March 27, 2005

If Jesus Returns, Karl Rove Will Kill Him

The Free Press -- Independent News Media - Harvey Wasserman

This outstanding article by Harvey Wasserman is a perfect way to celebrate Easter. Many of these points have been made elsewhere, but it is nice to have them collected in a single column. Enjoy and be sure to share with any Christians you might know.

March 26, 2005

Man Sells Device That Blocks Fox News

Someone has actually developed a device to block Fox News. I love it! According to the developer, Sam Kimery, the channel is not news at all. I couldn't agree more. Fox is nothing more than a conservative PR machine, spewing opinion instead of facts. The claim that it is "fair and balanced" or unbiased in any way is simply absurd (see Fair and Balanced, My Ass!: An Unbridled Look at the Bizarre Reality of Fox News).

Unfortunately, Kimery has received death threats for his trouble.
"Apparently the making of terroristic threats against those who don't share your views is a high art form among a certain core audience," said Kimery, 45.
Indeed. I find it quite amusing that Fox responded by touting their ratings. Are they really arguing that the fact that people watch them means that they are unbiased? That sounds like the sort of claim Christians make to defend the reality of their particular delusion (see The God Delusion). Just because something is popular does not mean that it is true, unbiased, or worthwhile.

March 25, 2005

NSTA Survey Shows Science Teachers Feel Pressure to Teach Nonscientific Alternatives to Evolution

According to a recent survey conducted by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), 31% of science teachers (from elementary school through graduate school) have experienced pressure from students and their parents to teach nonscientific alternatives to evolution.

Teachers everywhere need the support of rational individuals willing to stand up to this assault on science. Is it too much to ask that the material taught in our science classrooms is...science?

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GOP Senator's Aide Characterizes Schiavo Supporters as "Christian Extremists"

LEADER EXCLUSIVE: Schiavo supporters are "Christian extremists" so says GOP State Senator's Legislative Aide (The Illinois Leader): "MCHENRY - Tina Hill , legislative aide to State Senator Pam Althoff (R-McHenry) and a GOP McHenry County Board member, apparently believes that characterizing supporters of keeping Terri Schiavo alive are 'Christian extremists' who represent the 'Christian Taliban wing' of the Republican party"

Nice to find someone else who agrees with the absurdity of conservative Christians crusade on this case. I want to highlight two points in particular:
  1. Countless ethnically diverse Americans die every day due to poor health care, and nobody in the GOP pays them any attention.
  2. Since she was not a religious person, it is hard to imagine that Mrs. Schiavo would feel anything but contempt for these Christians' efforts to use her for their political benefit.


March 24, 2005

When did "liberal" become a dirty word?

Conservative politicians use "liberal" as an insult, and few if any Democrats refer to themselves as "liberal." Why?

Consulting Dictionary.com reveals something interesting. The first meaning is, "Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; free from bigotry." Doesn't sound all that bad, does it? There must be a more sinister meaning. The second definition says, "Tending to give freely; generous." Again, sounds pretty good. So why has "liberal" become an insult?

There answer, of course, lies at least partially in religion. Bertand Russell sheds some light on the subject with the following quote from Unpopular Essays, "Philosophy and Politics" (1950):

The essence of the liberal outlook lies not in what opinions are held but in how they are held: instead of being held dogmatically, they are held tentatively, and with a consciousness that new evidence may at any moment lead to their abandonment. This is the way opinions are held in science, as opposed to the way in which they are held in theology.

The willingness to base one's opinions on evidence rather than dogma is clearly antithetical to religion. The opposition makes a little more sense now. However, I wish the Democrats would embrace the label.

March 21, 2005

Violent video games and Illinois' loopy legislators

Violent video games and Illinois' loopy legislators: "Score a point for truth in government. The legislature was acting on a proposal from Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who is alarmed that some games feature violence, criminality, profanity and nudity."

I post this to raise the question of why people are objecting to some of the games described here. Violent video games are problematic, as they have been linked to increased aggression among high-risk children and teens. Given this scientific evidence, restricting their sale to minors seems justifiable. Of course, this is not a suitable reason to ban their sale to adults. But what about the games described here that are the focus of attention simply because of their depictions of female nudity. Where is the evidence that such depictions are harmful to teens?

As we probe the question of why, the answer becomes obvious: these non-violent games are coming under fire because conservative Christians oppose them. Why do they oppose them? They regard them as sinful. Human nudity is sinful.

March 20, 2005

Bush, Congress Set to Act in Right-To-Die Case

Bush, Congress Set to Act in Right-To-Die Case: "WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Bush cut short a vacation to return to Washington and be ready to sign a bill that may keep a brain-damaged woman alive, in a case pitting Christian conservatives against right-to-die activists."

hurray for the Christian conservatives! It looks like they may manage to keep a brain-damaged woman alive against her will and the will of her family. What a great political victory!

Can you imagine being this woman's husband for a moment? In addition to dealing with his own grief, he's just trying to honor her wishes. The courts have ruled in his favor, and it looks like he may finally be able to help his wife die with dignity..."But intense lobbying by Christian conservatives and widespread publicity have made the issue a political test case."

