December 18, 2014

Being a Better Believer

English: A Raelian discussing his beliefs with...
A Raelian discussing his beliefs with a passerby in Tel Aviv, Israel. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
"Everybody has the right to believe what they want." This statement, while accurate, is practically nonsensical. It isn't like anyone can prevent another person from believing whatever he or she wants. This is a "right" that is never in any real jeopardy of being impinged upon.

When people make statements like this, they generally mean something a bit different from what they say. They may mean that all beliefs are worthy of respect (they aren't), that religious beliefs should be immune to criticism (they shouldn't), or that all beliefs not readily falsifiable are somehow equally valid (they aren't).

While we each have the right to our own beliefs, we must recognize a couple of hard truths about what we believe. First, believing something does not make it true. Many beliefs are false, and the fact that many people hold false beliefs does not make these beliefs any less false. Reality is not determined by popularity. Second, some beliefs are harmful to the believer, to others, or both. Beliefs can involve bigotry, prejudice, bias, intolerance, and even hate. Such beliefs fuel tribalism, cruelty, discrimination, violence, and other adverse outcomes. Beliefs of this sort can be toxic. The belief in demonic possession readily comes to mind as an example, but there are countless others.

December 17, 2014

Does Pat Robertson Have a Point About Christians Not Seeking Medical Care?

Pat Robertson is still preaching on TV, reaching out to many Christian households through his 700 Club. And while he manages to provide endless fodder for atheist blogs, there seems to be a dark side to the advice he dispenses to gullible viewers. Much of what he says on the air is potentially harmful if taken seriously.

During the call-in portion of a recent show, Robertson advised a 76-year-old man to disregard his family's requests that he see a doctor because he has asked some sort of god "to be my physician." Robertson said:
There’s some people who think that doctors are god and they really aren’t. You’ve asked God to be your physician so stick with it and say ‘Lord, I’m asking you for it.’
Robertson followed this by telling the caller to adhere to his commitment and not to let his family influence him.



As horrible as this seems, I have to ask whether Robertson might have a point here. While we secular individuals tend to take measures to promote positive health (e.g., getting flu shots), Christians have something we don't: prayer. Maybe Christians have little use for health care when they can simply pray away whatever ails them. While we want health insurance to prevent financial ruin when we are sick or injured, Christians may have little need for conventional health insurance. As they are so fond of telling us, prayer works. And if, despite prayer, a Christian somehow manages to get sick, then this is clearly part of a divine plan, personally crafted for them by a loving god. Maybe this is how Robertson can be so certain in his pronouncements.

H/T to Right Wing Watch

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December 16, 2014

Atheist Revolution's Top 10 Metal Albums of 2014

I suppose this will seem like another off-topic post, but I'm not so sure. Atheism seems pretty damn metal to me. Loud, fast, aggressive, and evil sounding music has certainly accompanied my atheism for some time. And besides, I can't be the only one who needs a break from the sonic dogma in which many of us are surrounded this time of year in public spaces. Am I right?

I may not have much interest in celebrating Christmas, but there is something I love doing this time of year that is made possible by having some time off and the end of the year rapidly approaching. I peruse the Internet for lists of the year's top metal albums and listen to those I have missed. There are always several of these lists, and I focus on the points of convergence between them to build a short list of albums to check out. Finally getting the chance to hear a few of them is quickly becoming one of my favorite year-end traditions.

December 15, 2014

Secular Organizations Should Make it Easy to Opt Out of Receiving Mail

English: Automatic sorters inside a major post...
Automatic sorters inside a major postal facility. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I have what will strike some of you as a fairly trivial complaint that applies to most of the large national secular organizations, including the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, American Atheists, and others. I am going to put it out there for three reasons: (1) I think it would be very easy to fix, (2) it has resulted in me deciding to let my memberships in these organizations expire without renewal, and (3) I believe that fixing it would be beneficial to the organizations as well as to me.

So what's the complaint? I'd like to be able to join organizations like this to support their work without receiving any mail from them whatsoever. I do not want their printed newsletters, frequent calls to action, or renewal notices delivered to my mailbox. In fact, I don't want them to send me anything in the mail with the name of their organization printed on it.

I live in rural Mississippi, and the postal employee who delivers mail in my neighborhood appears to have a serious impairment of some sort that results in me frequently receiving my neighbors' mail and my neighbors frequently receiving my mail. I'd prefer that my neighbors not know that I am an atheist unless I choose to tell them. When they regularly receive mail from secular organizations addressed to me, this falls apart quickly.

December 14, 2014

Review of the Fitbit One

Fitbit One
As you will undoubtedly guess from the name of this blog, most of what I post here has to do with atheism, skepticism, reason, secularism, and the like. I also like to write off-topic posts from time-to-time, and this will be one of them. I enjoy reading product reviews from atheist bloggers I respect (here's a recent example), and it has been a long time since I've written one. With that in mind, I thought I'd write about a gadget I've been using every day for almost a year: the Fitbit One Wireless Activity Plus Sleep Tracker.

Background

Like many people in the United States, I have been overweight for some time. This was not an issue in my youth, but it would slowly become one as I aged. Some of this may be due to changes in my metabolism, but there are plenty of more obvious contributing factors. I am much less active than I used to be, as the the bulk of my workdays are spent sitting at a desk. My stress level is far higher than in used to be, and I find that it is difficult for me to find the time to cook healthy meals that I enjoy.

Toward the end of last year, I decided that it was time to start making some changes and see if I could shed some weight, form some more healthy habits, and stick to them. Since dieting has never produced lasting results, I decided that I would need to do three things if I was serious about dropping some weight and keeping it off:
  1. Consume fewer calories.
  2. Burn more calories by increasing my daily activity level.
  3. Eat healthier.
I'm happy to report that I have made significant progress in each of these areas and that I have found the Fitbit One very helpful for increasing my activity level, obtaining immediate feedback about my progress, and turning the changes in activity into habits I have been able to sustain over time.

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