June 29, 2005

Do We Need a Monument Celebrating Slavery?

Blogs have been buzzing about the Ten Commandments verdicts. I'm content to leave the legal analysis to the experts, but I can't resist making an observation about some of the Christian reactions to the verdicts.

The Detroit News quoted Florida attorney Mathew Staver (he argued the Kentucky case) as saying, "That the Ten Commandments would be deemed unconstitutional is an insult to the Constitution, to our shared religious history and to our veterans from whose blood liberty was birthed." Whose shared religious history is he talking about? The argument appears to center on the common perception that America's Christian heritage justifies religious displays.

By this same logic, couldn't one argue that we should erect pro-slavery monuments because slavery was part of our nation's history. It is common knowledge that the "founding fathers" were slaveholders. Why are we bombarded with reminders about their religiosity and not the slaves they held? It seems like the Ku Klux Klan is missing an opportunity here. If it is acceptable for the government to promote religion simply because "Our country was based on religious values and historical values," it should be acceptable to promote anything that was a basis for our country. Slavery, genocide against Native Americans, and the witch trials are but a few examples that come to mind.

Think I'm being silly? Here in the south, this same argument is used by those who oppose removal of confederate symbols. They claim that we should keep the confederate battle flag on Mississsippi's state flag because it was a part of our heritage.

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June 28, 2005

U.S. Supreme Court Decides Ten Commandments Cases (sort of)

I am sure you have heard by now that the court handed down two decisions on the Ten Commandments issue. The display outside the Texas capitol was permitted, but the one in the Kentucky courthouse was not. CNN has the full story here. I plan to read both cases in their entirety as soon as I can find the time to better understand the legal implications of these decisions. It looks like my prediction that the court would give us an ambiguous decision just might have been on point.

June 26, 2005

High Court to End Term With Big Decisions

We all know that the Ten Commandments decision is going to be big news, regardless of the outcome. Most of the press so far has focused on attempts to predict the outcome and to assess the outcome desired by the public. I've been more interested in the likely responses to each of the three possible outcomes.

Outcome #1: The court issues a clear ruling in support of Ten Commandments displays. With this outcome, I'd expect to see Christian extremists dancing in the streets and thumbing their noses at the rest of us. They'll use this as a mandate from the people (despite the source) and an invitation to shove religion on us without consequence. Complaints of judicial activism will not go away, and the Christian extremists will continue to use that manipulative strategy for political gain. We atheists will be disappointed but not overly surprised. We will be left to struggle with the implications of the ruling, one of which will be that lawsuits on similar matters will be much harder to bring. Would such an outcome really change our lives? Probably not in the long-term (other than the lucky ones who are able to move to Canada).

Outcome #2: The court issues a clear ruling upholding the Constitution and finding that Ten Commandments displays are not acceptable. While this is the outcome that most of us probably desire, I fear that such a ruling would become a rallying cry for the Christian extremists to double their efforts to dismantle judicial discretion and complete the transformation of America into a theocracy. Don't think so? Look at Roe v. Wade. Of the three possible outcomes, I believe that this one would have the most serious consequences for us. As paradoxical as it sounds, I fear that America may become an even more difficult place to live following such a ruling. Of course, that doesn't stop me from hoping that this is the court's decision. In fact, maybe this level of heightened conflict would be good for the country.

Outcome #3: The court issues an ambigious ruling that addresses part of the issue without resolving the matter completely. I predict that this is the most likely outcome of the three. The court issues a partial decision that will be interpreted as some form of victory by both sides while leaving the core issues unresolved. I can't help but view such an outcome as a victory for Christian extremists. Legal precedent is fairly clear on the unacceptability of religious monuments on public land, so anything short of enforcing such precedent should be cause for celebration by extremists. The precise effects of this outcome would depend on which issues were unresolved, but it would certainly spark a national debate over the root issues and how the court's ruling should be interpreted.

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In Defense of Evolution

According to the National Center for Science Education, the American Association of University Professors and the American Chemical Society have released statements in support of evolution. While this provides more evidence that academicians and scientists do not consider evolution a controversial theory, such statements are likely to be dismissed by the Christian extremists. The neocons are probably already yelling about liberal elitism, etc. I remain baffled by this willingness to embrace ignorance over reason, but it is refreshing to see such public support for evolution.

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June 24, 2005

Calm Before the Storm

I've been posting less often lately. In part, this is because I've been unusually busy at work and have had little free time. But there is an even more important reason - one that is a bit more difficult to explain.