Republicans, now the party of big and highly intrusive government, are referring to this as "a great political issue." This should sicken each and every one of us to the core. Any of us could someday find ourselves in a similar situation. That anyone would turn this into an opportunity for political gain is disgusting.

It's a Free Country, Not a Christian Nation

It's a Free Country, Not a Christian Nation

Informative analysis of the notion that the United States is a Christian nation. The conclusion that we are not a Christian nation focuses on historical documents which reveal the intent of the framers of our Constitution. This soundly defeats the often heard claim that we have always been a Christian nation.

However, I believe it is worth pointing out that this is of little help in arguing against the position that we have become a Christian nation since the time of the Constitution. One only has to listen to our President or any of his political appointees to see that we are moving in the direction of becomming a Christian theocracy. This is a point I have made before and will continue to make because it is something that should concern us all.


March 19, 2005

Christian Radio Host Charged With Downloading Child Porn

From the Tennessean:
A Nashville midday Christian radio host was arrested by federal agents yesterday and charged with downloading child pornography from the Internet.
What exactly makes this story newsworthy? Evidently, the relevant issue is that this is a Christian radio host who was arrested for child porn. Why does anyone expect that this somehow makes him more of a moral being than anybody else? Christians have all the same human flaws as the rest of us - in fact, they have at least one more in that they suffer from the shared delusion we call religion. I wonder whether the story would have received any attention if the radio host had been of a different religion (or of no religion).

March 18, 2005

Political Correctness and Religion, Part III

This series began by introducing the concept of political correctness and moved on to consider how the PC movement gradually incorporated religious belief as an aspect of culture, conferring on it the same "off limits to criticism" status that had been reserved for race, gender, and the like. Now we consider some of the implications for granting religious belief this status.

The inclusion of religious belief under the PC umbrella along with gender, race, ethnicity, and other traditional areas the PC movement has embraced has important implications. The most serious implication for atheists is that religious belief is now off-limits to criticism. Returning to academia, the birthplace of PC, professors can no more get away with criticizing someone's religious beliefs than they can with saying something negative about someone's race. A student who makes a homophobic comment may be attacked as non-PC, but the second this same student defends his/her comment as having religious grounds, they are off limits to further criticism. Why? Criticism of one's religious beliefs is no longer acceptable. The critic is now regarded as a close-minded, intolerant bigot.

We now regard religious belief as belonging to an entirely different category of belief, more akin to one's ethnic identity than to one's belief in scientific theories. Scientific theories and a host of other beliefs about the world are routinely criticized, and the critic suffers no repercussions. Religion is afforded an entirely different status and is not subject to this sort of thoughtful inquiry. "But that is part of my religion" is now an effective tool for ending critical inquiry.

This is a problem because religion makes claims about the nature of our world. Many of these claims can be (and have been) evaluated on the basis of their correspondence to reality. However, we need to do much more of this, and we need to be free to do so without incurring PC wrath. For many atheists, religious beliefs are no different from any other set of beliefs about the world. Some beliefs are better than others, and this is determined by the concordance of a particular set of beliefs with reality. This is why evolutionary theory is so vastly superior to creationist theories - evolutionary theory corresponds to reality in the sense that there is evidence to support it.

Until we become comfortable subjecting religious belief to the same scrutiny and criticism as any other belief system, it will limit our scientific, social, and moral progress.

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March 12, 2005

Political Correctness and Religion, Part II

In the first part of this analysis, we saw the PC movement rise to prominence in U.S. academia. We saw how what started as an attempt to protect diverse viewpoints evolved into a tool for restricting the free exchange of ideas (i.e., socially conservative viewpoints were dismissed as intolerant bigotry). Now we turn to the inclusion of religion in the PC movement, which is of particular relevance to atheists.

Around the time the PC movement was becoming synonymous with diversity and multiculturalism, an important shift was taking place within multiculturalism itself. The social sciences initially viewed multiculturalism as involving race, ethnicity, and gender. However, the scope of multiculturalism was now widening to include sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and eventually even religious and spiritual beliefs.

This expansion makes sense given definitions of culture as "socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought" (Dictionary.com). However, the historic role of the PC movement as opposing social conservatism and fundamentalist religion was at first difficult to reconcile with this new expanded view. The PC movement was so used to criticizing fundamentalist religion, how could it suddenly afford religious belief the same "off limits to criticism" status that it had previously reserved for gender, race, sexual orientation, etc.? Moreover, how could conservative Christians who had previously been attacked for their racism and homophobia suddenly enjoy this protected status where their religious beliefs could not be criticized?

The initial solution was for the PC movement to distinguish between dogmatic religion (bad) and open-minded spirituality (good). For obvious reasons, this distinction was never clear and soon collapsed. The next attempt to reconcile the apparent contradiction involved a full embrace of religion but attempted to distinguish between real (intrinsic) beliefs and those adopted just for show (extrinsic). This approach was much more popular because it could be used to say that intrinsically religious persons were open-minded and tolerant while extrinsically religious persons were intolerant, conservative, ignorant, etc. Despite this appeal, the distinction was not without problems. Conservative Christians argued that their religious beliefs were part of their culture. As their numbers grew during the Reagan and Bush I eras, they could no longer be ignored.

