why people find this entertaining… but it strikes me as a weak attempt at humor. If you want to criticize Osteen’s handling of his church-as-shelter during Hurricane Harvey, go for it. You have my support. But wasting someone else’s time, then mocking the way she prays, just seems like low-hanging fruit.

Here’s my thoughts on Mehta’s opinion.

First, by their nature, all prank calls are a weak attempt at humor. So are fart jokes. As Louis CK says, “You don’t have to be smart to laugh at farts, but you have to be stupid not to.”


Second, Joel Osteen and his ilk are the epitome of stupid church people. In fact, Osteen could be the king of kings of them all. As I’ve written before, if you like Osteen or read his books, you might be a Stupid Church Person. He was a douche before and during Hurricane Harvey and nothing after this will change that.

Third, I have zero empathy for the lady on the other end of this “prank call”. She is in on the joke. In fact, I could argue that every prayer line call she answers is a prank call where she is the prankster. People that call her trust her and they are probably in a very vulnerable stage of their life. Little do they know, after she prays and takes their “seed faith” donations that the joke is on them.

Finally, regarding the opinion that this “prank call” is low-hanging fruit, I would ask Hemant: “What’s wrong with that?” To me, low-hanging fruit is pointing out over and over again the absurdity and danger of Jim Bakker or Pat Robertson on the “Friendly Atheist” blog. A quick search of “Friendly Atheist” reveals so many posts related to those two, I couldn’t even count them.

Are Bakker and Robertson considered “high-hanging fruit”? I think not. They are the extremes of the Christian world and their credibility is low even among most in the evangelical church. Ridiculing them is shooting fish in a barrel. Yes, they have large voices, but I think the mainstream pastors of every day churches peddling bullshit Sunday after Sunday, week-in and week-out are the truly dangerous ones.

Also, Mehta didn’t seem to think it was too low to write about this prank on Joel Osteen:



Like fart jokes, dick jokes are pretty damn funny too. That’s literally some “low-hanging fruit” you are going after Hemant!

Funny is in the laugh of the beholder and it’s not our job to be the humor police. Anytime we can point out the idiocy of religion in ways that make some people laugh, and more importantly think, we should do it. That’s the power of satire.

SATIRE: the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity…

“The Friendly Atheist” and “Stupid Church People” are not the same blog or podcast. We do not have the same audience. I am certain our levels of humor, and intelligence perhaps, differ. Our approaches to the subject of religion, atheism and the nature of belief come from different places.

However, having listened and read “The Friendly Atheist” for awhile, I do think we share some common goals. I believe one of those is to use humor to drive home a point, even to ourselves sometimes. We may not always think it’s funny but like the good book says, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” After all, like farts, there’s a little stupid in everyone.

Stupid on Steroids

SCP SHOW ARCHIVE – SHOW #40 – Recorded on May 7, 2006

This is one for the ages!

During the early days of hype surrounding the God Hates Fags organization and Westboro Baptist Church, Josh had the incredible idea to reach out to them and try to arrange an interview. Amazingly, he nailed it down and Shirley Phelps (daughter of founder Fred Phelps) agreed to record a show with us.

You owe it to yourself to listen to the whole show. It’s a long one but worth it. As I recall and as we share on the show, this was a very difficult interview. We were exhausted afterwards. Everything within us wanted to scream at this woman at times, but we chose to play it as straight as possible.

Sometimes the best thing you can do is let stupid church people talk, but this is stupid on steroids!


SCP ARCHIVES – SHOW #24 -Recorded October 4, 2005

Thinking seriously about prayer was the tipping point in my religious de-conversion.

I posted about it early and often when I started the Stupid Church People blog. I shared a quote from Karen Armstrong where she writes in “The History of God”:

I wrestled with myself in prayer, trying to force my mind to encounter God, but he remained a stern taskmaster who observed my every infringement of the Rule, or tantalizingly absent. The more I read about the raptures of the saints, the more of a failure I felt. I was unhappily aware that what little religious experience I had, had somehow been manufactured by myself as I worked upon my own feelings and imagination. Sometimes a sense of devotion was an aesthetic response to the beauty of the Gregorian chant and the liturgy. But nothing had actually happened to me from a source beyond myself.

