Sunday, June 13, 2010

New atheists embody the very things they hate

by Paul Prather

Atheists have gone on the offensive.

We've seen a spate of popular books demeaning any form of belief in God, from Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion to Christopher Hitchens' God Is Not Great.

In 2008, comedian Bill Maher got a ton of attention for his anti-faith film Religulous.

I'm equally intrigued by the online comments that follow every news story online about religion; the responses seem to come disproportionately from readers who jeer at all references to God or piety.

There's an increase in the number of atheists and of open doubters in the United States. A study of religious identification by Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., found that 15 percent of us now claim no religion, almost twice the percentage found in 1990.

Most of these "nones," as they're called in the Trinity report, aren't atheists per se, but rather agnostics, deists and others of similar views.

Only 2 percent of U.S. adults are atheists, the Trinity study found. Still, by another estimate I saw, that's three times the percentage of avowed atheists 20 years ago.

Atheists remain a tiny minority, but they're far more vocal and combative than they used to be, an approach advocated by Dawkins and others. They have every right to state their views.

The irony is that this current brand of aggressive atheism is just another form of fundamentalism. These particular atheists are zealots on the subject of faith who see no shadings of gray, only black and white. They're dead-set against religion but weirdly obsessed with it.

The "new atheism," as it's called by its adherents, is itself a kind of church. An anti-church church, granted, but a form of lockstep belief nonetheless. It reminds me of Hazel Motes' Church Without Christ in Flannery O'Connor's novel Wise Blood.

This might surprise you, but I have nothing against atheists. And I have a great deal of empathy with agnostics, those who say they just don't know whether there is a God.

If you weigh the circumstantial evidence for and against the existence of God, there's about as much evidence on one side as the other. Ultimately, people can find reasons to believe and reasons not to, and various people will arrive at varying conclusions.

Even as a longtime Christian minister, I still have days when I wonder whether this whole God thing is a figment of my imagination. I can't denigrate those who don't believe at all. That's between them and their maker — or, if they might prefer, them and their rational senses or their artistic sensibilities.

My objection to the new atheists isn't that they're atheists.

It's that they strike me as hypocrites, which is the charge they unfailingly level, with mixed justification, against the religious. In opposing religion in the manner they do, they betray themselves as possessing the traits they profess to loathe.

They're smug, dogmatic and mean-spirited. They trot out tired, half-truthful stereotypes, and they cherry-pick historical examples of religious wrongdoing while ignoring the innumerable instances in which the faithful have performed great acts of decency and charity.

They pretend that all Christians are bigots prone to violence. They claim that Christians are by definition illogical bumpkins who mindlessly accept fairy tales.

They act as if Thomas Merton and Bob Jones were of one cloth.

It's absurd, and it's especially grating because it comes from people who flaunt what they consider to be their own relentless logic, superior intellect and brave candor.

Dawkins, for instance, is a retired Oxford University science professor. Hitchens, a prominent journalist, attended Oxford.

No one who presumes to possess grandiose mental gifts should stoop to lumping all believers of all faiths, or for that matter all Christians, or even all Baptists or Catholics, into a single mindless blob.

I wish these atheists would venture, say, into a seminary library. They'd find tens of thousands of volumes written by thinkers great and obscure across two millennia.

They'd find works by scholars who take every word of the Bible literally and works by others who argue that most of the Scripture is made up and that Jesus said almost nothing attributed to him. They'd find every gradation between those extremes.

They'd find the musings of Christians who are pompous, exclusionary and delusional. They'd find Christians who are tolerant and humble and pillars of common sense.

They'd learn that Christians were the driving force behind the establishment of public schools and the abolition of slavery, just as, regrettably, other Christians launched the Crusades.

Christianity is a big, organic, complex system of beliefs with a long, diverse history. It's not just one thing.

I haven't even mentioned the varying theologies, contradictions and contributions of Judaism, Islam or Hinduism.

If the new atheists are as bright as they claim, they ought not imitate the worst traits of the very people they consider their inferiors.

Paul Prather, pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling, has a new book, A Memory of Firelight: Selected Columns From the Lexington Herald-Leader. E-mail him at

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Prayer for Love

God of grace, help us to love you and to love our neighbors more fully. Open our eyes to the needs of those around us; open our ears to the cries of the poor and the hurting; open our hearts to share and show the love of Christ. In his name we pray, amen.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Copper Toxicity in Sheep

NEVER feed pig, cow or horse feed to sheep it can result in sudden death or liver failure. Today feed companies formulate feeds very specifically for the species. Sheep are unique in that they cannot excrete accumulated copper and poisoning or death will be the result of a high intake of copper. Horse feed has killed many sheep because the owners mistakenly feed sweet feed or a grain mixture designed for equines to their sheep. Often the ram or the dominant ewe will be the first to show signs of poisoning from being fed too much copper as they dominate the feed trough and eat the lions share of grain. Sun sensitivity and sun burn is one of the signs your sheep may have liver damage from too much copper. Often people are not aware until one of their strongest sheep becomes listless that they have a problem. In some cases it can result in a sudden death of an otherwise very robust ram or ewe.

Copper toxicity in sheep is more often a problem of nutritional management than it is excess copper intake. The purpose of this paper is to look at such factors as nutrient interactions, animal management, and environmental conditions that may increase the risk of copper toxicity and how the sheep producer can minimize these risks.