In Part III, the implications of the inclusion of religious belief in the PC movement will be examined.

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March 11, 2005

Evolution: A Theory Worth Teaching

Evolution: It's Only a Theory, But One Worth Teaching

The argument in favor of teaching evolution to our children boils down to one simple fact: The theory of evolution is supported by scientific evidence. It really is that simple.

To say that the Biblical view of creation is supported by other kinds of evidence and that this makes it equally valid is absurd. The Biblical theory makes claims about the natural world that have been falsified through science. Keep the Biblical perspective as a fairy tale if you must, but don't try to pass it off as some sort of valid alternative to evolution.

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March 6, 2005

Is the United States a Christian Nation?

Philip Gailey wrote an interesting editorial in the St. Petersburg Times about the frequent claim coming from the far right that the United States is a Christian nation. While I disagree with Gailey's statement that the ACLU shouldn't be worried about Ten Commandments displays, he's right to point out that the teachings of Jesus are about as far apart from the economic and social policies of the modern Republican party as possible. It is nice that someone has the courage to point this out in the media.
If Jesus were around today, preaching charity, love, tolerance and peace, the religious right would pummel him as a dangerous liberal who wants to redistribute our wealth, raise taxes and study war no more. You can bet he wouldn't be invited to deliver the keynote address at the Republican National Convention and that Fox News' Sean Hannity would crucify him in prime time.
I remain encouraged that at least some Christians seem to understand that the whole Christian nation thing is a dangerous myth that hurts religion as much as it does government (see Gregory A. Boyd's The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church).

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March 5, 2005

Political Correctness and Religion

According to Dictionary.com, political correctness is defined as follows:
n : avoidance of expressions or actions that can be perceived to exclude or marginalize or insult people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against [syn: political correctitude] [ant: political incorrectness]
This is an accurate characterization of the early days of the PC movement in that the focus was on marginalized groups. In the academic context, with which the PC movement is closely linked, this meant that professors and students were discouraged from verbally expressing attitudes thought to be racist, sexist, homophobic, or otherwise demeaning to various minority groups. For example, consider the use of gender neutral pronouns or the replacement of "sexual preference" with the far more accurate "sexual orientation." 

Since academic settings have long been progressive in that they encourage the free exchange of ideas and the questioning of dogmatic traditions, it was not surprising that the PC movement was initially viewed as a liberal force for social change. Social conservatives were associated with the established power base of wealthy white males (which was generally accurate), and their viewpoints were dismissed as intolerant and bigoted (again, this was often true). Of course, it soon became apparent that the free exchange of ideas was only acceptable if it excluded ideas that might be potentially offensive.

Social conservatives were gradually excluded from the discussion and faced increasing marginalization. Thus, the PC movement limited the academic forum by preventing non-PC views to be presented. Conservatives began to rightly protest their exclusion, and the PC movement started to become the butt of jokes outside the academic community (despite continuing to dominate the academic environment).

In recent years, a new trend has emerged in the PC movement that has made it more open to some socially conservative viewpoints - the inclusion of religious belief as a component of culture and the prohibition of criticizing it. This transformation will be the focus of Part II of this analysis.

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Utah School Board Will Keep on Praying

According to the Deseret News (Utah), members of the state school board continue to permit payer at their public meetings despite objections from atheists.

People must remain free to believe whatever they want and to engage in religious rituals in the privacy of their own homes and in places of worship. But where does this need to bring religion into the public sphere come from?

Utah Atheists are clearly correct in their statement that opening school board meetings with prayer gives the appearance of an endorsement of religion by the public school system. This is a problem.

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March 3, 2005

Church-State Boundary Divides Supreme Court

From The Lewiston Tribune: "Below a frieze of Moses holding the tablets of the Ten Commandments, the marshal having proclaimed his 'God save this honorable court,' the Supreme Court justices pondered anew how to define the boundary between church and state."

Should Ten Commandments displays be allowed on government property? No. Why should we care one way or another? First, our tax dollars are being used to purchase and maintain religious symbols. If we come from a different faith or reject religion outright, should we be expected to allow our money to be spent this way? Second and most important, when the government sponsors any form of religion (e.g., selects a religious symbol and displays it on government-owned property), this is offensive to persons of other faiths (or no faith).

Justice Anthony Kennedy said, "If an atheist walks by, he can avert his eyes." This comment reflects both insensitivity and a fundamental ignorance of the issues involved in this debate. By selecting the Ten Commandments, the government is showing preference to one particular religion (Christianity).

I am growing tired of the weak argument that government should be able to display religious symbols because of their historical value (i.e., because the United States was supposedly founded by Christians). If this argument is valid, one could make the same claim about slavery!

Justice Scalia said, "It's a profoundly religious message, but it's a profoundly religious message believed in by a vast majority of the American people." How is this relevant? The court is not supposed to be influenced by the superstitions of the ignorant masses. Again, there was a time when the majority of the American people supported slavery and regarded non-white persons as inferior. Does this mean that the court should have blocked Civil Rights legislation? Scalia's argument is irrelevant.

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