I remember that unhappy feeling when I became truly awake to manufacturing the religious experiences in my life. Then it dawned on me how I had manufactured those experiences for others as a pastor for years.

Religion by and large is a manipulation of emotion, especially in a community or corporate setting. Prayer is used as a primary source of that manipulation.

The podcast we did early on prayer is important because I talk about these feelings openly. The “See You at the Pole” podcast also deals heavily with this subject.

Talking about prayer is a touchy subject because it is so personal to each person who regularly practices it. It’s touchy because pastors rely on it to carry on in front of their congregations as if they have a direct line to God. No one wants to be honest about prayer for fear people will realize the reality of it.

We are just talking to ourselves.

Emergent Hoo-Haa

SCP ARCHIVES – SHOW #11 – First released on June 21, 2005.

This podcast contains the first ever mention of Tony Jones. Those of you in the church world probably know Tony by now, but if you don’t know who he is I suggest you google him for a frame of reference. Anyway, at this time, Josh and I had very little knowledge of the Emergent Church movement. They were just getting onto our radar, and the leaders of the group were (and are) very active on social media. We quickly found ourselves in their cross-hairs as they were seeking to engage those in a “conversation” about what emergent was and wasn’t.

To us, Emergent was no different than any other church movement in history. It was a new flavor of the church, but in the end it was heading quickly in the same direction as all the rest. And what was that direction? Irrelevance.

I share several quotes from the book “Wineskins”, but none better than this: The Church “continues to brew new wine instead of scrapping the old wine skins”.

Josh and I were so fed up with the church, we didn’t want change or a revolution – but a cataclysm. Sell all the church buildings. No paid pastoral staff and all pastors get “real” jobs. Churches should rid themselves of the “seeker” mentality and stop trying to market to the lowest common denominator. Churches would focus on the poor and spurn building kingdoms to themselves.

Churches and pastors don’t have the balls to be truly biblical. In this way most pastors are no different than I am. They don’t really believe the Bible or they’d lead their churches in the path I describe above. But it’s still a game, a job, a show and a money-grab.

I know these may be hard words for most pastors of small churches to hear. Those that don’t make a lot of money and struggle to get by and do real good work in very difficult places. But even you guys can do better. Actually it’s the small churches that have the best chance to initiate change.

So this podcast was probably one of our finest, because we get to the heart of the matter of what was bugging us about the church. We start to “dialogue” with Tony Jones. It’s starting to get good people. And I’m getting fired up again… so stay tuned.

The Road Trip

SCP ARCHIVES – SHOW #6 – First released on May 14, 2005.

Road Trip. It’s a staple of Americana and this episode was a much needed one for me.

My life changed dramatically on May 1, 2005. It’s something I’ve never talked about very openly on the Stupid Church People blog or podcast, but it’s something I’ve alluded to often. On that fateful day, my (ex) wife told me she wanted a divorce.

In retrospect almost ten years later, I should not have been surprised. Our marriage was going through the paces and I was obviously disconnected from how bad it was because I was completely blind-sided by the news. So in the days that followed, I was a mess.

I didn’t eat, barely slept and was very very depressed. One night shortly after, I can’t remember exactly when, I found myself knocking on Josh’s door. I might have given him a call just before heading over, but there I was on his porch – a complete and total wreck.

Josh let me in and for the next several hours just sat with me. Basically we didn’t say much, he didn’t offer me advice, but just sat with me. There wasn’t much to say.

I believe it was sometime during that evening though that the mood changed a bit. We begin to laugh a little, talk about SCP and I think the idea for this show was born. “Let’s get out of town for the day and just go have some fun” was the basic idea.

This stupid little blog and podcast was my outlet during some very dark days in my life. Josh was and is one of the best friends anyone could ever want.

So in listening to this podcast, I hope you will hear it in the context of what I shared above. I think it’s a testimony to the power of laughter, friendship and living life one day at a time.