Lately, when I open up my post window in Blogger and prepare to start writing, I feel intense anger. Anger at the political dominance of Christian extremism. Anger at the willingness of so many Americans to throw away science and reason in favor of superstition and ignorance. Anger at myself for feeling so powerless to do anything about it. I know I started this blog to speak against Christian extremism, but it has become increasingly clear that religious faith itself is the problem, and extremism is merely a symptom.

Sometimes my attempts to be one of the many voices of reason on the net just seem so futile. People are eagerly wallowing in their own stupidity, embracing irrationality over wisdom. Sometimes I just have to step back and try to get my head around what is going on. Anger without action can be toxic, but the appropriate course of action is unclear. I want to feel energized around a goal rather than spent over banging my head against a wall without cracking it.

I hope I will be able to emerge from this haze soon and with a renewed focus.

June 21, 2005

"Thankful I'm a Christian"

Driving home from work tonight, I found myself behind a Jeep with a sticker on the spare tire cover that said "Thankful I'm a Christian." The stoplight was long, and I found myself pondering the meaning of this statement. What was the driver's thought process in making the decision to purchase and affix such a sticker to his car? What purpose did in serve? What psychological needs were being satisfied through such a display?

My first thought involved some sort of arrogance and the desire to flaunt his religiosity. Maybe it was his way of claiming moral superiority over others. But this seems too harsh in all but the most extreme cases. Then I considered that the driver might be lonely and that this was a way of reaching out to other Christians. Sad, but possible. Was it possible that he thought this was a way to honor his imaginary god? As primitive as this seemed, it struck me as another possibility.

The more I think about it, the more I want answers. Why would someone feel the need to broadcast his Christianity (or any other personal part of his life) to other drivers in this manner? Assuming I had followed him (I admit the thought crossed my mind) and asked him about his reasoning, what would he have said? Would he have even had an answer?

June 18, 2005

Pragmatism

Although the philosophy of pragmatism is a bit more complicated than this, the stance of the pragmatic can be boiled down to: decisions or policies should be based on their likely outcomes.

Let's take the death penalty as an example. If we can set aside the morality/immorality for a second, does the death penalty deter crime? No. We have decades of solid research demonstrating that the death penalty is not an effective deterrent on crime. We keep it to provide the masses with retribution and so that conservative politicians can appear "tough on crime."

How about the abstinence approach to sex education peddled by Christian extremists? Again, the evidence is clear that this does not work. Why not abandon it? Because the Christians don't care whether it works or not as long as it fits with their shared delusion.

Another great example are the DARE programs that claim to deter teen drug use. They don't. Well designed studies have documented that these programs are ineffective. Again, they are kept for appearances.

What is wrong with people? Clearly, human nature is deeply flawed. Why is it not "common sense" to base decisions and public policy on demonstrable evidence of efficacy? I blame religion. It did not create this problem, but there can be no question that it maintains it.

June 17, 2005

Louisiana Legislators Push Prayer at School Board Meetings

Accent - The News Star - www.thenewsstar.com

On the place of prayer in public school board meetings..."It's like smoking," said Lenard, pensively. "If you don't like prayers, step outside and come back in when they're over."

While I agree that prayer is like smoking in the sense that both are noxious forms of pollution that are bad for the individual and others around him/her, I don't think the analogy holds up. Why? It might have something to do with federal court rulings that invoking Jesus at these meetings is illegal.

Now Louisiana politicians are "sending a message to the courts" that they favor praying to Jesus in every possible situation. Perhaps the real message they are attempting to send is that they are mindless idiots, desperately clinging to superstition despite overwhelming evidence that Christian claims about the natural world are false. Or perhaps they just want to get re-elected.

I suspect that these politicians are actually rather bright. Skilled manipulators who know how to influence the masses through religion can be powerful opponents. It is too easy to dismiss these politicians as simple-minded. They are anything but. In fact, it is their combination of intelligence and their lack of conscience that makes them dangerous.

June 14, 2005

Jihad Watch

Although I tend to focus on Christianity because it surrounds me on all sides and is visible throughout each day, it is certainly not the only form of irrational belief. Jihad Watch is a great blog that focuses on Islam. They've been around for awhile, and I wish I had discovered them sooner. Like Christian extremists, Muslim extremists seek world domination, mass conversion, and the elimination of non-believers. Jihad Watch exists to track their activities.