The importance of copper as an essential nutrient has been known since the 1920's. Copper is required for normal iron metabolism, elastin and collagen synthesis, melanin production and integrity of the central nervous system. There are numerous metalloprotein enzymes, metalloporphyrin enzymes and non-enzyme metalloproteins in animals that require copper to be biologically active. More recently it has been shown that copper is one of the key trace minerals required for an effective immune response. The bottom line is that copper is essential for life. Consequently, most trace mineralized salt products contain 0.03 to 0.04% (300 to 400 ppm) of copper to prevent copper deficiency.

Sensitivity of Sheep

Like most nutrients, excessive concentrations can cause toxicity. However, sheep tend to be much more sensitive than other farm animals. For example, growing swine are often fed copper concentrations as high as 250 ppm in the diet to improve performance. Cattle can consume diets containing 100 ppm copper with no problem, while toxicities have occurred in sheep with concentrations as low as 10 ppm (Church and Pond 1988).

Copper toxicity in sheep usually results from the accumulation of copper in the liver over a period of a few weeks to more than a year with no clinical signs followed by a sudden release of liver copper stores to cause toxicity. In these situations, chronic copper poisoning may result from excessive copper intakes or from low intakes of molybdenum, sulfur, zinc, calcium or following liver damage (Kimberling, 1988). Sheep accumulate copper in the liver more readily than other farm animals and over a period of time, 1000 - 3000 ppm on a dry weight basis may be achieved. During the accumulation phase, blood copper levels are normal in the 0.10 to 0.20 mg/dl. Toxicity results when stress conditions cause the liver cells to die and release the stored copper into the blood. Plasma copper levels then increase 10 to 20 fold. These elevated blood copper levels (500-2000 mg/dl) usually precede clinical signs by 24 to 48 hours (Kimberling 1988). The most common symptoms are anorexia, excessive thirst and depression. These are accompanied by severe hemoglobinemia, anemia, icterus and methemoglobinemia. Most sheep will die within 1 to 2 days of the onset of these signs (Merck Veterinary Manual 1979).

Molybdenum Ratio

The ratio of copper to molybdenum is the most important dietary factor affecting copper toxicity in sheep. Ratios of 10:1 or less will prevent toxicity in most cases. The exact mechanism by which molybdenum prevents copper toxicity is poorly understood. However, it is known that an insoluble complex, CuMo04, can be formed in the gastrointestinal tract thus reducing copper absorption. This theory is substantiated by the fact that increasing dietary copper is an effective treatment of molybdenum toxicity.

Molybdenum concentrations in most feeds are in the range of 1 to 3 ppm in the total diet. If molybdenum concentrations are low (less than 1 ppm), diets containing copper in the range of the normal requirement (8 - 11 ppm) have been known to produce toxicity (NRC 1975). Sheep producers who live in or buy feed from molybdenum deficient areas should pay close attention to dietary copper levels. Such feeds as distillers dried grains and soybean meal which are normally high in copper should be limited in the diet. Trace mineralized salt should not be removed from the diet because it contains zinc which also reduces copper absorption. Diets containing high concentrations (100 ppm) of zinc have been shown to reduce liver copper stores. In addition, eliminating all trace mineral supplementation may actually worsen the situation by creating an even greater mineral imbalance.

Although prevention is much preferred, there are times when mass treatment is indicated. The most common treatment is to give a drench daily containing 50 to 100 mg of ammonium molybdate and 0.5 to 1.0g of sodium sulfate per animal for three weeks. To reduce labor, an aqueous solution of the two salts can be sprayed onto the feed. This approach is recommended as a treatment procedure only if all animals are eating regularly.

Animal Management and Environment

Besides nutrition, animal management factors can affect the incidence of copper toxicity in sheep. For example, although this disease can occur in both sexes of all breeds, mature ewes of British breeds seem to be the most susceptible. In the United States this disease is most common in the western states of the intermountain region. Although the disease can occur anytime, peak incidence usually is in the fall and winter.

Environmental factors and stress can also affect the susceptibility of sheep to this disease. For example, grazing sheep in areas containing certain potentially toxic plants may predispose them to copper toxicity. Plants such as lupines, which contain toxic alkaloids, produce copper toxicity by impairing the liver's ability to metabolize ingested copper. Chronic toxicity is also common in sheep grazing subterranean clover and is associated with normal levels of copper, low levels of molybdenum and no apparent liver damage. The stress associated with shipping ewes from mountain ranges to pastures some distance away appears to make ewes more susceptible.


In summary, sheep producers should become familiar with copper and molybdenum levels of feeds grown in their area. If the area is deficient in molybdenum or high in copper, feed samples should be analyzed routinely to monitor the copper: molybdenum ratio in the diet. Supplemental feeds which are known to be low in copper should be used whenever possible. Feeding a properly fortified trace mineralized salt is essential to the health and production of the sheep flock.

Literature Cited

Church, D.C. and W.G. Pond, 1988. Basic Animal Nutrition and Feeding, 3rd Edition. Published by John Wiley and Sons, New York. pp. 196-199.
Kimberling, C.V. 1988., Jensen and Swift's Disease of Sheep, 3rd Edition. Published by Lea and Febiger, Philadelphia, PA. pp. 372-374.
Merck Veterinary Manual, 1979. 5th Edition. Published by Merck and Company. Rahway NJ. pp. 977-978.
NRC., 1975. Nutrient Requirements of Sheep. 5th Edition, National Academy Press. Washington DC.

About Me

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I grew up in Chautauqua County, NY. I graduated from Edinboro University of Pennyslvania in 1981 with a BFA in Jewelry and Metalworking. I have been married 31 years. I currently run a small business with my husband. We both enjoy the outdoors and animals a great deal and live on a tiny farm in Western, NY.