Church Detox

SCP ARCHIVES – SHOW #4 – First released on April 27, 2005.

This podcast was recorded days following  the very last time I ever preached or spoke in a church setting. That seems so long ago. Life has surely changed.

I am amazed in listening to this show how naive and innocent I am to the idea of people wanting to stop going to church. You can tell I’m starting to branch out in my reading and challenging myself with different thoughts about faith, church and expressions of belief. At this point, I’m encountering people and ideas that I would avoid for fear of being led astray from faith. But I’m open to it and beginning to free my mind.

In this episode Josh and I talk about addiction to church. That concept had never occurred to me. This theme of addiction would play out in my life in many ways in the coming years. Co-dependency might be a better word. Most church people still suffer from it in my opinion, at least the church people I know.

Benny Hinn’s Road to Hell

SCP ARCHIVES – SHOW #3 – First released on April 24, 2005.

Josh and I take on faith healing extraordinaire Benny Hinn. We dissect some of his more entertaining prophetic statements.

Listen, I don’t even know if Benny Hinn is still in business or not, but it’s amazing he ever had an audience. There’s always room for more guys like him because there are always more Stupid Church People around that follow him.

But what about the fakes that are hard to spot? The wolves in sheep’s clothing?  My suggestion is that there are many more than you realize.

Remember when Mark Driscoll was at his peak? Whether you liked him or his style, for awhile there he was everywhere you looked. True to form he was building his kingdom at the expense of the people that gave him the platform.

The problem for Mark Driscoll, Benny Hinn and those like them is that they begin to believe their own bullshit. The problem for church people is that they typically like a pastor that believes his own bullshit. Funny how that works.

Tickle Me Jesus… Please.

SCP ARCHIVES – SHOW #2 – First released on April 22, 2005.

Listening again to this show you can hear Josh and I struggling with our involvement in the church. You can hear our growing discontentment with “the show” that the church had become for us. As insiders it was very apparent that each and every week church was a performance put on for an audience – and had moved far away from what we believed church should be. We were over it.

I recall now how underground the Stupid Church People blog and podcast was for us at that time. We were doing this very secret thing in plain sight, and I think we were somewhat concerned about the consequences. Here I was advocating for people to stop going to church to send a message while preparing to speak at my church that coming weekend.

But that had become part of the problem. The church we were attending had a formula it followed for each service, and as a speaker I had to conform. There needed to be a powerpoint, a special video or drama to illustrate the message, a thematic song and of course a message that lasted no less than 30 minutes.

Josh and I were tired of the show that the church had become. We longed for freedom from the church. The SCP Podcast had become that for us. This was just the beginning.

Death and Burning Down the Local Christian Bookstore

SCP ARCHIVES – SHOW #1 – Re-release of our very first show, around April 1, 2005.

It was Josh’s idea to do a podcast. I had started writing the blog and Josh was a huge encouragement. We would get together and talk about church all the time. In 2005 podcasts were just taking off, and I had never really heard one at the time. It seemed like a good way to get our stories out and the current “religious” podcasts that were out were (and still are) by and large very, very boring. So we envisioned something a little different.

At the time, Josh was on staff of a church as a youth pastor. I was no longer in full-time ministry but was a volunteer at the same church, helping with the youth groups and also preaching on occasion whenever the Pastor was unavailable.

Josh and I were both just beginning to be very disenchanted with the way church worked. I guess I had been pretty burned out on church for awhile but was trying to figure my way through it. The new church we attended was hip and cool and we had made some friends there. However, the church and church culture was really beginning to wear on me. It seemed to be such a game. Josh and I were kindred spirits from different generations.

Our lives were forever altered by these podcasts we did together, but more by the friendship we forged together during this time. Josh and I spent many, many hours together during this time and as you can tell, we were pretty comfortable together.
We actually taped this first show (and I think the first few shows) in the church office where Josh worked. It’s pretty funny to think about it now… Josh and I going into the office late at night to record a show about how much we couldn’t stand the church. How appropriate!

This first show was a little rough around the edges, not great but not horrible. I think we get better.