June 13, 2005

Church Finds Creative Way To Be Public Nuisance

Local News - Hattiesburg American - www.hattiesburgamerican.com

The church described in this story is within 30 miles from where I live, so this sort of thing isn't exactly surprising. What is surprising is that someone actually dared to complain. Come on buddy, do you really expect us to believe that your sleep is more important than hundreds of people gathering each week to loudly proclaim their devotion to something that doesn't exist? Obviously, you aren't a good Christian. How dare you persecute these poor Christians by expecting them to respect others!

June 12, 2005

Maybe God Isn't Enough?

According to a column by David S. Broderin in The Washington Post, President Bush's approval rating is at an all-time low. Maybe his claim that the Christian god speaks through him isn't enough for the American people these days. While fighting a war started on flawed premises, he continues to ignore a faltering economy at home. If this trend continues, it may give Democrats a much needed boost. I just hope that our economic woes don't spark even more blind clinging to superstition.

June 11, 2005

Bibles Remain in Hospitals

BBC NEWS | England | Leicestershire | Bibles to stay on hospital wards

Wait a second! Gideons International criticized the hospital in this case for "political correctness gone mad." Does anybody else see the insanity of this? It is political correctness that prevents people from criticizing their blind acceptance of this violent book and their determinination to expose others to their mindless superstitions! It is political correctness that is leading this hospital to keep these damn bibles.

Of course, their real argument is that political correctness is what leads people to wonder whether promoting Christianity is fair to non-believers and persons of other religions. But why does this have to involve political corectness? Isn't it just common sense?

Instead of removing all traces of religious material, the solution is to add even more of it. If the Christianity isn't your preferred mythology, rest assured that you can now find another irrational source of intolerance. Isn't this supposed to be a hospital? I don't know about you, but if I'm in a hospital, their selection of fairy tales probably isn't what I'm thinking about.

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June 10, 2005

Louisiana Town Stunned by Church 'Child Sex Ring'

FOXNews.com - U.S. & World - La. Town Stunned by Church 'Child Sex Ring'

I apologize in advance for the source of this story. Fox News does not deserve to be called news. But I couldn't resist posting this just to draw your attention to a couple of great quotes:
He seemed real Christian.

He never cursed. When we went out to eat, he'd bow his head and say his prayers.
I absolutely love the whole notion that a Christian couldn't possibly do bad things!

Just one problem. Christians do bad things all the time and the fact that some of them refuse to acknowledge such a possibility may facilitate their bad acts.

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Nobody Ever Does Anything About Religious Conservatives: A Call to Action

Monkey Business:
Everybody Always Talks About Religious Conservatives, But Nobody Ever Does Anything
About Them.


This is an outstanding article by Matt Taibbi at New York Press that should be required reading by all open-minded individuals. The essence of his argument is that it is a mistake to assume that the Christian extremist movement is too crazy or too extreme to succeed. Drawing on the Scopes trial, the author shows how religious extremism that is not opposed will flourish. He points out that there is virtually no opposition - no organized resistance to Christian extremism. While their politics are opposed, the underlying religious insanity is rarely criticized. They aren't going to self-destruct. They aren't going to simply go away on their own. The threat they pose must be met head on.

June 7, 2005

Malcolm in the Middle

I don't watch a lot of TV, but it can be a great way to unwind after a particular long day. I saw a re-run of an old episode of Fox's Malcolm in the Middle recently. I like the show, but I never watched it regularly so I the re-runs are virtually all new.

Anyway, the plot of this one involved the family going to church solely because it was the only place where they could find affordable daycare. It was clear that they were completely irreligious and trying to fake it. One of the kids asked what that large T was doing hanging on the wall (a cross), and the Dad spewed complete nonsense when asked by the pastor to lead a Sunday school class.

What a refreshing thought - children who have never even heard of these crazy superstitions! I wonder if such a thing is even possible now that religious craziness dominates American politics. Can an American family raise children without the perverted influence of religion? Of course, I think it could be argued that a child who wasn't at least taught about religion might be at a disadvantage. Not just because he/she would be ridiculed in school, but because it seems that some understanding of religion is now necessary to understand American politics. Maybe a child has to learn about religion in order to understand and deal with people.

June 6, 2005

Web Site Idea

I would do this myself if I had a web hosting account, but I thought I'd at least throw this idea out since I don't. Wouldn't it be great to have a website that indexed all atheist blogs and provided a brief description of each? I realize that there are several blog search engines that claim to do this, but I haven't found one that does it well. Most of what they list are blogs by atheists that have absolutely nothing to do with atheism. In my vision, the host would screen each blog to make sure the content was relevant before adding it to the index. I know it sounds like a lot of work, but it wouldn't have to have much design to it - just an annotated list of all the quality atheist blogs. Eventually, atheist websites could be added, etc. Obviously, the only way this would work would be if we could get everybody to agree to link to it and submit accurate descriptions of their site. I'm always searching Google for new atheist blogs, and it is such a pain. Just a thought.

