November 24, 2014

Gift Ideas for Atheists in 2014

Giving a gift Portions of this post were written in 2008 and updated in 2012. With the 2014 update, I figured it made more sense to publish a new version rather than continue updating the original post.

Many atheists celebrate Christmas and/or other holidays this time of year that involve the exchange of gifts. So if you find yourself looking for a gift for that atheist on your list and want to get them something that has something to do with atheism, humanism, skepticism, or secularism to show that you support who they are, I have some suggestions. And since none of my suggestions are Christmas-specific in any way, they would be just as appropriate for birthdays and other occasions.

This probably goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway: We atheists are just like everyone else except that we do not believe in gods. If you are a religious person, you probably don't believe in most of the gods that have been worshiped throughout the course of history either, so you should be able to relate. We atheists only differ from you in that we place your god(s) in the same category as all those in which you do not believe either. I make this point to highlight the fact that most atheists are going to be interested in all sorts of things that have nothing to do with atheism, just like you have many interests that have nothing to do with religion. Thus, the atheists on your list will appreciate many of the same sort of gifts as the religious believers.

November 22, 2014

Twitter Tips: Finding People to Follow

follow the wrong people on TwitterAssuming you have created your new Twitter account and have been slowly getting a feel for how Twitter works, you are ready to find some interesting people to follow. Twitter is a great way to find other atheists, skeptics, and secular activists who will keep you informed about what is happening and with whom you can interact online. You have undoubtedly found some already.

The question here is how you can improve your experience with Twitter by following the right people and not wasting time on the wrong people. For what should be obvious reasons, deciding who to follow on Twitter will be different for everybody. We will each have different reasons for why we are using Twitter, different preferences, different priorities, and different personalities. In this post, I'll offer some general ideas that you'll need to tailor to fit yourself and your personal goals for how you would like to use Twitter.

News

If you intend to use Twitter as a source of news, it makes sense to find and follow trusted media outlets and/or blogs that share the sort of information you find interesting. There are many to choose from, but you will find that following just a few in each category of interest will go a long way. If you follow too many, you will be bombarded with links to the same story over and over.

Twitter is an excellent way to get news from a variety of international, national, regional, and local sources as it happens. Add 3-4 of your favorite news media channels for now. Over time, you will get a sense for whether it makes sense to add a couple more or not.

November 20, 2014

Political Diversity Among the Religiously Unaffiliated

SVG version of 2008_Democratic_Primaries_Popul...
SVG version of 2008_Democratic_Primaries_Popular_Vote.png. Popular Vote Margins by State, US Democratic Presidential Primaries 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
What I am about to say will surprise few of you who have been reading this blog for some time. It bears repeating because there are some out there who still don't seem to get it. Here it is: religiously unaffiliated persons living in the United States (i.e., those referred to as "nones" by many in the news media) are not all politically liberal. Some of them, believe it or not, even vote for Republican candidates.

Take a look at the 2014 exit polls (CNN). You will see that among those without any religious affiliation, 69% voted for Democratic candidates and 29% voted for Republican candidates in House races. These numbers indicate that the majority of religiously unaffiliated voters do tend to vote for Democratic candidates; however, they also show that a significant number (29%) vote for Republicans.

November 18, 2014

Banning Words

We periodically hear about various interest groups trying to ban certain words (e.g., bossy). This can be religiously-motivated, but it has seemed more likely to be driven by political correctness lately. Evidently, some people believe that avoiding hurt feelings by a few is sufficient to justify widespread restrictions to free expression.

This strikes me as an incredibly dangerous development in a nation that once prided itself on the freedom of speech. I don't know about you, but I'd need to be convinced that the use of a particular word resulted in a hell of a lot more harm than hurt feelings before I'd consider trying to ban its use. And even then, it would be a hard sell.

We are all confronted with things we don't like each and every day. Being able to deal effectively with these things, even when they hurt our feelings, was once considered a mark of maturity and evidence of personal resilience. Have we reached the point where we can no longer endure hurt feelings? Are we all victims now? And if so, do some of our proposed solutions for eliminating hurt feelings suggest that we have merely replaced the rigid dogma of religion with one of political correctness?

I would hope that those of us who are atheists living in the United States and other countries where religion remains influential would be particularly sensitive to the dangers of restricting free expression. Many of us have seen first hand how it interferes with the criticism of religious belief. To see so many well-meaning atheists jump on the bandwagon of political correctness and actually begin to advocate for banning words is not something I ever thought I'd witness.

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November 17, 2014

Symbiotic Relationships and Political Activism

McDonald's arches + U.S flag. Synonymous, symb...
McDonald's arches + U.S flag. Synonymous, symbiotic, patriotic, neurotic. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
From a biological perspective, a symbiotic relationship is one in which organisms of different species living in close proximity can, but does not necessarily, benefit one another. Some forms of symbiosis benefit both species involved (mutualism); others benefit one species while the other is harmed (parasitism) or unaffected (commensalism). Still others confer no clear benefit or adverse impact to either species (i.e., neutralism).

From a sociological perspective, we usually think of symbiosis in simpler terms as involving a high degree of interdependence among individuals or groups of people. For example, I think we could probably say that secular activists have a symbiotic relationship with religious groups that often threaten the separation of church and state. Secular activism would cease to exist without religious overreach. It can largely be understood as a reaction to religious overreach and would be unnecessary without it.

One of the things about symbiotic relationships I have always found fascinating is the manner in which two groups who appear to stand in adamant opposition to one another often seem to derive great benefit from their continued mutual antagonism. The two large political parties in the U.S. come to mind, as do many of the institutions that have emerged around them (e.g., Fox News and MSNBC). But mostly, I am thinking of the countless special interest groups that advocate for particular issues on either side of the political divide.

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