June 5, 2005

Christian Vandals

Every morning on my way to work, I see a ton of cars decorated with Jesus fish, pro-Bush stickers, and "God bless our troops" ribbons. It has gotten to the point where cars without any of these things stand out as unusual. Whenever I see such a car, I experience a brief flash of disgust. My favorite sticker by far is the small black square with the large "W" in the middle with "The President" underneath it in small letters. It is not enough for these people to be idiots - they must advertise it!

Naturally, I have considered adding a Darwin fish, one of their many variations, or an interesting bumper sticker to my car (for many great options, check out Evolve FISH). However, I am rather confident that such an act would result in vandalism to my car. Vandalism by Christians, of course.

During the last election, a co-worker put a Kerry/Edwards sticker on his car. Within a fairly short period of time, he came out to the parking lot to discover that someone had tried to remove the sticker and when unable to do so had settled for severely damaging his rear bumper. I wanted to believe that this was an isolated incident, but I heard of several similar ones.

What goes on in the mind of a Christian that allows him/her to damage someone's car because he/she disapproves of a sticker or decal? Are there roving gangs of Christian teenagers running wild in the streets, or are adults in my community capable of this? Are they merely spoiled children who believe that they have the right to lash out at anything that upsets them? Would it ever occur to them that I would love to vandalize their cars but refrain from doing so because I respect their right to free expression and am mature enough to tolerate (or even welcome) diverse viewpoints?

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June 4, 2005

Speaker of House Defends Prayers

Speaker of House defends prayers

Do these politicians truly believe that praising Jesus is an important part of their jobs as government officials, or is this a clever political strategy? If they really do believe this, then they are clearly unfit to hold political office. However, I have a hard time thinking that this isn't a clever political strategy. By making all these crazy pro-religious public statements, they incur the wrath of the left. This then lets them claim that the left is attacking not just their own craziness but religion in general. The moderate voter might not like their insane religious pronouncements, but he/she may be more upset by the opponent who is "hostile to religion." I have to admit it - if this whole thing is a political strategy, these people are a lot smarter than they look.

Clearly, religion is a tool for the rich and powerful to manipulate the masses. A tool that works extremely well.

June 3, 2005

Start Your Own Atheist Blog: A Guide for Beginners

We need more atheist blogs. I estimate that there are only about 30 regularly active atheist blogs. I have found countless others that got off to great starts but haven't posted anything for a year or more. The following is a collection of tips I wish I had when I was starting Atheist Revolution. I hope someone finds it helpful.

Initial Development

1. Before starting your blog, become familiar with the active atheist blogs. Visit several of these blogs and check out some of the links on their blogrolls.

2. If you are completely new to blogging, I recommend Blogger. In setting up your blog, (a) use a descriptive blog title (I'm tired of blogs with "atheist" in the title filled with posts that have nothing to do with atheism); (b) enable comments and trackback (if you use Blogger, try Haloscan for trackback); (c) activate an RSS feed and make sure readers can find it.

3. Use a hit counter. I suggest Site Meter, but any will do.

Posting

1. Once your blog has been created, post at least 1-2x/week. Nobody is going to link to your blog if there is rarely anything of value there. Mix reaction posts (responding to a news story or another blog post) and original posts.

2. To stay informed about all things related to atheism and easily find material to comment on in your posts, use an RSS aggregator (see my prior post on this).

3. When relevant (and only when relevant), use Technorati tags in your posts.

4. Immediately after each post, visit Ping-o-Matic and ping all the sites.

Attracting Readers

1. Visit every search engine you can think of and make add your blog to their listings. Start with the general ones (e.g., Google, Yahoo, etc.) and move to the blog specific ones (e.g., QuackTrack). You might also want to consider getting involved with BlogShares.

2. Visit other atheist blogs regularly and post comments. This is probably the best way to get your name out, and many readers will check out your blog and link to you as a result.

3. Set up a blogroll. This is another way to build reciprocal links and make your site easier to find.

4. Visit as many atheist websites as you can find. Many sites will let you add information about your blog because they try to compile lists of all information likely to be relevant to atheists (e.g., Atheist Web, Atheist Alliance, etc.). Others will help you find webrings.

5. Get your RSS feed listed in all the RSS indices (e.g., Syndic8).

6. Contribute to atheist forums (e.g., Secular Web, Atheists Anonymous, etc.). This lets others get to know you and may provide you with the opportunity to plug your blog.

7. Finally, be patient. Building a reader base takes time, quality posts, and considerable marketing/PR effort.

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June 2, 2005

Christian Evangelicals Have Declared a Culture War: Are You Prepared?

Christian Evangelicals Have Declared a Culture War: Are You Prepared?

Okay, two things need clarification at the outset. First, I realize that this is nothing more than a marketing ploy under the guise of a press release. I haven't read this, and so I'm not recommending it. Second, I think that Wicca is every bit as ridiculous as Christianity (although nowhere near as destructive). With that out of the way, I will probably add this to my already massive reading list because the part about "advice on how to stand up to their psychological attacks and to stand up for your rights" sounds interesting.

Why did this catch my eye? If the author is correct that Christian extremists seek to eliminate paganism in America, it is only a matter of time before atheists (and probably scientists) become the target.

June 1, 2005

Crime and Religion

The U.S. Supreme Court's recently decided to uphold the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. Essentially, this legislation protects prisoners' religious freedom by granting them special rights. One implication of this ruling is that it separates theists and atheists, giving the former expanded legal rights not enjoyed by the latter. Besides the possibility that this will pressure non-religious prisoners to become religious, it is simply wrong to grant special treatment because someone believes crazy, superstitious crap.

This got me thinking about a closely related issue - the manner in which parole boards use the religious conversion of an inmate as a positive factor in support of parole. I'm sorry, but someone who becomes a "born again Christian" should be viewed with contempt for the idiocy required by such a conversion. Such an individual is not only not more deserving of parole but possibly less deserving for this example of gullibility! Okay, maybe that is overly harsh. Let's just agree that one's religious beliefs or lack thereof are completely irrelevant to this sort of decision.

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Journey of an Atheist, Part II

This is a continuation of a previous post. Part I can be found here.

During my junior high years, my attitudes toward religion began to shift as a result of several factors. First, as my self-confidence gradually improved, I found myself praying less frequently. Since my primary motivation for prayer as a young child related to anxiety, it is not surprising that prayer ceased to be relevant as anxiety was no longer problematic. Second, my classmates increasingly viewed religion and religious persons as worthy of ridicule. Being "bad" was cool, and being a church-going "goody-two-shoes" was not. Cigarettes, heavy metal, and MTV became part of the context. Third, I became increasingly bored with church. Every Sunday I tried to think of creative ways to be permitted to skip church. Although I could tell that my father would have preferred to stay home and watch football, my mother continued to insist that it was good for us.

My boredom with church gradually turned to intense dislike and eventually hatred. It was completely irrelevant to my life. When I forced myself to pay attention, I noticed one contradiction after another. I looked around and found myself wondering why the people in the room didn't seem to live their lives in accordance with what they supposedly believed. What hypocrisy! Sunday mornings brought frequent arguments with my parents, as I was no longer afraid to criticize what I saw as a major waste of time. Somewhere around the end of junior high and beginning of high school, my parents finally decided that I was old enough to refuse church if I chose to do so. I would go willingly on Christmas eve, Easter, etc. but that was plenty.

The culture of high school was similar to junior high (i.e., excessively religious kids were often the butt of jokes), but there was an important difference. For the first time, I was exposed to evangelical Christianity (e.g., "Don't bother to ask her out - she's one of those Bible thumpers."). I had a close friend during this time whose parents were both pastors at an evangelical church. While he was anything but religious, he was required to attend a church where speaking in tongues was common. His parents would later burn his heavy metal record collection, conduct a full-blown exorcism over him while several parishioners held him down, and eventually throw him out of their house.

By this time, I had discovered politics, science, and philosophy. As I found myself in agreement with my parents' moderately liberal politics and was excited by learning about world history, science, and philosophy, religion transformed from a well-intentioned waste of time to something much more sinister. Faith demanded blind acceptance of things which had been disproved by science. History demonstrated countless atrocities committed in the name of religion. Philosophy showed that morality need not derive from religion. Perhaps most significantly at the time, my increased exposure to politics convinced me that the overwhelming majority of people who called themselves Christian were hypocrites because any true Christian would be a strong advocate for social welfare and would oppose the greed of big business (this was happening in the Reagan years).

On to Part III.

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